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Campbell sees 'golden decade'

Continued from Page 2

Mr. Campbell's more statesmanlike approach also helped restore a measure of respect toward B.C. that had been lacking at the federal level. The fact is, for most of the past 30 years (and likely beyond) British Columbia had been considered somewhat of a joke (often warranted) at federal gatherings. When it came to the West, Alberta was seen as the chief power player.

"British Columbia has an enormous contribution to make on the national agenda," Mr. Campbell said. "And that is something I am going to continue to push in the years ahead. When I was at the western premiers conference recently, I think my colleagues were very pleased with the thrust of the initiatives we were taking.

"I think they all see that B.C. is an important part of Canada. I think we now have a strong voice and this is a positive thing. I think people see a door of opportunity opening across the Asia Pacific. I've got all the western premiers agreeing and seeing B.C. as the linchpin in terms of access to that market for the entire country."

Of course, beyond foreign markets and changes to health care and education and a myriad of policy challenges that will arise in the next four years, Mr. Campbell will also have to worry about re-election. A politician's constant concern.

As mentioned, there is little doubt that Mr. Campbell would like to be around for the opening of the 2010 Games -- as premier. Unfortunately, the next general election in B.C. will be in the fall of 2009 -- the every-four-years fixed election date will be moved from the spring to the fall to avoid interrupting debate around the provincial budget. That will be about six months short of the Olympics so Mr. Campbell will likely find himself trying for a three-peat at the polls.

How difficult or easy that is will depend on a number of things. As always, the economy plays a huge role. If B.C.'s economy continues to hum along in the lead-up to the Games it will give Mr. Campbell an almost unprecedented run of prosperity on which to campaign. But the province's economy, for now, is still largely resource based and as such is reliant on world commodity prices for much of its success.

Another factor is where the New Democratic Party goes from here. Leader Carole James has pledged to move it more toward the centre on many issues. She has pledged to balance budgets. She has pledged to distance herself from labour. She has hinted, in other words, at doing what Tony Blair did in England -- make labour a mainstream type of party, left-of-centre on social issues, right-of-centre on economic matters.

If Ms. James is successful at this, it could mean some retooling from Mr. Campbell, who has serious issues with large sectors of the population in B.C. who believe he is mean-spirited and tilts toward the concerns of the rich and powerful over those of the working class and elderly.

Dealing with that problem may not be as easy as it would appear.

The Liberals will have to continue to appeal to the right because they can't afford to have some new version of the Reform Party or Canadian Alliance popping up to steal votes from them in the way the Greens swipe votes from the NDP. (And cost them seats in the legislature.)

The fight for that large group of voters in the middle of the political spectrum -- the ones who now don't trust economic matters to the NDP but don't believe the Liberals have much of a social conscience either -- could become more intense than ever.

As you can see, there will be lots to occupy Mr. Campbell's time in the next while. Today, however, he can take pride in the fact he's accomplished something no B.C. premier has in 22 years -- getting re-elected.

"I think what that says is that on balance our government made the right choices," Mr. Campbell said. "No one is giving us 100 per cent. I know that. But we have made progress. I can tell you that the feeling in this province today compared with four years ago is like night and day.

"When you talk about our challenge the next four years, well, it might be as simple as that. To build on that sense of optimism that we haven't felt here in a long time. That's the No. 1 thing we have to do -- give people a reason to believe again in the future."

gmason@globeandmail.ca

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