By Lloyd Dolha
Perhaps the most politically damaging aspect of the fallout over Premier Gordon Campbell’s recent impaired driving charge while vacationing in Hawaii is the stupid grin he brandished in one of the four police mug shots taken on that fateful night of January 9.
What was he thinking? Of all the stupid things to do in what must have been the darkest hours of his whole political career – to smile almost mockingly into the lens of a Maui police camera.
People can forgive human failings and many already have. But that smug smirk – like a child caught with his hand caught in the cookie jar – will be his undoing.
Surely he had to realize the seriousness of his position. The premier of the province of British Columbia is pulled over in Maui just after 1 a.m. for weaving erratically in a rented SUV and accelerating in excess of a 45 mph (72 kmph) speed limit.
The premier fails the universal touch-your-nose/heel-to-toe test for sobriety to see if he can walk a straight line.
What exactly was he thinking?
He is arrested, fingerprinted, PHOTOGRAPHED and thrown into the tank with six other drunks. In the second before that second or third frame was stamped indelibly in the public mind – what was he thinking?
Was he thinking about the 20-plus years he spent climbing to the top as a businessman, a family an, a Vancouver mayor, an opposition leader and the crowning achievement of premier?
Was he thinking about the future of the party he led for over ten years to a landslide victory capturing 77 of 79 seats in the legislature in the May 2001 election?
Was he thinking about the fact that, if convicted, Premier Campbell faces a sentence of up to five days in jail and a fine ranging from $150 to $1,000 depending on his record?
Or was he thinking about trying to salvage whatever political future he has left by putting a brave face on a really bad situation – hoping beyond hope that it would somehow simply blow over?
Calls for his resignation were swift and many on the open-line radio talk shows and in letters-to-the-editor. Louis Knox, head of the Canadian Mothers Against Drunk Drivers immediately called on Campbell to quit saying it’s impossible for him to set an example now.
“He’s laughing at a horrendous and serious crime when he commits it himself,” said Knox in an interview.
An Ipsos-Reid poll commissioned by CTV among 800 BC residents found that 50 percent want Campbell to resign as a result of the incident.
The same poll found that 74 percent of the residents polled believe that Premier Campbell is a hypocrite because if the same situation happened to any other politician, Campbell would demand resignation.
Those who live in glass houses…
Remember how Campbell demanded the resignation of former premier Mike Harcourt over the Nanaimo Commonwealth bingo scandal even though Harcourt was not even remotely involved? Campbell also demanded former Liberal leader Gordon Wilson’s resignation over his affair with Judy Tyabji.
By staying on as premier, it is clear that Campbell holds himself to a different standard of behaviour.
But it’s more than just a question of bad judgement. His tearful public apology notwithstanding, can we believe him in anything he says.
Campbell said he didn’t know what he blew on the breathalyzer, but media reports have shown that it was highly unlikely. He claimed to have only three martinis and some wine, but blew 0.149 on the breathalyzer – almost twice the legal limit. Calculations by MADD estimate that the premier may have had the equivalent of 13 drinks to reach that level of intoxication.
He claimed he only had a “short distance” to drive when it turned out to be a 20-kilometre drive down a winding highway.
And it goes on. A recall campaign is being launched in his home riding of Vancouver-Point Grey. A Vancouver resident has written the Conflict of Interest Commissioner and the Auditor General to investigate whether the premier “inappropriately used public resources to deal with the personal issue of his drunk driving offense.”
It’s a question of character. Yes, it is forgivable. “There but for the grace of God” sentiment notwithstanding, it’s hypocritical, self-serving and downright sickening that this man should demand the highest moral integrity of others and then so blatantly toss that standard aside when it applies to himself.
But back to that stupid grin. The mug shots taken that night are already on tee shirts and coffee mugs. It’s a growing cottage industry that will haunt Gordon Campbell to the end of his hopefully short political career.
Politicians can stand a lot of criticism but what they can’t stand is being laughed at as the butt of jokes for long.