Saturday, October 02, 2010

Gordon Campbell goes for a wobbly skate at the UBCM

"If 51 per cent of British Columbians say it is better to go back, to restore the Provincial Sales Tax, we'll follow that," he said. It's your call. For one day in 2011, every eligible voter in B.C. gets to be minister of finance. -- Premier Gordon Campbell addressing the UBCM convention Friday, admitting that he and his government bumbled the introduction of the province's HST and setting the stage for his referendum on the issue in 2011.

Premier Campbell made his annual address to the gathered assembly at the UBCM,  a number smaller than in years in the past and punctuated by empty chairs and receiving a response that could best be described as polite but muted. The Premier delivered a speech that was heavy on looking back at the Vancouver Olympics with a little mea culpa on government performance thrown in, along with some new funding ideas for the mayors and councils of those in attendance.

Using the Olympics as the backdrop of his notes, the Premier urged the mayors and councillors to draw on the momentum of the games to build a better British Columbia.

As is the case at UBCM he rattled off a list of a few projects that the province would embark on across the province mainly in the infrastructure file, with promised road improvements on the Cariboo connector, Highways 16 and 97 in the north. While urban  areas in the south will see a number transit initiatives in Vancouver, Kelowna and Victoria.

Those issues he touched on were rather familiar, but unlike past years  he didn't have a lengthy recitation of spending. Instead he drew attention to his most current problem, that of the clumsy handling of the HST roll out,  a process that has offered up the most serious backlash to his governance yet and still resonates as the underlying current of his current term.

Once again turning to the Olympics he drew on the success of Canadian figure skaters and suggested that he and his dance partner Colin Hansen clearly rushed their routine and weren't ready to deliver a medal, but went out and skated anyways.

"To put it charitably, the way we introduced and communicated the HST didn't exactly forge the gold-medal standard for public support and understanding," "We threw the HST up in the air and promptly fell flat on our faces. Some people said the only thing we'd accomplished was the death spiral."

That imagery should provide editorial cartoonists with oh so many options over the next few days,  what with the vision of Gordon Campbell and Finance Minister Colin Hansen, skating around a rink with Campbell throwing his ice dancing partner up in the air.  Well, sometimes as they say the creative stuff just falls into your lap.

As part of his closing thoughts on the HST mess, the Premier reminded British Columbians that they will have a chance to have their day as Finance Minister on September 24th, 201,1 when they will hold the fate of the HST tax in their hands and deliver their scores by ballot. Though he did caution the province's voters to weigh their decision carefully, offering the view that rejecting the tax could hurt low income British Columbians.

Since the Premier is using figure skating as his theme of the day, we of course were anxious to see the scores from judges  on his performance and for the most part his solo skate didn't score particularly well.

The Victoria Times Colonist Judge said  he was on thin ice,  while the The Vancouver Sun judge offered up the review that the skater is running on empty.

Perhaps the most intriguing observation however comes from the guest analyst at the UBCM skate off, NDP House Leader Mike Farnworth suggests that the performance was a farewell skate.

With all of his remembrances of the Glory Days of February, Farnworth believes that this was the final appearance of the lead skater of the Liberal figure skating club for his UBCM fans, said Farnworth to the assembled media after the show;  “This was a speech that was looking back and that this was a premier who's not planning on addressing the UBCM next year.”

If the NDP House Leader and skating analyst is correct in his interpretation of the day's events, this fall and winter will apparently be the Premier's last twirl around the Legislature rink, with one more gala skate to come before he hangs up his blades.

The Globe and Mail provides a full transcript of the Premier's address which you can access here, some of the other reports on his speech can be found below.

Vancouver Province-- Campbell admits HST performance a flop in address to UBCM convention 
Vancouver Sun-- Premier promises transport projects, says Liberals 'fell flat' on HST
CBC-- Campbell promises SkyTrain to Langley
The Tyee -- Premier's UBCM speech recalls Olympic glory

All week we have provided an ongoing link to the UBCM on the blog, we will be updating that file with its final entries through the weekend.

You can review some of the events of the last five days here.

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