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Which Campbell now?

From Wednesday's Globe and Mail

Vancouver — With a second successive majority safely delivered to his party, Liberal Leader Gordon Campbell must now turn his attention to cabinet making and planning for the next four years.

The big question is: Which of the two premiers British Columbians saw during the Liberals' first term will prevail as the province heads toward the 2010 Winter Olympics?

Will Mr. Campbell use his renewed mandate to resume the hard-nosed, divisive policies that corresponded with a dramatic fall in Liberal public support during his first few years in office; or will he become a kinder, gentler Premier, moving closer to the political centre, now that the government has an ample budget surplus and a solid economy with which to work?

"During the last few months, we saw a different Gordon Campbell from the Gordon Campbell we saw in 2002," political analyst Norman Ruff said. "He started to come off as more of a pragmatic, vote-seeking politician than the ideologue who seemed to be there before. If you look at their platform, you have a very centrist, NDP-tinged list of spending priorities. So, I am kind of curious whether this was just election mode or whether he was showing himself to be more pragmatic than ideologue."

No matter which way he goes, Mr. Campbell has some strong cabinet material. Many of his incumbent ministers have now had four years of experience, while Mr. Campbell was able to recruit some strong new candidates to more than make up for the pre-election resignations of finance minister Gary Collins, attorney-general Geoff Plant and education minister Christy Clark.

In fact, the most interesting and immediate speculation surrounds ultrastar-candidate Carole Taylor.

Ms. Taylor is likely to have her pick of spots, outside the portfolios of finance, already filled by Colin Hansen, and attorney-general, which has had Wally Oppal's name on it since the former Court of Appeal judge first confirmed to The Globe and Mail last month that he would be a candidate.

The former CBC president, Vancouver city councillor and TV journalist spent considerable time in business before taking on the CBC post and may want to play a key role in economic development.

On the other hand, Ms. Taylor has also shown an interest in social issues. Education might be a perfect fit, given Mr. Campbell's vow to make B.C. the best educated, most literate jurisdiction in North America.

With her conciliation skills, Ms. Taylor could be the person best suited to reduce at least some of the long-standing enmity between the Liberals and the teachers.

Emotions were inflamed during the campaign by ads against the government from the B.C. Teachers' Federation and Mr. Campbell's own strident attacks on the BCTF.

"You want to be tough on the teachers, but at the same time, you don't want to come across as Genghis Khan," Prof. Ruff said.

The addition of Mr. Oppal would likely be another moderating force in the next Campbell cabinet. The respected former judge has a well-earned reputation for fairness. It is difficult to believe Mr. Oppal is comfortable with the Liberals' extensive cuts to legal aid and refusal to abide by two binding arbitration awards providing raises to Crown prosecutors.

Nor is Mr. Oppal expected to applaud simplistic, law-and-order approaches to crime, as are occasionally touted by some Liberals.

No longer having to worry about placating more than 70 Liberal MLAs, however, the Liberal Leader may well opt for a smaller cabinet than the bulky, 28-member version that went into the election.

The toughest portfolio Mr. Campbell will have to fill is health, with its multibillion-dollar budget and consistent appearance at the top of voter concerns.

Incumbent Shirley Bond is not expected to continue in the heavy-duty ministry, even if she does manage to hang on in her Prince George riding. Possible new health ministers include the personable George Abbott, currently Minister of Sustainable Resource Management, and Education Minister Tom Christensen, who has had some success calming the open warfare between teachers and the government that existed while Christy Clark had the job.

A number of other ministers have performed relatively well and may be offered new challenges during Mr. Campbell's second term. In this group are Forestry Minister Michael de Jong, Solicitor-General Rich Coleman, Agriculture Minister John van Dongen, notwithstanding the tough time he has had managing the controversial fish farm issue, and Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon.

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