|Campbell and David McLean|
The bubble of power mentioned in the preceding story suffocated Gordon Campbell. Gradually, he became isolated, surrounded chiefly by people desperate to please. Track his administration from 2001; it began with a few worthy objectives and civil servants initially hired by the Liberals were carefully vetted for capabilities.
Yes, there were favours and benefits owed to important backers at the beginning. BC Rail, for example, was to be delivered to David McLean of CNR, regardless of prior public statements. However, Campbell’s initial objectives were largely worthwhile and in accordance with the clear and concise guiding principles his party stated in its platform document.
Slowly, the man altered and the circle of insiders tightened. Rewards for loyal team members became paramount and the province’s wealth allowed extravagant favours. Policies were shaped for the advantages of a favoured few. Campbell’s circle tolerated little dissent from the “official view” and talking points issued at the centre became the only acceptable messages, even for lowly ministry staff.
Eventually, the leadership group’s isolation and arrogance became too much to ignore inside the BC Liberal Party. HST was merely a symptom of the developed disease. It was contrary to established policy, a path chosen without consultation or prior notice. The extent of public assets being distributed without benefits to future generations shocked influential Liberal MLAs. So did the degrading of their status as voters’ representatives. The boss expected elected members to mirror the same talking points given to all; original thought was hindered, even made unwelcome. Buffoons were exalted, thoughtful contributors dismissed.
The circle of political destruction is inevitable when power collocates and isolation of leadership hardens. The Soviet politburo has been the comic book representation of this state but the behaviour arises from human nature. It is not a Eurasian peculiarity. One example is that, under British Columbia Liberals, the Legislature has averaged only 55 days in session each year.
Short sittings and the absence of an effective committee system in Victoria results in a paucity of meaningful work for government backbenchers. Despite 6-figure salaries and generous pension benefits (the government contribution exceeds 36%), some members of the legislature continue their regular careers. These people are public resources wasted.
Were the status of MLAs to be elevated and their duties enlarged, the public would receive more effective oversight of government activity and a better balance between partisan and consensual activities. We already pay for that kind of attention, we must demand it be delivered.