Gordon Campbell: leader of the BC Liberal Party

After eight years in office, BC Liberal Party leader Gordon Campbell is seeking his third straight mandate to become premier of British Columbia in the May 12 election.
B.C. Liberal Party Leader Gordon Campbell is seeking his third straight mandate as premier. ((CBC))

After eight years in office, BC Liberal Party leader Gordon Campbell is seeking his third straight mandate to become premier of British Columbia.

If he wins the May 12 general election, Campbell would become only the fourth premier since 1903 to win three or more mandates, joining the ranks of W.A.C. Bennett, Richard McBride and Bill Bennett.

And if he gets a third mandate, it won't be the first time he has taken three straight elections. He was elected mayor of Vancouver three times, serving from 1986 to 1993.

Campbell first entered provincial politics in 1993 when he won the leadership of the provincial Liberal Party, which was the official opposition to Mike Harcourt's NDP government at the time.

When Campbell took over the Liberals, the once dominant party had not won an election in B.C. since 1949.

Rebuilding the Liberals

Former leader Gordon Wilson had rebuilt the party in the 1980s, transforming it into B.C.'s official opposition after the scandal-plagued Social Credit Party collapsed in the 1991 election.

After taking the reins of the party, Campbell won a seat in a byelection in the riding of Vancouver-Quilchena in the southwestern corner of Vancouver in 1994.

The party had already cut its official ties to the federal Liberal Party in the late 1980s, and Campbell reinforced the division by renaming it the BC Liberal Party in time for the next election in 1996.

Campbell proceeded to consolidate support for the party on the right by dropping some of his more controversial policies and drawing in former Social Credit, Reform and federal Liberal supporters.

The Liberals had a big lead in the polls going into the election against NDP leader Glen Clark. But despite winning a new seat in his home riding of Vancouver-Point Grey, and the party winning the most votes in the election, the Liberals did not get the most seats. Campbell spent the next four and a half years in opposition to a series of NDP premiers.

First mandate

By 2001, the NDP government was embroiled in scandals. Factionally divided and led by a demoralized Ujjal Dosanjh, the party was on its fourth premier in 10 years and well down in the polls.

During the April election, voters turned their backs on the NDP, and Campbell, who campaigned on a promise of a "new era of hope and prosperity," won easily, sweeping 77 of 79 seats.

The landslide victory gave Campbell the largest majority in B.C. history, making him B.C.'s 34th premier since 1871.

His first day in office, Campbell announced major tax cuts. Then in early 2002, his government announced plans to slash spending and eliminate thousand of civil service jobs.

The government froze budgets for health care and education, announced deep cuts in all other ministries and raised premiums for the Medical Services Plan. The government also lifted the NDP freeze on post-secondary tuition fees.

Campbell's first term was not without personal scandal. In January 2003, he was arrested and charged with drunk driving while in Hawaii. He apologized and pleaded guilty.

Polls at the time showed the Liberals losing support, with Campbell's popularity trailing his party's. But in 2004, then-finance minister Gary Collins brought in the Liberals' first balanced budget, which included a modest surplus.

That budget was followed by another balanced budget in 2005, and as the province's economic fortunes improved, so did the public support of the Liberals.

Second mandate — new priorities

Gordon Campbell gives a thumbs-up to supporters in Vancouver after his BC Liberal Party wins a second term in the 2005 provincial election.

In the 2005 election, Campbell lead the Liberals to victory again, making him the first B.C. premier since Bill Bennett in 1979 to win two consecutive elections.

But Campbell won this time by a much narrower margin of less than five per cent of the total vote, which reduced his majority to 46 seats. The NDP, meanwhile, under new leader Carole James, surged from three to 33 seats.

During his second term in office, Campbell focused on several new initiatives, including renewed treaty negotiations with B.C.'s First Nations. He also brought in a controversial carbon tax and set ambitious targets to reduce the province's greenhouse gas emissions.

Other priorities for his government have included several large transportation infrastructure projects, preparing for the 2010 Winter Olympics and, until the most recent budget tabled in February 2009, maintaining B.C.'s budget surpluses.

City hall years

Campbell grew up and attended school in Vancouver's Point Grey, the riding he has represented since winning the seat in 1996.

When he was 13, his father — the assistant dean of medicine at the University of British Columbia at the time — committed suicide. His mother then took a secretarial job and moved her young family into a small apartment.

Campbell won a scholarship to Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, where he received his bachelor of arts degree.

In the early 1970s, Campbell and his new wife, Nancy, spent two years with the volunteer organization CUSO teaching school in Nigeria.

Upon their return to B.C, Campbell tried law school at UBC but dropped out to launch his political career as an aide to then-Vancouver mayor Art Phillips.

When Phillips left city hall in 1976, Campbell went into the development business in Vancouver with Marathon Reality and eventually founded his own company, Citycore Development Company, which he ran while studying for his MBA at Simon Fraser University.

But in1984, he won a seat on Vancouver council and returned to city hall. He served one term as councillor and then ran successfully for mayor in 1986. He served three terms until 1993, when he was chosen as the new leader of B.C.'s Liberal Party.

Campbell has also served as chair of the Greater Vancouver Regional District and as president of the Union of B.C. Municipalities during his time as mayor.

Campbell and his wife, Nancy, who is a principal in the Howe Sound District, have been married for 39 years. They have two grown sons.  

With files from Duncan Speight