Thursday, November 04, 2010

Good Riddance Gordo: a political story worth celebrating

In 2001, British Columbians, in a predictable sense of "collective" disillusion with the reigning provincial NDP government, voted in Gordon Campbell and the BC "Liberals" by a landslide 77-2 seats (I use the term "Liberal" in quotes as any British Columbian knows the Party title is a misnomer; Campbell's politics and practices have always been nothing but conservative through and through). A primary factor in his victory, aside from groupthink, was reducing personal income tax and the provincial sales tax (PST) -- which of course resulted in a reduction in welfare rolls and social services.

Campbell's victory proved that reactionary voting never seems to yield the desired results: immediately following his throning, he mailed out a biased, racist, and self-serving referendum aimed at stripping BC's First Nations communities further of their land and rights (in what Angus Reid, co-founder of Ipsos-Reid called "one of the most amateurish, one-sided attempts to gauge the public will that I have seen in my professional career"); removed a six-year tuition freeze that had made BC Canada's most affordable and desired destination for post-secondary education; allowed new entrants into the workforce to be paid $6/hour (25% below minimum wage); and to top it all off, in January 2003, Campbell was arrested and pled no contest for driving under the influence while on vacation in Hawaii. His blood-alcohol level was more than twice the legal limit. Campbell's mug shot is worth a thousand words: a red-faced politician known for corporate elitism and neglecting the disadvantaged, holding up a slate -- the symbolic value far beyond the charge itself.
After a highly-publicized and celebrated victory and a steam-rolling right-wing beginning to his tenure as Premier with a 97.4% majority in seats, Gordo was seemingly freely pass any bill he desired in a near-totalitarian regime. But Post-Hawaii, and perhaps as an act of self-preservation, his public profile seemed to disappear entirely. A nearly-reclusive Premier Campbell was re-elected in 2005 and 2009, with 46-33 and 49-36 spreads of seats respectively, predictably closing the almost comical gap of 2001, and making a Campbell overthrow a plausible if not inevitable eventuality.

But, on November 3, 2010, with an approval rating of 9%, Campbell pulled the trigger himself and resigned -- seven years after Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and several community-based organizations called for him to do just that. So why now?


In July 2009 Campbell joined suit with Ontario and moved BC towards a Harmonized Sales Tax (HST), which would combine the federal GST (5%), and provincial PST (7%). As someone who doesn't mind paying taxes myself (because I like universal health care, education, social services, public transit, and paved roads), I have always struggled to put together the puzzle of the conservative ethos in Canada: "We have the best health care coverage in the world but we constantly vote for people on the single premise that they want to cut the taxes that pay for the health care we are so proud of...." Campbell found a powerful support base amongst the catch-22 of conservative tax-haters and corporate elites, and in an ironic twist of poetic justice, the moment he turned his back on them and attempted to funnel tax dollars back into the gaping holes he created in his province's social services, his dwindling public support came under harsh public attack by the hands that fed him all along -- at a time when he needed those hands the most.

The man who capitalized on short-sighted cuts to taxation and reactionary mood swings amongst BC conservatives became the victim of his own game. And so Gordo was left with nothing to do but drive off drunkenly into the sunset. As a former long-time British Columbian, all I can think to say is: "Happy fu*%ing birthday, asshole."

Sometimes political stories are worth celebrating.