Chain The Dogma
The Order of British Columbia is Out of Order
by Perry Bulwer
The Order of British Columbia (the Order) is an honour awarded yearly by an advisory council administered under Provincial legislation. The purpose of the award is "... to recognize persons who have served with the greatest distinction and excelled in any field of endeavour benefiting the people of British Columbia or elsewhere."
I don't usually give much thought to this award when it is announced, but a controversial appointee made me and many others pay attention this year. I'm referring to the former Premier, Gordon Campbell, who was convicted of drunk driving near the beginning of his tenure, which ended with him resigning in disgrace this year with a voter approval rating of just 9%, making him the all time least popular Provincial Premier in Canada.
Mug shot of Gordon Campbell in Hawaii after arrest for drunk driving
Many people objecting to Campbell's appointment base their arguments on a misunderstanding of the legislation, on the timing of the appointment or of its apparently political nature. But I think those arguments miss the main point, which is that Campbell simply does not deserve the honour, now or ever. Some people misread the legislation and thought Campbell was ineligible for the Order this year because he was nominated while still holding office. The first rule of statutory interpretation is to take the words in the legislation in their literal and plain sense as in a dictionary. Adjudicators first assess the common understanding of words and phrases, and in the case of the Order of British Columbia the Provincial Symbols and Honours Act states in section 17 (2):
A person who is an elected federal, provincial or municipal representative is not eligible to be appointed a member of the Order while that person remains in office.
It refers clearly to the appointment, not the nomination. Because of the confusion over that point, however, the Chief Justice of British Columbia, who is also the chairperson of the advisory council, issued a very brief clarification. He did not need to rely on any legal reasoning or citation because of that rule of interpretation. He simply wrote, without further explanation: “The nomination package for Mr. Campbell was received on March 10, 2011. Mr. Campbell was appointed to the Order of British Columbia on Sept. 2, 2011. At that time, he was not an elected MLA.”
Although Campbell was clearly eligible on that basis, some still object over the timing of the nomination. Campbell's tenure as Premier did not officially end until March 14, 2011, yet the nomination package for him was received by the advisory council on March 10, 2011. He had made public comments a few months earlier that he would be stepping down, still, the rush to nominate him is well out of order. Campbell is only the second of 35 B.C. Premiers to be appointed to the Order. The only other one, Bill Bennett, was not appointed until many years after he left office. So why the rush to anoint, I mean appoint, Campbell, especially given his mixed record? It smacks of political bias, which is another argument being made against the appointment.
Political columnist, Bill Tieleman, points out that "... most members [of the advisory council] have political or governmental connections to the former Campbell government." He goes on to highlight the political chicanery, scandals and corruption that occurred not only under Campbell's government, but involved two other persons receiving the Order this year who also are strongly connected to Campbell. Ken Dobell, Campbell's own former deputy minister who unethically deceived the citizens of British Columbia, and David Emerson, who notoriously and unethically deceived voters by switching federal political parties just days after being elected. As Tieleman writes: "... honouring Campbell, Emerson and Dobell is merely the latest manifestation of this entire province being out of order." Even if there was no actual political bias in the selection of appointees for the Order this year, there is certainly the appearance of bias. Either way, the prestige of the Order has been seriously diminished by the appointment of corrupt politicians, which casts a shadow over those ordinary citizens who were deservedly appointed over the years.
Although Tieleman, one of Campbell's most vociferous critics, complains of the hastiness and overtly political appearance of appointing Campbell to the Order, he does note that, "Regardless of Campbell's failings, he has made a long contribution to public service as a Vancouver councillor, mayor, MLA and premier." That may be accurate, but is a long contribution to public service enough on its own to be appointed to the Order? According to the legislation, appointees must "... have served with the greatest distinction and excelled in any field of endeavour benefiting the people of British Columbia or elsewhere." There is no doubt that Campbell has greatly benefited personally from his public service, but has his long public service benefited the people of B.C.? It all depends on who you ask.
It is difficult to imagine any poor person agreeing that Campbell's public service has benefited them. British Columbia has the lowest minimum wage in Canada, and for seven straight years had the worst child poverty rates in Canada, all thanks to Campbell's policies. Shortly after he took office, he began to wage a war, not against poverty, but against poor people. His government tightened the rules for social welfare eligibility, denying benefits to thousands of people and putting thousands of disabled people already receiving benefits through the unnecessary stress of requalifying. I know, because I've seen the fears and tears up close. Meanwhile, as Campbell increased corporate welfare for his business friends, poverty and homelessness increased.
Go ahead, ask those many thousands of British Columbia children who live in poverty thanks to Gordon Campbell if they think he deserves to be appointed to the Order, or if he deserves his appointment to the prestigious, cushy, lucrative post of High Commissioner to the United Kingdom. Ask the thousands of homeless and almost homeless people in B.C. what they think of the fact that Campbell will receive a government pension of around $100,000 on top of the nearly $200,000 plus free home and personal servants he will receive as Commissioner to the UK. On the other hand, a single disabled person in B.C. receives only around $11,000 a year, (non-disabled get far less) with the housing portion of that amounting to just $375 a month. It is nearly impossible to find decent accommodation anywhere in the province for that amount. That means everyone receiving social assistance must either spend part of the money meant for food and other essentials to get a decent place to live, or live in sub-standard housing. Some choose or are forced to live on the street.
Instead of reducing poverty in B.C., Gordon Campbell's policies directly increased poverty causing untold misery for the very people he supposedly was serving. With service like that he shouldn't get a lucrative tip, like double-dipping into taxpayers pockets. I suppose the advisory council considers that serving with distinction and excelling in his field of endeavour. According to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, the status quo regarding poverty in British Columbia costs the government between 8 and 9 billion dollars a year, whereas a comprehensive poverty-reduction plan would cost between 3 and 4 billion dollars. So, not only did Campbell cause great harm to many thousands of poor people and their children, his neglect of those citizens cost the taxpayers of B.C. several billions of dollars each year he was Premier.
The advisory council who appointed Campbell to the Order ignored the facts of his dismal failure to help the most vulnerable citizens and lift them out of poverty during his public service, which in turn would have benefited all citizens. That ignorance gives credence to the claims of political bias in the appointment. But the council was not alone in rewarding Campbell despite his war against the poor. So too did the Prime Minister of Canada, Stephen Harper, who appointed Campbell to his UK post. That is really no surprise since Harper also ignores the poor. Around four million Canadians, including more than one in seven children, live in poverty yet the Harper government recently refused to accept the evidence-based recommendations of a Parliamentary committee to develop and implement a poverty-reduction plan. One in seven Canadian children in poverty amounts to over one million poor children. It is a national disgrace for one of the richest countries in the world, yet Prime Minister Harper shows more compassion and concern for the welfare of cats than children. His official website demonstrates that clearly. The home page under Family Center provides information on how to foster or adopt pets, but nowhere can you find any concern for the welfare of a million children suffering the indignity of poverty.
The Order of British Columbia is awarded to any British Columbian (or former long-term resident) who has demonstrated outstanding achievement, excellence or distinction in any field. However, there does not appear to be any consideration of the moral and ethical standing of a nominee. At least no such consideration is set out in the legislation, and no relevant question is asked on the nomination form. If such things are considered, they are left to the discretion of the advisory council, chaired by the Chief Justice of the Province. Apparently, no one on the council objected to the facts surrounding the immoral, unethical, and at times illegal actions of Campbell, Emerson and Dobell. Nor did they see the apparent irony of appointing a homelessness activist in the same year as Campbell who helped create much of that homelessness. Of the fourteen people appointed to the Order of British Columbia this year, only the three conservative politicians on the list had the ability to both benefit and harm the people of British Columbia. It is hard to see, for example, how Karen O'Shannacery of Vancouver, a tireless advocate for homeless people who was also appointed to the Order this year, could cause any harm to British Columbians in the way that Gordon Campbell and his political and corporate cronies did.
If ordinary citizens of British Columbia, not corrupt political, legal, or corporate elitists, could choose appointees to the Order, it is possible that they would still select Gordon Campbell, but I think it would be for the following reason.
UPDATE October 7, 2011
The induction ceremony for the Order of B.C. took place on October 4, and guess who didn't show up. Gordon Campbell not only didn't attend the ceremony, he refused to explain his absence. What does this mean? Does Campbell recognize that he doesn't deserve the honour, has declined his induction into the Order, and will return any medal or benefit that accompanies the award? Or does Campbell's absence and silence indicate he recognizes the controversy over his appointment, and fears attending the ceremony would do more to reignite that controversy than simply ignoring it would? If the reason he couldn't attend was a matter of an unavoidable scheduling conflict, then why didn't he simply instruct his office staff to respond with that excuse to inquiries? Whatever this snub and silence means, it is typical of how Campbell governed, so considering the source I suppose it is a response we should have expected.