Gone, not forgotten

By winning a third consecutive election on May 12, Gordon Campbell served notice that he’s a survivor in a province known for running its political leaders through the shredder.

First in a series on ex-B.C. premiers: Where are they now?

By winning a third consecutive election on May 12, Gordon Campbell served notice that he’s a survivor in a province known for running its political leaders through the shredder.

The last guy to beat him in an election isn’t doing too bad for himself either.

Glen Clark’s NDP got fewer votes than Campbell’s Liberals in 1996, but pulled off an upset win due to vote-splitting. Clark was premier for three and a half years before leaving office in a cloud of scandal.

In May, the B.C. Liberals once again trotted out the bogeyman of NDP mismanagement of provincial finances. One of Glen Clark’s pet projects — the fast ferries — is one of the reasons the charge still has traction.

Designed to kick-start the province’s ship-building industry, the three B.C.-built boats were plagued by design problems, delays and cost overruns. The final tab was about $500 million and the boats were hardly used. They were eventually sold for $20 million to a private company that has yet to unload them. The ferries sit in the North Vancouver harbour, a visible reminder of financial folly.

The 1999 scandal that ended Clark’s days as premier involved a neighbour who was applying for a casino licence at the same time he was building a deck on Clark’s house. After a raid on Clark’s house that was broadcast live on the evening news, he was charged with breach of trust and accepting a benefit.

The neighbour was convicted of conspiring to influence Clark, who was acquitted. However, the ex-premier’s public image was shot after the high-profile trial.

Enter Jimmy Pattison, the self-made B.C. billionaire who owns Frank Sinatra’s pad in Palm Springs. Pattison’s private empire employs 31,000 people and rings up $6.7 billion in annual sales. Auto dealerships, newspaper and magazine distribution, billboards, radio stations, the Save-On Foods chain, the Guinness Book of World Records, even the Ripley’s Believe It or Not! franchise — all of them butter Jimmy’s bread.

Pattison and Clark had met back in 1986 at the B.C. legislature after Clark had been elected for the first time at 26. The businessman had been impressed with his drive, despite Clark’s left-wing convictions.

“Send him to me. He’ll be a millionaire in no time,” Pattison had said, in remarks that have become part of B.C. political lore.

Fast-forward to June 2001. The NDP had just been pummelled by Gordon Campbell’s Liberals, who captured 77 of 79 seats. Clark was out of a job and waiting for his trial, a discredited ex-politician written off by both the political right and left.

Pattison, Canada’s sixth wealthiest man, called Clark up and offered him a job.

The union organizer-turned-left-wing premier started out running Pattison’s sign division. He’s now Pattison’s right-hand man — executive vice-president of the Jim Pattison Group — and responsible for thousands of employees.

Clark is also a director of three Pattison-linked companies, including fruit-juice maker Sun-Rype Products. When he joined the board, the unionized Kelowna company had just settled after a bitter strike that featured picket-line clashes between strikers and company security guards.

So did Clark’s new boss, whose personal net worth is estimated at $4.5 billion, make him a millionaire? It’s a safe bet.

Quite a transformation for an ex-NDP premier, but Clark still takes pride in his roots in gritty east Vancouver. He even reportedly lives with his family in the same east Vancouver house, the one with the deck that flattened a premier but launched an impressive business career.

James Kwantes is a former Advocate editor. He can be reached at gone-coastal@hotmail.com

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