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Celebrity isn't enough, Campbell's 3 stars find

VANCOUVER

el Igali knocked and knocked until the person inside finally responded.

"What do you want?" the man asked.

"It's Daniel Igali," the gold-medal Olympic wrestler said. "I'm running as a Liberal candidate in this riding and I was wondering if I could talk to you?"

"I know who you are," came the response from beyond the door.

For the next couple of minutes, there was nothing but silence and then suddenly Mr. Igali and his aide heard a second-floor window opening directly above them.

For the next several minutes, a wide-eyed Mr. Igali listened as the man unleashed a barrage of expletives directed at the B.C. Liberal Party and its Leader, Gordon Campbell.

There was nothing Canada's Olympic hero could say that was going to change his mind.

"Politics is a big-time adjustment," Mr. Igali said yesterday. "If you think you can just run on your celebrity status, forget it. Once you get the nomination, that whole part of it is basically over. After that, it's walking miles up and down streets trying to get your message out."

He laughs his famous laugh.

"And that can be a real grind."

Mr. Igali was the first of the triumvirate of star candidates to be introduced amid much crowing by the Liberals in advance of this month's provincial election call. After Mr. Igali, Carole Taylor, until recently chairwoman of CBC/Radio-Canada's board of directors, was the next to announce she is running. And yesterday, Mr. Justice Wally Oppal made official what The Globe and Mail reported last week, that he, too, would be joining Mr. Campbell's team.

There's little question these big-name, and in each case big-brain, candidates aid Mr. Campbell enormously. For starters, the three help replace the three cabinet stars Mr. Campbell lost -- Christy Clark, Gary Collins and Geoff Plant -- all of whom announced they were leaving politics for various reasons. The three were widely considered to be among the best thinkers in government and their departure left many wondering who would fill the void.

Suddenly, no one's talking about them.

Mr. Igali, Ms. Taylor and Mr. Oppal also help give the Liberals some pre-election momentum. All three are recognized as "winners" and "winners" usually choose winning teams of which to be part, a fact that is likely to be noticed by segments of the public. (i.e. "If the Liberals are good enough for Igali, they're good enough for me.")

That said, those thinking the Liberals will coast into office based on some early positive headlines generated by The Big Three are sadly mistaken. The hard part is just beginning.

B.C. elections are living, breathing organisms that can change shape in an instant. A couple of missteps by Mr. Campbell during the campaign and all the goodwill and benefit he and his party derived from having bright lights like Mr. Igali on board will matter little. You could argue, in fact, The Big Three's value to the Liberals is at its highest point right now and will likely only go downhill from here.

Ms. Taylor, at least, has experience campaigning. Several years ago, she ran for Vancouver city council as an independent and won easily. She is sharp on her feet and is a battler who is not afraid to get down and dirty, campaign-wise that is, if that's what it takes. Mr. Igali and Mr. Oppal, on the other hand, are political neophytes. Neither, it could be said, has had to face much public criticism in the past.

As Mr. Igali is quickly discovering, that pedestal a celebrity is put on can get awfully shaky once he or she enters politics.

"I would say that for the most part it's been a good experience," said Mr. Igali, running in the monstrous Vancouver suburb of Surrey.

People "can say some pretty mean and nasty things. Stuff you wouldn't believe," he said.

So there you go. For all his star power, Mr. Igali's value as a star candidate may already be worth less than it was the day two months ago when he announced he was running provincially.

For his part, Mr. Oppal says he's prepared for what's ahead. Although he admits he's not used to being criticized.

Mr. Oppal said yesterday, "I'll just have to do my best and tell people what I stand for. And at the end of the day that's more important than anything."

Even having a big name.

gmason@globeandmail.ca

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