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Gordon Campbell’s Free Ride

May 13th, 2008 · 13 Comments

There are four print journalists in Vancouver’s daily newspaper market, who I really enjoy and admire: David Baines, Vaughn Palmer and Miro Cernetig of the Vancouver Sun; and Michael Smyth of The Province.

Smyth this week opened my eyes once more to how far he stands above the current sad state of political reporting  in B.C.  In a column titled “New Universities a smokescreen”, Smyth recalled Premier Gordon Campbell decision a few days earlier “to snap his fingers and magically convert five colleges into full-fledged universities.”

I remembered reading about that story in the papers and seeing it covered on television. In fact, in my April 23 web article (click on April to find it) entitled ”Local TV News: Dumbing Down British Columbians”    I lamented  the puff piece media coverage of the premier that day … without what I would view as a single really probing question or any counterpoint from the Opposition leader or any critic.

Smyth’s column May 11  notes that only days before that media love-in on universities “the government quietly cut the operating grants to colleges and universities by an average 2.6 per cent.”

Good journalism work,  Michael!

This should have been a HUGE story; I believe it sure would have been had an NDP government done it!  Smyth went after Campbell and his government on this: but no one else seems to have done the same.

Post secondary institutions have long been struggling under inadequate funding, despite senior government burgeoning surpluses. In the past year, those pressures on colleges and universities, like every other business and the rest of us, have been exacerbated by rising costs, especially for energy …   and, in fact,  every piece of goods or supplies that they order, thanks to huge increases in delivery costs.

And yet ..they get CUTS in their operating grants .. and that gets minimal or no coverage!

I believe it’s all part of Gordon Campbell’s free ride from the major media …  and he has been rolling along like that for far too long.

I recall back in 2001, after the newly elected Campbell. tore up legally-signed and, many thought, legally binding labour agreements between the provincial government and about 40,000 provincial health care workers, members of the Hospital Employees Union.

Thousands lost their jobs in the rush to privatization; patients suffered through reduced hospital staffing levels; there were many complaints about declining food quality; and there were also many reports of declining cleanliness at health facilities.

Personally, I have always believed in the rule of law and respect for legal contracts. Seemingly, Gordon Campbell did not … politically ripping them up and imposing his government’s own agreements on the angry workers, without any negotiations.

I believed it was a horrible abuse of power. So when I had the opportunity, I put to Campbell a blunt Harvey-style question “Are you going to be a Premier or a dictator?”

Campbell was not happy with that one! He uttered his oft-repeated defence of his government’s actions, citing difficult times facing the province and insisting the government was within its legal rights to do what it did.  But he was clearly not pleased with my question!

However, I was the one who was vindicated:  the Supreme Court of Canada ruled his government’s actions ILLEGAL.

It took six years … but the unions were vindicated in their struggle: the Court ruled the BC government, in Bill 29,  had violated the Canadian Charter of Rights.  And in negotations that followed the ruling, the governmernt last January was forced to pony up  more than $85 million in a settlement!

But Campbell was given a very easy ride.

Can you imagine the media frenzy that would have followed  Glen Clark or Mike Harcourt or Bill Vander Zalm, if their government, while they were premier,  was found to have acted ILLEGALLY in this way,  and the taxpayers  had to shell out more than $85 Million in a settlement.

More than $85 MILLION IN A SETTLEMENT!

But it was Campbell’s Health and Labour Ministers who took the heat, giving puffy answers to puffy questions … and then it was all quickly left behind. Campbell should have been chased down the halls, forced to answer for his actions … over and over again …  and the huge settlement costs.  But if that happened anywhere, I sure didn’t see or hear about it. Did you?

No, there has clearly emerged a gentler media approach to the Liberals and Gordon Campbell that any former NDP or Socred premier were always denied.  And I believe the public interest suffers for the tired, bored state of much of ther  political reporting in the major media.

Shame!

As for me, I believe Campbell never forgave me for that tough question: as he walked away from that scrum, he turned, and said to me “Nice question, Harv. Nice question.” But there was no smile to go with his words!  :)

I had known and covered Campbell since 1973, when I covered Vancouver  City Hall for The Vancouver Sun and he was Executive Assistant to Mayor Art Phillips. We had always had a pretty good working relationship; but on that day I believed I asked a tough question Campbell would not forget.

The BCTV cameraman working with me that day, told me Campbell mentioned it more than once afterwards; his political skin is apparently not as thick as many people believe …. even though the Supreme Court decision, in my view, backed not his, but  my view of his actions.

When I retired in 2006, after 38 years in the news business, and about 34 years working with/around Campbell at the municipal, regional and provincial levels …  he (unlike many others) NEVER called or wrote a note to Congratulate me on my award-winning career, to thank me for my public contribution to the media in B.C. or just to wish me well.

That kind of told me that my question “Are you going to be a Premier, or a dictator?” really hit a nerve  … and showed Gordon that with this reporter, at least, there would be no free ride.

Tags: British Columbia · Media

13 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Roy .... // May 14, 2008 at 1:24 pm

    (This comment has been edited) Campbell is a thug and a dictator. He has managed to bankrupt the Forest Industry and cause me a lot of grief . The Supreme Court of British Columbia is a cess pool of corruption and I tell people world wide not to invest in BC as they have no legal recourse….
    Yes British Columbia is a great place to live but dont invest as the Premier and his buddies are …. in their business dealings.

  • 2 D. M. Johnston // May 16, 2008 at 2:26 pm

    How about this. The Fast-Ferries were about $250 million over budget and the media dumped on the NDP and the term Fast-Ferry has been an Albatross around the NDP’s neck ever since.

    RAV is now over $1 billion over its original budget and not a peep from the mainstream media. The cost overruns on RAV were so bad that the subway was designed small, with smaller stations (smaller stations means that RAV could only handle small capacity 3 car trains), etc. which will take almost $1 billion more to make RAV/Canada Line a regular metro.

    The fish-farm issue is another, California, Oregon, and Washington are stopping all fishing of Salmon due to small stocks. not so in BC, where sea lice from fish-farms is devastating Salmon stocks, the media is very quiet.

    Also is the interesting article printed two years ago in the Potvin’s ‘Republic of East Vancouver’ which cried out for Campbell to sue for libel, unless what was printed were true. Where is the media?

    I could go on ad-nauseum.

    Not that I am friend of the NDP, but there seems to be a different standard of reporting for Campbell and the BC Liberals.

  • 3 Clayton P // May 16, 2008 at 7:50 pm

    Premier Campbell seems to have an aversion to the press since he has become “the boss”. The media seemed to fawn over him and his policies while in opposition. They seemed resigned to the fact his party actually implemented the severe ideas and policies that sounded archaic. Campbell seems to only allow the media near him on his terms and the press had to make a choice between being pitbulls or lap-dogs. Warm and fuzzy won out, and the people lost the opportunity to hold their government’s feet to the fire.

  • 4 Rick // May 16, 2008 at 9:45 pm

    Media concentration is the problem. Very little is being done about it. It’s getting worse.

  • 5 stan // May 16, 2008 at 10:43 pm

    re free ride .check out bill 49 to find out what has happend to wcb pensioners !.this is one of the most disgraceful acts of this government by taking millions from disabled workers and giving it to their friends.check it out. this is the first time i have written about this as talking to politicians does not seem to get anywhere.ps. the 1%has cost me approximatley $10000 in the last 5 years.so much for working hard to build our province and then be told you were not worth it. stan

  • 6 K // May 17, 2008 at 12:07 am

    Hi Harvey,

    Just linked to your blog thru The Tyee. I enjoyed it very much. Thank you for writing about your experiences with Campbell,
    particularly about when you asked him if he was a “dictator” or not. Bravo! As an HEU member and a nurses aide for 30 years,
    it’s refreshing to read your views on Campbell. In fact, whenever he’s on the TV, I have to mute it. For some odd reason, it
    still hurts when I hear him speak. I suppose what really bugs me is that he’s still premier even after that Maui thing. Imagine if
    it were Glen Clark who was arrested? I just don’t fathom why there’s such a free ride for him. I wish someone would investigate.
    Your point about Campbell’s government being treated lightly by the media really ring true. Odd isn’t it? I wonder why? I read
    somewhere an analogy that he’s a lot like that mobster coined, “The Teflon Don” John Gotti – nothing ever sticks. Nothing.
    I can’t help but wonder if there’s some huge conspiracy with Campbell and the Aspers or something. Maybe that’s silly.

    Thanks so very much for your blog! Even with that Bill 29 settlement, the entire thing still stings. A few of my mates who put
    in over 25 years were laid off on account of Campbell.

    Enjoy a wonderful, prosperous retirement and I’ll certainly miss you on the air.

  • 7 BC Mary // May 17, 2008 at 4:42 am

    Hello Harvey,

    I’ve just found your blog and what a pleasure to read your inside thoughts on the weird world close to Premier Gordon Campbell.

    What do you think of the way CanWest newspapers have handled the Basi Virk Basi / BC Rail affair?

    In my opinion, they continue to do their best to make it go away … disappear … die off from neglect. As if giving away Canada’s 3rd largest railway doesn’t matter.

    I run a web-site of news and opinion on the topic. Today I posted the start of an appeal to have a TV Camera at the trial so that more people can absorb the details of what happened to B.C. Rail. Any thoughts on that?

    Best wishes for an active, interesting retirement.

    BC Mary
    The Legislature Raids
    http://bctrialofbasi-virk.blogspot.com/

    .

  • 8 Mike Summers // May 18, 2008 at 7:19 pm

    Politicians are a troublesome lot in BC. We are the only centerist party in BC willing to set a leash on all politicians starting with ourselves.
    I know that all BCers are fed up with the status quo and that’s why there is such a push to ram in the BC-STV.
    But BC-STV will only make what we have worse because this still doesn’t address the problem of politicians being able to do whatever they want to do to you.
    We have the answer and the will to do it.

  • 9 Mike // May 18, 2008 at 8:11 pm

    (Edited) So, where have you been? Campbell was doing some really weird stuff when he was the Mayor and nothing got reported. …. This province is in a real mess mainly because the mass-media is not reporting the incompetance of the Liberals. Now that you have been retired for awhile have you thought of coming back like Rafe Mair has?

  • 10 Alex G. Tsakumis // May 26, 2008 at 8:30 pm

    Harvey!

    Thoroughly enjoy your blog. As superb a perspective as when you were on air.

    I, too, am disappointed with Gordon. The arrogance has overtaken an otherwise intelligent man, who was arguably Vancouver’s best Mayor.

    But as Premier, he’s certainly not doing himself (or us) any favours.

    I will refrain from commenting on anything related to his media…other than one of his best pals (and frequent visitors) is CanWest über boss Dennis Skulsky.

    Keep up the great work and enjoy your “retirement”!

    Best wishes my friend.

  • 11 Gordon Campbell’s Free Ride « Stephen Rees’s blog // May 27, 2008 at 2:09 am

    Harvey Oberfeld has a blog called Keeping It Real and he thinks that the BC media have been much too easy on Premier Gordon Campbell.
    He is a retired journalist and he still keeps a professional eye on what passes for news and comment in the mainstream media. And when someone like that says that if the same crimes had been committed by the NDP the media would have been up in arms, he knows what he is talking about.

    I think Harvey earns his place on my blogroll on the strength of this one piece alone. For his has confirmed for me what I have long suspected and often written about here. The mainstream media in BC are in too few hands, and far too much power is concentrated at CanWestGobal. And instead of doing their job, which is to keep a jaundiced and wary eye on all concerned, the Asper family have decided that their job is to provide comfort to the ruling clique. They are happy that we have an ultraconservative provincial government, and they, as a business, want to see that continue. No matter what impact that has on the people of this province, their Charter Rights and Freedoms, their environment, health and education, all of which have suffered grievously under the BC Liberals.

  • 12 M. Smith // Apr 9, 2009 at 2:23 pm

    Woe unto those who owe monies to revenue services of B.C. under the Campbell Government.
    Correspondence with them is practically useless.
    It doesn’t matter what your cirumstances are.
    You can be unemployed, just getting by on a low income or suffer from ill health; all is ignored.
    They keep tacking on more and more interest; and send out demand letters threatening to take your income tax refund and GST cheques
    They are unpredictable; you never know what they are going to do next.
    They may tell you if you correspond and cooperate with them they will deal with you fairly.
    However, this is generally not the case and when you receive your notice from Revenue Canada
    you will find your income tax refund and GST cheques has gone to Revenue Services.

    This money may have been needed to buy food,
    clothing or to pay your rent.
    Your only recourse now is to go to the food bank and apply for welfare with the provincial government

  • 13 Dr. T. // Nov 2, 2009 at 6:53 pm

    This Gordon Campbell sucked B.C. dry and you morons in B.C. kept voting for him??

    (Response: Well to be accurate…it wasn’t exactly a unanimous acclamation. h..o)