Premier Gordon Campbell speaks about Canwest and Cambie merchants

Georgia Straight editor Charlie Smith's April 6 interview with B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell.

On April 6, Premier Gordon Campbell visited the Georgia Straight office to discuss two topics: transportation and small business.

We already posted the video of his discussion about the Gateway program and published a news story. In this segment, you’ll see how Campbell responded to questions about small business.

The B.C. Liberals are trying to present themselves in this election campaign as friends of small business. However, the Campbell government has been anything but a friend of the Georgia Straight, which is a locally owned family business.

One of the first things the premier did after being elected in 2001 was to move the public affairs bureau into his office. The public affairs bureau books government advertising.

The premier had several meetings in his office with Dennis Skulsky, a senior Canwest executive, during the first Liberal term in office. And in recent years, the B.C. government has poured a lot of advertising dollars into Canwest newspapers and television stations.

At the same time, the public affairs bureau refused to place ads for major campaigns like “The Best Place on Earth” or the “Conversation on Health” in the Georgia Straight.

I wanted to demonstrate that when the premier professes such concern for small business, his words aren’t always matched by his actions. I started the interview by using our company, the Georgia Straight, as a microcosm of the broader issue of his government’s treatment of small businesses.

It’s because I knew the details of how his government had treated our company over the past eight years.



May 7, 2009 at 3:57am

If it's still a mystery as to why Gordon Campbell hasn't visited the Straight offices before, perhaps the hostile reception is a clue. Of course, as premier, he should be just as open with all the media. But it's human nature to be more open to people who are nice to you. Your questions were valid and not out of line. But don't you think Campbell, would be more forthcoming and more likely to continue an ongoing relationship with your paper if you buttered him up with a few soft questions first? Or even just phrased them in a way that didn't come across as a partisan attack by a thin-skinned media outlet? You could have asked the same questions in a manner that wasn't so arrogant. Politicians admire smart journalists who ask the kind of hard questions you asked. You just have to make him leave the building without thinking you're an asshole.

Charlie Smith

May 7, 2009 at 8:42am

Here are my answers:
1. Why not butter him up with soft questions first?
Answer: We were offered a half hour. I greeted him warmly. His press secretary declared we only had 20 minutes. They cut the length by a third right off the bat. I had prepared for a half hour. I decided to cut to the chase.

2. As for being a thin-skinned media outlet, I cut him off at one point because we were running out of time. I wanted Matt Burrows to ask him important questions about the Gateway Program. This is just a portion of the entire interview.

3. If you think I sounded arrogant, well, there's not much I can say to that. My tone isn't nearly as beligerent as some of the people in the press gallery. It was really a function of time -- and also the knowledge that his press secretary was prepared to highjack the interview even though I stuck completely to the issues that were agreed to beforehand.

I can have a pleasant interview with a politician if the politician keeps to the preordained agreement. They sandbagged me by offering 30 minutes and then arbitrarily cutting it back after they arrived.

I want to ask the premier about child poverty. I want to ask the premier why he has so few women with real power in his cabinet. I want to ask the premier what he discussed with Dick Cheney in Washington. This is a premier who promised the most open and accountable government in Canada. If he wants to keep this promise, he'll return to our office and answer those questions. Nobody in the BC mainstream media appears prepared to raise these issues. Did Campbell talk about energy with Dick Cheney? I'm still wondering about that.

The reality is that the Campbell government will never place its major advertising campaigns in the Georgia Straight. I know this. I know my questions won't change this. I was trying to get to the issue of the influence that political contributions can have on public policy -- and why the status quo may or may not create an unlevel playing field for small businesses, which Campbell expresses such empathy for.


May 7, 2009 at 1:01pm

Small business which accounts for 45% of all new employment to BC is rapidly going down the tubes as its a little late for the premier's concern as he burys business under taxes and high rents. As the new up and coming unemployed as the high rents can not be justified any longer as business not there to pass it along to cost consience consumers along with carbon tax. So I predict major loses when it comes to small business and the Olympics and the Liberals in this up and coming election. Wally takes a hit along with the Minister of Road Kill and the Minister of Death, Coleman who puts women and children to the streets as they are raped, robbed, beaten, and frozen on disease ridden streets. As where do the Homeless go to protect themselves from a pendemic, home???? Its on the list of the first thing to do along with wash your hands??? Its a breeding ground for more mutants as they take on new form but only they are not quite so discriminating as the Librals who were doing in the poor as disease will happily take a rich child as well as a poor one.

May 7, 2009 at 5:09pm

Wow I never like Gordon Campbell until this interview, thanks!
Georgia Straight Interviewer = ass

May 7, 2009 at 7:17pm

Charlie, when I look at my comment and your answer, I think what I meant by arrogant tone was not so much your voice, but that you started off with a bunch of questions about how Campbell's policies affected your employer. This in itself shows a similar bias that you accuse Campbell of. You could have used a story of any number of small businesses to set the context of the broader issue, but you chose the story of your employer. So it just seemed like a disguised attack. I can understand your side of the story, if you only had 30 minutes and he cut to 20. But from a reader's perspective, I feel short-changed that you had 20 minutes and you spent half the time asking questions related to your employer. Again, yes, I see how you were setting context, but it would have been more relevant if you used another business to set that context.


May 7, 2009 at 11:10pm

Wow, I am amazed that the Premier can look Charlie "strait" in the face and say he thinks people can see the campaign finance stats for themselves and choose. I haven't seen the mainstream media hounding the Liberals on the issue like they hound the NDP about the relative few donations they get from unions. Oh, wait, the MSM is BIG BIZ, Doh!