Premier's Resignation the Rule, Not the Exception

Posted by Daniel on Nov 3, 2010

Today's announcement by Gordon Campbell that he is resigning as premier is both surprising and not (here). It is surprising because it is earlier than expected. It was not so many weeks ago that Mr. Campbell assured the public he would be staying on. It is not surprising because the premier's standing is so low in the polls that it seems clear his departure is the only hope the Liberals have, and a slim one at that, of digging themselves out of the HST hole.

Mr. Campbell has been premier since June 2001. The stability he imposed on the fractious politics of the province -- until recently anyway -- may have caused people to forget that resignation has been more the rule than the exception for recent BC premiers. Indeed, between 1983 and 2000, four men were elected premier and each of them were forced to resign from office, either because they were impaired by scandals or because they were so unpopular that another victory seemed improbable.

First of all, there was Bill Bennett, re-elected to a third term (like Mr. Campbell) in 1983, then forced out of the premier's chair in 1986 because his spending cuts and confrontational style made him seem unelectable. Then there was Bill Vander Zalm, Bennett's successor, who had to resign in 1991 because of alleged, though unproven, business improprieties. Then there was Mike Harcourt, the NDP premier, forced to quit in 1996 because of a charity bingo scandal. And lastly, Glen Clark, who was so unpopular with voters in 1999 that if he hadn't resigned because of a police investigation into gambling licenses and sundecks he'd have surely lost the next election.

And it is not just recent history that is repeating itself. It turns out that premiers have been resigning since the beginning of party politics in the province. Richard McBride, the first person to campaign under a party label when he won election in 1903, was forced to quit in 1915 in the middle of an economic recession with his government beset by demands for reforms. And in 1941, long-serving Premier Duff Pattullo walked off the job when members of his Liberal Party voted to join the Conservatives in a coalition, a move Pattullo refused to endorse.

The point being that in BC, an election is only one way we have of changing our leaders. And if you look at the past 25 years, it is not even the most popular way.