On November 3, Gordon Campbell faced the inevitable and announced that he was stepping down as premier of British Columbia. After nearly a decade of relentless attacks on social programs, mass mobilizations, and strike actions, Mr. Campbell has played his final hand. At the end, his approval rating had fallen to single digit support. He leaves the province with the lowest minimum wage and the highest child poverty rate in the country.
After sweeping into power in 2001 and reducing the NDP to a miniscule two seats in the legislature, Campbell unleashed a wave of cuts unlike any that has ever been seen in BC. Thousands of public sector workers were laid off, and thousands more had their wages slashed. Anything that could be sold off or contracted out was put on the auction block. The labour code and employment standards act were gutted. The tuition-freeze at post-secondary schools was lifted, allowing massive increases in tuition fees. Meanwhile, corporate taxes were slashed to the bone; the situation has gotten so bad that the BC government now takes in more revenue from university tuition than it does from corporate taxes.
This, of course, provoked a massive outcry from the people of British Columbia. As quickly as Gordon Campbell announced the cuts, the anti-Campbell movement was born. A series of demonstrations mobilized tens of thousands and radicalized whole layers of the labour movement. Campbell’s policies brought the province to the brink of an all-out general strike numerous times; he was only spared by the betrayals of the labour leaders who wanted to derail the movement into safer channels. At the height of the movement, over 50,000 of us marched on the legislature. During the 2005 teachers’ strike, Victoria faced one day of mass sympathetic picketing in support of the teachers’ struggle.
Campbell’s goal was not simply to implement major cuts; he wanted to break the back of the labour movement. He repeatedly took steps to provoke labour, tearing up collective agreements and legislating retroactive wage cuts. But Gordon Campbell would fail in this regard. Eventually, he battled to a draw with the labour movement. Facing the prospect of huge public sector strikes after the BC Teachers’ Federation pushed the envelope, the Campbell government bought class peace. They signed five year contracts with the public sector, giving them large bonuses to entice them into demobilizing the movement and ensuring relative class peace through the Olympics. It worked.
After dumping the HST on a province that didn’t want it, Campbell realized he had overplayed his hand. Facing a groundswell of opposition to the hated new tax, Campbell flopped about like a fish out of water trying to smooth things over. In the days leading up to his resignation he reshuffled his cabinet in a massive shake-up of his government and made a televised address announcing a 15% tax cut across the board. No dice.
With the final poll on his leadership (released the day after he resigned) sinking to just 6% support, Gordon Campbell has earned the dubious distinction of being the most unpopular premier in the history of British Columbia. It is a title well deserved. Campbell’s policies have left this province decimated. The gap between rich and poor in BC has never been greater. After a decade of participating in struggles against his government, two words can sum up how I feel about Gordon Campbell’s resignation—Good Riddance!