The month after Gordon Campbell tearfully apologized to the public for his drunk driving arrest in Hawaii, he met with leaders of Mother's Against Drunk Driving and issued a bold promise. Raising in his hand a copy of MADD's province-by-province report card, the Premier vowed his government would become one of Canada's leaders in toughening impaired driving laws.
That's the way Andrew Murie, CEO of MADD Canada, remembers the meeting, which included B.C.'s five MADD chapter heads.
But on the second anniversary of Campbell's apologetic press conference, Murie says the premier's promised leadership failed to materialize. Instead, Murie told The Tyee, Campbell has "shied away" and "chosen not to be involved" in drunk driving reforms.
Despite recent legislation passed by the B.C. Liberals, this province's drunk driving laws remain "a mockery" compared to most other provinces, Murie charges. If that means his organization didn't capitalize on the unique opportunity Campbell's arrest offered, Murie says B.C.'s news media deserves some of the blame.
'Wasn't enough outcry'
At the Feb 20, 2003 meeting with the Premier, Murie said, "We took him at his word and then the whole process basically slowed down from there."
On Jan. 11, 2003, the Premier's mug shot was displayed prominently on the front page of papers across the country. At the time, MADD was going for his jugular. The organization demanded he step down until the charges were cleared. But MADD just could not muster enough public support for its cause.
"There wasn't enough outcry from the citizens of British Columbia to step up to the momentum we had started. We made a demand and we had a fair amount of support, but there wasn't an onslaught to make him step down," Murie said.
Part of it was timing, Murie said. Campbell was a new premier pleading for a second chance and his handlers were able to convey the idea that he had only had one drink too many.
"Quite frankly, he had one bottle too many," Murie said. At a blood/alcohol level of 0.161 at the scene, 0.149 at the station, in the amount of time the Premier said he was drinking, "He drank the equivalent of two and a half bottles of wine that night," Murie estimates. The legal limit in B.C. is 0.08.
"One of the things we struggle with, because people always think, 'Well, I've been in the position where I've had one or two drinks too many.' So people can relate to that and some of the anger was downplayed."
Did media go light?
A Solicitor General's discussion paper released last year on impaired driving revealed a somewhat more tolerant attitude toward drinking and driving in the province when compared to other jurisdictions. Only 80 per cent of British Columbians identify drinking and driving as serious offense (compared to 86 per cent in Ontario and 90 per cent in Quebec).
More than 11 per cent of those surveyed admitted to drinking and driving in the previous two months while feeling impaired, which could translate into nearly 2.5 million trips by drunk drivers on B.C. roads each year.
Murie also said the media did a poor job in conveying to the public just how much Campbell had been drinking when he decided to get behind the wheel.
At the meeting MADD held with the Premier two years ago, the subject at hand was what Campbell planned to do to absolve himself of the mistake he made in Hawaii.
Now, said Murie, the Premier "avoids the issue. He won't talk about impaired driving. He won't deal with any of the bills dealing with it. A lot of the times he's not even in the house when these bills pass. He's passed that on to his two colleagues. He really shied away from it and chosen not to be involved."
The Tyee tried to reach the Premier this morning. His media people deferred all questions to Solicitor General Rich Coleman, who could not be reached by the time of publication. Coleman has defended B.C.'s new impaired driving legislation, telling the Province newspaper "We do what we can within the law and within the Charter."
MADD slams new laws
Earlier this year, Campbell's government introduced some reforms to the province's drinking and driving legislation, which were trumpeted as some of the stiffest drinking and driving laws in the country.
The legislation allowed for the immediate impoundment of an offender's vehicle and stiffer penalties for repeat offenders.
However, in October, when the reforms were announced, The Tyee's Barbara McLintock revealed the government's new legislation to be softer, with more wiggle room, than advertised in the official press release. The major reforms, like rehabilitation and ignition interlocks for repeat offenders, are up to the discretion of the Superintendent of Motor Vehicles and have yet to be solidified in practice. No other province leaves impaired driving legislation practice up to its Superintendent. In other provinces, penalties are written into the legislation.
Insp. Norm Gaumont, head of Traffic Services in B.C., said he trusts the Superintendent will put some teeth in the legislation and bring B.C.'s impaired driving laws in-line with the rest of the country.
Until then, Murie says MADD is petitioning the Superintendent to set the standards high in the province.
"There is nothing wrong with the changes they made, in that they are a movement in the right direction, but they are far short of the leadership Premier Campbell promised," Murie said.
Premier 'backed away'
At their meeting two years ago, Murie said the Premier suggested stiffer penalties for those caught at the 0.05 level, like a mandatory 30 day suspension. "Which would have made a huge difference, but he backed away from it."
When it comes to the ignition interlock and rehabilitation reforms, Murie said, the B.C. Liberals actually went backwards compared to other provinces.
In the other provinces with rehabilitation programs, on first conviction a person is assessed for alcohol dependency. If they are found dependant, then they go into an alcohol treatment program and they can't get their license back until their alcohol or drug dependency is found to be under control.
B.C., on the other hand, won't implement either the interlock or mandatory remedial program until a person is convicted three times.
"Why would the rest of the country do it at the first time? Because there's proven, empirical evidence that it works, it intervenes. There is no cost to the government, so why are they waiting until the third time," Murie said. "Police only catch about one per cent of the impaired drivers in this country."
B.C. drops in MADD ranking
MADD was not the only group calling for such reforms two years ago after Campbell's arrest. The Canada Safety Council made similar suggestions for B.C., some of which have yet to be implemented.
Murie said the B.C. reforms are a "mockery" and MADD now ranks B.C. eighth in the country in drinking and driving legislation, down from third in 2000.
"We've been criticized that we haven't been tough enough [on Campbell], but what else could we do? He didn't follow through. His government didn't follow through.
"If you took the Gordon Campbell piece out of it, we would still be disappointed, so this is not personal vendetta or attack on the Premier, it's simply saying: 'You haven't done anything. You haven't done enough.'"
Scott Deveau is on staff at The Tyee.