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October 24, 2010

Campbell's Last Grasp

What kind of political recovery plan puts the most unpopular premier in the country, possibly the most unpopular in BC's history, on TV for a pitch to the province? The political genius behind that plan was probably the same guy that will be delivering the speech, scheduled for broadcast at 7:00 PM on Wednesday, October 27. Four days ahead of Halloween, Campbell's address promises to be more scary than the trick-or-treaters.

When I've asked some people what they'd like to hear from their premier, they laugh and say there are only two words they want out of him. He's as likely to announce his resignation on Wednesday night as he is to improve the standing of his party; chances of either are between slim and none.

A Canadian Press story, published on both the CBC and CTV websites, quoted retired University of Victoria political science professor Norman Ruff speculating that Campbell will say he has a job to finish. Ruff expects Campbell to apologize for the way the HST was introduced and to focus on the economy. If that is all Campbell does, it will be little more than his 2009 election campaign message dressed up in new clothes.

In 2009 the BC Liberals ran with the message: "Keep BC Strong - Proven Leadership for BC's Economy". After the election they claimed that the HST would be good for the economy, hence they argued its introduction was consistent with their campaign's focus on the economy. Many don't accept any part of that argument, and even more feel the introduction of the HST just two months after the election was less than honest. During the election Campbell promised the provincial deficit would not exceed $495 million; after the election voters were told the deficit was more than six times higher than the maximum promised by Campbell - so much for keeping BC strong!

Ads promoting Campbell's TV address appeared during the Global TV news hour on October 23, saying that the speech will focus on education and the economy. A special series in the Vancouver Province recently focused on how BC is failing its kids. Campbell would not make himself available to respond to the series. Minister of Children and Family Development, Mary Polak, offered little but sympathy about the problems of child poverty and lack of support for young families. The Province reported: "More than 30 per cent of kindergarten-aged kids in B.C. are entering Grade 1 "developmentally vulnerable," according to the latest results of the Early Development Instrument (EDI), which has tracked more than 140,000 kids over the last decade." That is up from 25% in 2001.

Most British Columbians are not likely to watch Campbell's TV show. They will hear about it in the news. Reporters and pundits need to watch for what is missing in the speech, as that can be as important as what is said. Will Campbell speak about child poverty, school readiness, high school completion and differences in outcomes for aboriginal and non-aboriginal children? Will he focus on business confidence, investment and the GDP? Does Gordon Campbell measure BC's well being in terms of how well we care for the most vulnerable or in terms of how his ever smaller group of supporters are doing? Some think Wednesday's address is Campbell's last grasp; we'll see who he is reaching out to in that grasp.