Well today is the last day the Gordon Campbell will be Premier of this province. We all make our mark on life in one way or another whether it is within our circle of family and friends, our communities, the province or the world. I can still remember being sent home from school with flags at half mast when John F. Kennedy was killed. Even as a young child, he made an impression on me. I know where I was when Elvis Presley died or when John Lennon was shot. I still see Pierre Elliott Trudeau with the ever present rose on his lapel and wonder whether any other Canadian politician will ever come close to his charisma and influence. Gordon Campbell has been premier for almost 10 years and had definitely left his mark. He will be remembered by many because he has been at the forefront of so many issues, good or bad. If it is one thing that I can say about Gordon Campbell, is the years under his leadership have not been dull, in fact, politics has not been livelier in BC. And no one can say that BC has remained stagnant or gone backward, and in fact, BC has led this country in several areas.
I remember when Gordon Campbell first came into power with his agenda and cuts in programs. The grassroots rose up in protest. I don’t think I ever attended so many protests in so short a period of time, in unity with so many people of diverse backgrounds. Labour, teachers, welfare advocates, environmentalists, First Nations and the otherwise disgruntled. Walking down the streets of Victoria, Vancouver and Nanaimo, shouting six bucks sucks and no referendum! What a time in BC history and one I won’t forget any time soon. There were so many of us who were outraged. First Nations were fuming about the Treaty referendum, people were livid over cuts to services and the low minimum wage. The raging grannies were in their element and coming up with new songs for every occasion. There was power in the people.
I know I learned how to use a bow and arrow so I could shoot a burning arrow into a cardboard canoe filled with treaty “referendumb” ballots. For target practice, I had a picture of a smiling Gordon Campbell. What fun that was and greater satisfaction to see that canoe of referendum ballots go up in flames off Songhees lands showing my utter contempt for a very bad initiative. The treaty referendum was one of the most contentious things Gordon Campbell ever did with First Nations, though bringing the Nisga’a to court over their treaty and self government is a close second! Of course that was before he was a Premier and that affected his relationship with First Nations from the very beginning.
I remember a First Nations Summit Chiefs meeting with the Premier and his cabinet before the referendum took place and what a fiery meeting that was! Bill Wilson was at his finest and I remember standing up and looking the premier in the eye and telling him that if he wanted to achieve his election promise of increased business, he had to deal with First Nations and there was no way he could do that without us. We were eloquent, we were intent on our purpose, but we could not sway Gordon Campbell from his referendum. I know at some point he realized he was wrong but he was too proud to change his course of action. What a difference that would have made with his government"s relationship with First Nations if he stopped the referendum and could have saved us four years. I remember being at the Truck Loggers Convention right after his arrest in Hawaii for drinking and driving, and being the only person in the room that refused to give him a standing ovation. I couldn’t understand how anyone could honour a leader like him.
Then in May 2005 Chiefs were called to go to the Musqueam reserve to look at the New Relationship Vision. We all looked at it and then at one another. We wondered what the hidden agenda was, what the catch was, this couldn’t be right. Not perfect but a big step forward! We were assured by the then Leadership Council that this was a bona fide gesture, one they had helped negotiate with Lorne Brownsey, Deputy Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Jessica McDonald, then, Deputy Minister in the Premier’s office. Much credit was attributed to them and the willingness of the Premier to change the landscape facing First Nations in the province.
From then on, it seemed the Premier was transformed. He pushed the Kelowna Accord, got the Transformative Change Accord through at the same time and became “the politician” in Canada moving and shaking First Nations issues. We all marveled at this change and could never really figure out what caused it.
I can still remember Gordon Campbell wrapped in a Cowichan Blanket and doing a traditional dance at the Cowichan Cultural Centre when he announced funding for the Indigenous games. I can picture him wearing a cedar headband and drumming at the Opening ceremonies of those same games. Who is that man I would think. And yet I could see he loved it, being there, enjoying the richness of the Cowichan culture. I also remember him introducing Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to the Four Host Nations and the Leadership Council. Apparently the Governor had seen a picture of Gordon Campbell wrapped in a Pendleton blanket and told Gordon, I want that to happen to me. So Gordon Campbell arranged for that.
As a member of the Leadership Council when much happened, I got to observe the real change in Gordon Campbell and understand a little better the challenges he had within his cabinet and bureaucracy. I also saw Gordon Campbell stand with the Musqueam over the objections of the people in his riding and his own campaign manager to settle the Golf Course lands issue. Giving the golf course to the Musqueam caused a huge uproar in his riding, yet Gordon Campbell stuck his neck out and found solutions to settle three court cases with the Musqueam. He also involved the Four Host Nations in a meaningful way in the Winter Olympics that brought richness to the Winter Olympics as never seen before. It was an incredible moment for indigenous peoples everywhere watching our Chiefs sitting with the Heads of State of the World.
I know Gordon Campbell stated one of his regrets was the failure of the Recognition legislation. I was the political lead on the Recognition group for some 18 months. In June of 2008, I lost my election at the Summit and the Leadership Council did not send a political lead to those working groups and so in effect, left the group to lawyers. I was shocked in early 2009 to get the proposed paper as it included things that I could never advise my community to accept. Much had changed. The reconstitution of First Nations was the most devastating concept in that paper and I did ask Minister Mike DeJong at a First Nations Summit meeting if that was a necessary element and he said it was not and could be changed. There were other issues that I won’t outline here but it was not in a format that had I still been on that working group, would have forwarded to the Chiefs for the very reasons that blew it up.
It is also my greatest regret that the Chiefs of the day (and unfortunately I had lost my election in my community and was not a voice in that decision) killed the initiative and the legislation. I would have like to have seen the Chiefs outline what was not acceptable and send the Leadership Council back to the negotiating table to address their concerns. What an incredible opportunity that would have been. In order to have shared decision making, you need to remove the concept of the Minister decision making power cannot be fettered. Shared Decision Making does not mean the Minister has final say and legislation was required to change that.
If the New Relationship vision had been implemented with Shared Decision Making, resource and benefit sharing, Land Use Planning and other institutions that were intended, we would be in a whole different environment of certainty in this province. We would definitely be leading Canada in First Nations issues as Gordon Campbell had often said he wanted. Another alternative the Chiefs could have pursued if legislation was totally off the table was to instruct the Leadership Council to implement the New Relationship in other ways. Legislation was only one option, there were so many others and we had explored those options in the early days of the Working Group. But that was not to be. I feel that not implementing the New Relationship was Gordon Campbell’s biggest failure. He built up the hopes of the Chiefs and communities and dashed them time and time again and brought into question the integrity of the New Relationship and the commitment of the government to reconciliation.
So today is the end of an era. We say good bye to Gordon Campbell as Premier. There have been high points and low points. Gordon Campbell failed to implement the New Relationship, but he made good progress in several areas. The problem was, things were settled here and there, but unfortunately, it did not happen for every community where the difference had to be made. The government would settle with some communities and ignore others which demonstrated no equity or fairness. Overall, within the years of Gordon Campbell, there were new ideas, new initiatives and new hope for First Nations. Gordon Campbell will be remembered and as First Nations people we can only hope that the next premier Christy Clark, will pick up on the Vision of Gordon Campbell in good faith, with the Honour of the Crown finish what was a good path to walk. None of the candidates during the leadership race talked about the important issues in any depth. Economy, Health, First Nations, HST, so we can only speculate what the future with Christy Clark as Premier will bring.