How did Gordon Campbell become so unpopular?
Darcy Wintonyk, ctvbc.ca
Published Wednesday, November 3, 2010 4:40PM PDT
When Gordon Campbell took office in 2001 he enjoyed the highest popularity levels of his political career. But on the day of his resignation nine years later, a scant nine per cent of British Columbians felt he was the right man for the job.
So what happened?
In his speech Wednesday, the three-time premier said he felt the controversy over the harmonized sales tax overshadowed all of the positive change he was achieving with the BC Liberal Party, including a recent 15-per-cent cut in personal income tax.
Simon Fraser University's Lindsay Meredith said the dreaded HST effectively put the last nail in the coffin of an already unpopular public figure.
"The HST killed Campbell's premiership," Meredith said.
Mario Canseco of Angus Strategies said the leader's single digit popularity with voters is the lowest he's seen in his entire career.
"It's the lowest Angus Reid has seen in his four decades of surveys so that's really something," Canseco said.
The pollster said the premier's fall from grace didn't happen overnight, but rather it died a slow death during the HST's introduction to the public, followed by the resulting effects to British Columbians.
"It sort of snowballed," he said. "Once the HST came into place, a lot of people were reminded of it when they went out, on their dinner receipts. It was a daily reminder that people didn't like him – or his policies."
In this way, pollsters say Gordon Campbell became the lightning rod for everything people hated about the HST. So while Campbell himself felt the introduction of the tax would help make B.C. more economically viable, not to mention making himself more popular in the process, it actually lowered him in the population's eyes immediately.
"It was a miscalculation as to how the BC Liberals dealt with the issue. They didn't think they'd get the reaction they would after the HST was implemented," Canseco said.
Political commentator Michael Geoghegan believes Campbell didn't see the backlash about the HST coming, and that may have contributed to his downfall.
"The key mistake was not having that discussion [with the public] prior to implementation," he said.
University of Victoria Political Scientist Dennis Pilon said the dislike of Gordon Campbell comes down to something so vitally important to success in office it was impossible for him to rebound from.
"People fundamentally don't trust him," he said.
What's next for the party?
With Campbell resigning as leader of the BC Liberals, the question remains: who will run the party? While names like Kevin Falcon and Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts are being tossed around, one opinion remains constant with political commentators – the person in charge should distance themselves from the HST as much as possible.
"What they need is a leader that isn't tainted by the HST," Canseco said, adding the party might be well served to bring in someone from outside to lead.
"This will be an issue that will come back to haunt them two years from now."
Lindsay Meredith said even though the Liberals have been freed from their unpopular leader, the party won't be out of hot water until it deals with the issue head-on.
"The BC Liberals have beheaded their villain but the new leader will still have to figure out how to deal with the HST mess."
CKNW radio host Christy Clark said the Liberal brand has taken a real beating from Campbell's unpopularity, a legacy that may live on long beyond when a new leader is chosen.
"It's going to be very tough for them in the next election," she told CTV News Channel.
And that just might be good news for the B.C. New Democrats.
An Angus Reid poll last month said the party is receiving the support of almost half of decided voters.
But despite the numbers, pollsters say it will be difficult for the NDP party to keep its momentum, especially now that the much-maligned Gordon Campbell is out of the picture.
"Because he's really been the one pushing the Liberals down and the NDP up and it's really a whole new ball game in B.C.," Canseco said.
"It's not going to be smooth sailing from here on in."