Marking 20 years
of bold journalism,
reader supported.

How Did Gordon Campbell, Ken Dobell and David Emerson Get BC's Highest Honour?

Given their records, clearly British Columbia is out of order.

Bill Tieleman 6 Sep

Bill Tieleman is a regular Tyee contributor who writes a column on B.C. politics every Tuesday in 24 Hours newspaper. E-mail him at [email protected] or visit his blog.

image atom
Order of BC lapel pin: Guess who decides who gets one?

"It is not titles that honour men, but men that honour titles." -- Niccolo Machiavelli, 1469-1527

British Columbia is completely out of Order.

By awarding the prestigious Order of B.C. to former BC Liberal premier Gordon Campbell the same year he left office, the provincial government is giving voters the ultimate insult.

But there's much, much more fundamentally wrong in B.C. than that -- this is just the icing on top of a cake of contempt baked by the province's elites.

Those elites could care less if worthy recipients also getting the Order of B.C. are ignored because of Campbell's appointment or that of David Emerson -- Canada's most infamous political traitor -- and Ken Dobell -- Campbell's own former deputy minister -- or that it tarnishes the honour for others.

Emerson notoriously crossed from the Liberals to the Conservatives just days after the 2006 election, to keep his cabinet position, outraging Vancouver-Kingsway voters where he had promised to be Stephen Harper's "worst nightmare" in Parliament.

Dobell, Campbell's former deputy, who pled guilty to being an unregistered B.C. lobbyist, also gets a medal. He is now a duly registered B.C. lobbyist for eight different corporate and other interests, including Rogers Communications, the B.C. Lumber Trade Council and Seaspan Ferries.

Campbell resigned as the most unpopular premier not just in recent B.C. history but across Canada, dropping to a pathetic nine per cent approval rating.

But the federal Conservative government rewarded Campbell nonetheless with the cushy job of High Commissioner to London -- worth about $190,000 a year plus home, chauffeur and chef -- for imposing the Harmonized Sales Tax on B.C. after an election in which BC Liberals promised not to do so.

Only a citizens revolt reversed the HST. But just days after the results of the binding referendum showed the tax was decisively rejected 55 to 45 per cent, Campbell gets an honour not yet bestowed on far more worthy British Columbians.

Why are so many British Columbians angry with this appointment? So angry that they've started an online petition page to have it rescinded? And a Facebook protest page as well?

How about because Campbell is the premier who misled British Columbia voters before the last 2009 election about the size of B.C.'s giant deficit? 

Or because as premier, he presided over seven straight years of the worst child poverty rates in Canada while not once raising minimum wages?

Or because after promising to respect hospital workers legal contracts before the 2001 election, he legislatively ripped them up afterwards -- an action the Supreme Court of Canada ruled illegal?

Regardless of Campbell's failings, he has made a long contribution to public service as a Vancouver councilor, mayor, MLA and premier.

But it's the undue haste and obvious political nature of giving him this honour that stinks. Last year Campbell was giving out the Order of B.C.; this year he'll be receiving one.

Amazingly, Campbell is only the second premier to get the Order of B.C. -- far too soon and after a controversial career that deeply angers many British Columbians.

Dave Barrett left office as B.C.'s first New Democratic Party premier in 1975 -- 36 years ago -- and yet still hasn't been honoured.

Barrett's achievements were enormous -- and some of them strongly opposed at the time -- but today his pioneering establishment of the Agricultural Land Reserve, creation of public auto insurance (the Insurance Corporation of B.C.), introduction of Hansard into the B.C. Legislature and much more is worthy of respect. The true test of his accomplishments is that they remain intact today.

Barrett also served as an MLA from 1960 to 1983 and as an MP from 1988 to 1993.

While Campbell gets the Order in 2011, other former living B.C. premiers Bill Vander Zalm -- who left office in 1991 and also served as mayor of Surrey, Mike Harcourt -- who retired in 1996 and also served as mayor of Vancouver, Glen Clark -- who left office in 1999, Rita Johnston, Dan Miller and Ujjal Dosanjh have not been recognized for their time in our highest office and other public service.

Nor have other notable B.C. politicians who have made significant contributions to the province through public service, such as former Social Credit environment minister and broadcaster, activist and Tyee columnist Rafe Mair or former Vancouver mayor and Liberal MP Art Phillips.

Other than Campbell, only former Social Credit Premier Bill Bennett has been given an Order of B.C.

They make an ironic pair, as Campbell is the only Canadian premier to have served time in a foreign country's jail, after his drunk driving arrest in Hawaii in 2003.

And Bennett was found guilty in 1996 of insider trading allegations made by the B.C. Securities Commission involving the sale of Doman Industries stock before a bid to buy the company collapsed.

Bennett, brother Russell and owner Herb Doman agreed to abide by sanctions imposed banning them from trading in securities or from "being a director or officer of a public company" for 10 years. They also paid $1 million to cover the costs of the investigation. In 1989 all three men had been acquitted of criminal charges in the case.

But the outrageous 2011 Order of B.C. honours don't stop with Campbell.

There's also a medal for David Emerson, the ex-federal member of Parliament for Vancouver-Kingsway who notoriously crossed from the Liberals to the Conservatives just days after the 2006 election to keep his cabinet position.

On election night the Liberal Emerson promised to be new Prime Minister "Stephen Harper's worst nightmare," but soon he was being sworn into office as Harper's Minister of International Trade and Minister for the Pacific Gateway and the Vancouver-Whistler Olympics.

Emerson's furious constituents -- many of whom switched their ballot from NDP to Liberal in strategic voting to block the Conservatives -- pursued a "de-elect Emerson" campaign. But the turncoat Tory wouldn't quit and even co-chaired the Conservatives' 2008 national election campaign.

Emerson is another Campbell crony who previously served as a B.C. deputy minister to and was chair of B.C. Ferries when that publicly-owned corporation was transformed into a private company in 2003, albeit still owned by the government.

It was Emerson who appointed current B.C. Ferries CEO David Hahn and began the process that ended with the company building new Super-C class ferries in Germany, shutting out Vancouver Shipyards (now Seaspan) from even making a bid.

In 2008, when Emerson bailed out of federal politics rather than face Vancouver-Kingsway voters, Campbell appointed him executive chair of the B.C. Transmission Corporation.

While Emerson is better known, he isn't the only other high-handed honouree.

To make it even more incestuous, the Order of B.C. is simultaneously being awarded to Campbell's own former deputy minister Dobell, who also a key player in the BC Rail/BC Legislature Raid issues -- where allegations were raised by the defence in pre-trial hearings of David Basi and Bob Virk but never resolved because of their surprise guilty plea that ended the trial after only two witnesses testified. 

Dobell also flagrantly admitted he deleted his emails while in service to Campbell to avoid them being disclosed by Freedom Of Information requests -- a violation of the rules that forced the government to "remind" staff that such emails must be retained.

"I don't put stuff on paper that I would have 15 years ago... Civil servants are choosing not to write things down, or at least I am," Dobell said in 2003. Of his emails, he stated, "I delete the stuff all the time as fast as I can."

This all raises one big question: who is giving out the Order of B.C. and why?

The Advisory Committee includes B.C. Liberal Penticton MLA and Speaker of the Legislature Bill Barisoff, ex-BC Liberal Surrey candidate Barbara Steele, the Union of B.C. Municipalities president and Surrey councillor, and John Furlong, picked by Campbell to run the Vancouver 2010 Olympics.

Other members include Chief Justice Lance Finch, chair of the committee, the associate deputy minister of the intergovernmental relations secretariat Pierrette Maranda, Vancouver Island University president Ralph Nilson, and Barbara Ward-Burkitt, an aboriginal friendship centre advocate from Prince George. Furlong and Ward-Burkitt already have the Order of B.C., the reason they are on the committee. If you notice a common element in this selection committee it would be that most members have political or governmental connections to the former Campbell government.

But honouring Campbell, Emerson and Dobell is merely the latest manifestation of this entire province being out of order.

For example, after six-years of legal wrangling and bombshell pre-trial allegations by defence lawyers for ex-BC Liberal government ministerial aides David Basi and Bob Virk, the actual B.C. Legislature Raid trial suddenly ends with only two witnesses testifying.

A surprise guilty plea means that the next expected witness, former finance minister Gary Collins -- now senior vice president of the Belkorp Group of Companies -- doesn't testify at all about the $1 billion 2003 privatization of B.C. Rail. Neither does Premier Christy Clark, or Campbell, or a host of current and former elected officials or political staff.

The B.C. Supreme Court never hears the testimony of Erik Bornmann, the provinicial lobbyist who admitted bribing Basi and Virk with over $25,000 cash and other benefits to obtain highly confidential internal government documents on the B.C. Rail bidding.

Bornmann and Pilothouse Public Affairs business partner Brian Kieran got the inside track on the process to aide their client -- losing bidder OmniTRAX.

Kieran was in possession of initial bids of the top three bidders -- information given to him by Virk, according to the "statement of facts" filed in Court.

Bornmann and Kieran also paid for Basi and Virk to take a free trip worth $3,000 to a Denver Broncos football game in Colorado during the bidding process.

Bornmann and Kieran turned Crown witnesses against Basi and Virk and were never charged with any offences.

Flash forward to today. Bornmann has now been accepted as having the "good character" to practice law in Ontario despite his bribery confessions.

Kieran was chosen by Monday Magazine in Victoria to bump out Sean Holman, the Jack Webster award-winning investigative journalist, as its political columnist.

Kieran's application to become a member of the Legislative Press Gallery was also accepted by its existing members, giving Kieran access to areas restricted to politicians and media only.

Premier Christy Clark's brother Bruce Clark was the subject of a police search warrant executed on his home office and other confidential documents related to the $70 million potential sale of B.C. Rail's Roberts Bank Port Subdivision spur line were found there -- given to him by Basi and Virk, again according to the court's "statement of facts."

Clark, a lobbyist at the time for Washington Marine Group (owner of Seaspan) was not charged with any offences and did not testify in the abbreviated trial. The Port Subdivision sale was cancelled when RCMP informed then-transportation minister Kevin Falcon that the process was tainted.

Bruce Clark went on to play a key fundraising role in the federal Liberal Party of Canada, chairing their high-end donor "Laurier Club" and working on the leadership campaigns of both Paul Martin and Stephane Dion.

Asked by Global TV's Randene Neill on Dec. 8, 2010 about Bruce Clark's involvement in her leadership campaign, Christy answered: "Um, my brother is, does not have a formal role in my campaign, but he is a supporter, you know."

And so it goes in British Columbia.

Meanwhile, there are some truly worthy individuals who have been appointed to the Order of B.C. this year, including Vancouver homelessness advocate Karen O'Shannacery, North Vancouver search and rescue leader Tim Jones, Baljit Sethi, of Prince George, an advocate for immigrants, and Ellen White, of Nanaimo, a native educator and activist.

The investiture ceremony will be held at Government House in Victoria on Oct. 4."It is the highest honour we can bestow on individuals in our province," Lieutenant-Governor Steven Point said in a prepared statement about the Order of B.C.

It's just too bad for all those who deserve full recognition that with the unfortunate appointment of Campbell, Emerson and Dobell, B.C. is so obviously out of order.  [Tyee]

Read more: Politics

  • Share:

Get The Tyee's Daily Catch, our free daily newsletter.

Tyee Commenting Guidelines

Comments that violate guidelines risk being deleted, and violations may result in a temporary or permanent user ban. Maintain the spirit of good conversation to stay in the discussion.
*Please note The Tyee is not a forum for spreading misinformation about COVID-19, denying its existence or minimizing its risk to public health.


  • Be thoughtful about how your words may affect the communities you are addressing. Language matters
  • Challenge arguments, not commenters
  • Flag trolls and guideline violations
  • Treat all with respect and curiosity, learn from differences of opinion
  • Verify facts, debunk rumours, point out logical fallacies
  • Add context and background
  • Note typos and reporting blind spots
  • Stay on topic

Do not:

  • Use sexist, classist, racist, homophobic or transphobic language
  • Ridicule, misgender, bully, threaten, name call, troll or wish harm on others
  • Personally attack authors or contributors
  • Spread misinformation or perpetuate conspiracies
  • Libel, defame or publish falsehoods
  • Attempt to guess other commenters’ real-life identities
  • Post links without providing context

Most Popular

Most Commented

Most Emailed


The Barometer

Are You Concerned about Your Municipality’s Water Security?

Take this week's poll