Journal: News & Comment

Tuesday, January 21, 2003
# 12:47:00 AM:

Why Gordon Campbell should have resigned, but why it's good he didn't

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Don argues strenuously that B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell is right not to have resigned after he was caught driving (quite) drunk in Hawaii recently, especially when compared to his elected predecessor, Glen Clark, who did resign when under investigation for corruption charges (which he later beat, though I'm not sure he should have).

My take is that Glen Clark should have resigned, and did. So should Gordon Campbell, but he didn't. They made very different poor judgments, with significantly different implications -- indeed, I think comparing them is pointless. On his own misdemeanor's terms, it dismays me how many people say "Campbell made a mistake, it could have been anyone." No, it could not. Maybe thirty years ago, when drunk driving wasn't treated seriously. (Incidentally, it was also okay to be whipped with a cane by a schoolteacher then.) I do not claim that anyone with a DUI charge should lose his or her job. Nor should anyone whose neighbours build them a deck to try to curry favour. Position is important, and elected authority especially so.

At a blood alcohol reading of 0.149, Mr. Campbell was not too much farther from taking someone's life (or his own) than if he'd, say:

  1. gotten drunk (legal on its own).
  2. taken a cab to a firing range (also legal).
  3. grabbed his legally registered rifle (also legal, again on its own).
  4. been so plastered that he started firing it at the other patrons rather than the targets -- but been lucky enough not to hit anyone.

Poor judgment, yes. Excusable? No. Yes, a firing a gun wantonly is a much more serious crime, but a multi-tonne vehicle moving at highway speeds is just as potentially lethal.

Mr. Campbell's stringent standards in opposition -- calling for government members to step aside for misdeeds of almost any magnitude, personal or professional -- only reinforce the point.

Had he resigned the Sunday after his offence, I would have admired him. Perhaps he could even have called for a leadership review and stepped aside as premier in the meantime, likely regaining his position in the end. But his inaction, despite his genuine remorse, sends the message to everyone that drunk driving and other alcohol-related problems -- despite the carnage they cause, and even despite his own father's alcohol-fueled suicide decades ago -- are no big deal.

He is remorseful because he got caught -- maybe because it made him realize how foolish he had been. But no doubt he would not be remorseful had he not been nabbed. No one, himself included, would ever have known that he had committed a crime. Mr. Campbell judged poorly, well in advance of drinking anything, that he knew what he was doing when he drove where he could serve himself a slew of martinis and glasses of wine. He misjudged again (and misunderstood physiology) when he thought a few glasses of water in the last hours of his stay would sober him up. And again when he convinced himself and his hosts that he could drive home. He lost his gamble in the luckiest possible way, by getting arrested rather than killed. And because of his good luck at the end of a string of disastrous decisions, he thinks he should keep his job as chief decision-maker in B.C. That's what the public and, most sadly, other potential drunk drivers will see.

Nevertheless, I think the result will be good for B.C., at least from the perspective of people like me who disagree with Mr. Campbell's approach. First, his offence speeds the probably-inevitable fission of the Liberal coalition, likely moderating some of its more extreme policy positions. Second, having a leader who has pleaded no contest to a crime will almost certainly improve the opposition's chances in the next election, if they can only get their act together. Pragmatically, and since Mr. Campbell injured or killed no one, I have come to think that his DUI charge is, on balance, a good thing, however twisted that sounds.


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