| [Photo: Kevin Van Paassen,
"No one wants it to happen to them, but I have to be forthright about it."
B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell was in town earlier this week to promote the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games bid, but I wanted to talk with him about that other subject. I wanted to see how he's doing since his highly publicized arrest and subsequent conviction on a charge of drinking and driving following a vacation in Maui, Hawaii, in January this year. But when the accommodating Premier sat down with me, I started to wonder whether that was a good idea. I mean, what politician would want all of that dragged up again? No one wants to be reminded of a big mistake he/she made, especially by a reporter. And Campbell does seem to have paid the price (including a 14-hour alcohol assessment program and a substance-abuse assessment, not to mention the negative press).
The Premier and I start off by talking about the Olympic bid. To date, says Campbell, 42,000 people from B.C. have volunteered their services and half of the private funds raised for the bid have come from outside the province. I ask the B.C. Liberal leader about Ontario's election, and who he would like to see win. "I don't root for anyone," he tells me, "but Ernie [Eves] worked well with me on health care at the First Ministers' Meeting [in February in Ottawa]. He did a good job and I appreciate that."
I bite the bullet. "How are things going since your DWI conviction?" I expect to see him recoil, get up and leave, and/or flash me a hurt look. He does none of the above. It's as though I've asked him about the weather. "I can tell you this," he says. "The people of the province have been very generous to me -- kind and understanding. And I got very nice notes from people in Ontario and other parts of the country as well."
Not wanting to paint too rosy a picture perhaps, he says, "Of course, I didn't want it to happen to me. No one wants it to happen to them, but I have to be forthright about it." And forthright he is.
At the time of his arrest, I read that Premier Campbell had made a promise never to drink again, and by all accounts he hasn't had a drop since. I also read that his alcoholic father committed suicide when he was only 13. Telling me that he has learned a hard lesson, the Premier adds, "My generation has to learn it the most, not to drink and drive. I think younger people understand it better. They've got a culture built around it already -- including designated drivers." Maybe that's the reason some of the younger generation are not as forgiving: The Premier has become a poster boy for an anti-drinking-and-driving campaign at the University of Saskatchewan. "This is what our generation has got to learn," he says, pressing the point.
Aware that there were numerous calls for his resignation, Campbell admits he was worried he would have to resign. Of the whole experience, he says, "Other people will make their own decisions, but I hope they learn from my experience. I have learned. It would be great if people can learn without going through what I had to go through." Then, after reflecting a moment, he says, "The important lesson here is that you don't drink and drive -- period."
His goal for the future, he tells me, is "to get this province turned around. I want to be Premier of B.C. forever." He laughs. Or "at least for the next two years." (The next election is scheduled for May 17, 2005.)
I must say I was pleasantly surprised at Campbell's willingness to speak so candidly at a public event about what is, undoubtedly, the lowest point in his political career. From what I hear, and to everyone's surprise, reports are that polls over the past few months indicate the incident hasn't hurt the Premier. Some suggest that's because of the forgiving nature of the B.C. electorate; others suggest it's because of the man himself. Time, of course, will tell. I must admit I've always appreciated a man who could say he's sorry and mean it.