Friday, September 09, 2011
Campbell honour puts political taint to awards
**Note: North Vancouver blogger Norm Farrell pointed out an error in my column around Luigi Aquilini's donation, so that has now been corrected. Thanks, Norm!
You have to feel for all the other 2011 recipients of the Order of B.C., whose many accomplishments have been overshadowed in the public eye by all the din around former premier Gordon Campbell getting the award.
We’ll presume from the time stamp on the government’s news release - late afternoon on a Friday before a long weekend - that it knew from the outset that people wouldn’t be happy that Campbell and three other high-profile B.C. Liberal stalwarts made the list.
That’s a great time to send out a news release if the sender hopes to slide something by unnoticed. The time-tested government communications strategy makes it much less likely that media will be able to find the sources they need to build a big story or have the resources to go after it.
But there’s no hiding an incendiary list like the one government sent out last Friday announcing that Campbell would be honoured with the Order of B.C. And there’s no hiding the growing prowess of B.C.’s political bloggers, who never sleep. Word spread fast.
Campbell’s government wove politics into everything B.C. did during their time in office. So I guess it’s naive to think that the Order of B.C. would somehow remain exempt from all that.
Still, I think there must be people inside the selection process who are very, very unhappy with the way things went this year. The annual awards haven’t really had a political feel up until now. Unfortunately, that’s no longer true.
I mean, think about it. A committee is tasked with selecting 14 fine citizens to be honoured for their hard work, passion and dedication. That’s all, just 14, out of the whole province. You really have to be exemplary to be picked for an honour like that.
But this year, we’re supposed to believe that it’s just a coincidence that four of the 14 recipients happen to be very tightly connected to the B.C. Liberals. They want us to buy that a guy who British Columbians hounded from office because they were so unhappy with his leadership is one of the 14 most exemplary people of 2011.
Could it really be just one of those unfortunate coincidences? Maybe the selection committee concluded completely independently that Gordon Campbell, his former deputy Ken Dobell, fellow politician and Campbell “star” David Emerson, and Liberal Party donor Luigi Aquilini - who has given more than $500,000 to the party - all deserved to be honoured in 2011.
Or not. And that’s the problem, isn’t it? There’s now a taint to an award that up until now had none.
Live long enough and you’re bound to accumulate a few skeletons, so maybe it’s no big deal that someone busted for drunk driving while premier gets named to the Order of B.C. If you had to be a saint to qualify, we’d have run out of eligible nominees long before now.
But having the selection committee declare Campbell a “visionary” whose efforts have made B.C. a better place - well, that’s a bit harder to take. Says who?
Under his leadership, we slashed needed community services, sold off public forest lands for a song, increased poverty, politicized every government decision and greatly enriched the salaries of MLAs and senior government. What’s visionary about that?
And it’s downright disrespectful to have Campbell and his friends shoved at us all at once at a time when so many of us are still fuming about the guy.
The selection committee even appears to have broken its own rules to allow his nomination. No sitting politician is eligible for the award, but Campbell had five days left in his term when nominations closed. So did they stretch the deadline to accommodate him, or ignore the rule about sitting politicians?
If the process really has been neutral up until now, these must be sad days for any non-partisan staff and committee members involved with the Order of B.C. Perhaps it’s just another odd coincidence that last week’s news release was nowhere to be found on the order’s own Web site until late Tuesday afternoon, but I’m choosing to interpret it as a sign that they’re red-faced with shame and protesting in their own small way.
My sympathy to the other recipients of the 2011 order, who really are a very select group picked for all the right reasons. Special congratulations to Crystal Dunahee, a tireless community-builder and fundraiser in our region. Find out more about these worthy recipients here: http://www.newsroom.gov.bc.ca/downloads/OrderofBC2011_Backgrounder.pdf