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Campbell must sell HST, show 'nerve': Mason

Columnist Gary Mason, whose centre-right views have frequently defined The Globe and Mail’s B.C. section, has cut Premier Gordon Campbell noticeably more slack than most pundits during the past several years. So it was with some interest that I tucked into Mason’s weekend column, headlined, “If Campbell is staying, he had better start leading.”

“Other than the immediate months after his drunk driving charge in January, 2003, I can’t think of a time in his nine years as Premier that was as stressful. The Premier’s popularity is at an all-time low – which is saying something – his ratings torpedoed by a grassroots rebellion against the harmonized sales tax,” Mason wrote in Saturday’s Globe'.

“If Mr. Campbell is indeed planning to stay on as he has vowed, he’d better start demonstrating the nerve that it takes to be a political leader in the modern age. If the HST is so good for everyone, then he should start holding town hall meetings around the province to tell voters why. He may not succeed, but he has to try,” columnist Mason wrote.

Mason’s challenge was still front-of-mind on Sunday afternoon, when I listened to an interview with Premier Campbell on CKNW. The politely pugnacious Sean Leslie tossed the Premier a well-paced series of questions that presented several opportunities for Campbell to demonstrate "nerve" – modern or otherwise – as well as to explain why the HST is good for B.C.

Campbell squandered the opportunity. To my ears, the B.C. Liberal leader who many regard as an infectious optimist sounded annoyed to be doing the interview. At one point, he verged on blaming the media for his political predicament.

More significantly, Premier Campbell never even attempted to deliver the talking point that centre-right British Columbians have been waiting a year to hear: Explain, in layman’s terms, why replacing the province’s hodgepodge sales tax with a true value-added tax will benefit working families.

The CKNW interview left me reconsidering columnist Mason’s conclusion: “The next 12 months will largely determine Gordon Campbell's fate. We will see just how much fight is left in someone who has been counted out and underestimated before. Many times.”

Monte Paulsen writes for The Tyee.

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