From cliff edge to cliff edge

Allan Fotheringham June 14 1993

From cliff edge to cliff edge

Allan Fotheringham June 14 1993

From cliff edge to cliff edge


My favorite Kim Campbell story is a night in 1983 when she ran for Social Credit against the incumbent NDP in Vancouver Centre in a provincial election. An all-candidates meeting was scheduled in a rough end of the riding, filled with welfare and poverty groups. A man in the audience rose and demanded of the young academic, “What do you know about hardship?”

Kim Campbell stood up and said, “My ambition was to be a concert cellist.” And sat down. The stunned room was silent.

Queen Kim is having a rocky finish to her audacious bid to become prime minister, a mere four years after entering Parliament, but there is one thing that is consistent about her career. That is its inconsistency.

This is a lady who jumps around a lot. This is an extremely intelligent, aggressive woman who has trouble finishing what she sets out to do. Some would say she is simply an opportunist. Some would say it merely demonstrates her ambition and talent on the way to the top. Whatever, the career record shows someone with a remarkably short attention span.

The shrinks would probably put the restlessness and constant shifting of dreams down to her unhappy childhood, her mother disappearing overseas for 10 years when the bright and energetic Avril Phaedra Campbell was only 12. University of Toronto historian Michael Bliss: “She appears to be a bit of an adventurer, one of those peripatetic students of life who never quite earned a graduate degree, but who lucked into a good thing when she got elected in 1988 to a House where everyone gets to know your name. If Brian Mulroney has been the Sam Malone of Canadian politics, he’s about to be replaced by Diane Chambers.”

The puzzling jumping from cliff to cliff was established right out of school, after her political science degree at the University of B.C. As a student, she took up with Nathan Divinsky, a stagey UBC math professor and world chess master. Pysch 101 amateurs would explain the 22-year difference in their ages as a reference to her troubled relationship with her father.

She followed her lover to the University of Oregon, supposedly to do postgraduate work. In truth, she took one undergraduate course. She pursued her master’s degree again at UBC, but never finished it.

Winner of a Canada Council four-year doctoral fellowship at the London School of Economics, she headed off to Britain with an apparently brilliant academic future in front of her. But she abandoned that one, too, marrying Divinsky and returning to Vancouver when his sabbatical in Britain ran out.

When asked by the Vancouver Province for a comment on their now dead marriage, Divinsky said that as a gentleman he didn’t want to respond. And then added that if she wins he is going to display a bumper sticker, “I Screwed the Prime Minister.” A class act.

Next? The brilliant young lady with so much promise tried to become a UBC professor but,

with only a BA to her credit, was denied tenure by both UBC and Simon Fraser University. She ended up teaching at a local community college, relegated to three night courses.

Another course change. This time to UBC law school. Only two months into it, she ran for Vancouver school board, her brainy aggressiveness making her its chairman three years later. Her law school nearly completed, she assured the nervous legal firm where she was to article that this was it—her life’s work.

Within weeks, she reversed herself, running for Social Credit in that 1983 campaign that enshrined forever her cellist quote.

Next? You want more? By 1985, she had abandoned the law firm to work in the office of premier Bill Bennett. When he resigned unexpectedly nine months later, the carefree adventurer who didn’t even have a seat ran for the leadership, gamering all of 14 votes.

Voters who choose prime ministers like guts, as witness their choice of Pierre Trudeau 25 years ago. This lady with the short attention span also has guts—next winning a Social Credit seat and being ignored by the screwball Bill Vander Zalm whom she had ridiculed at the leadership convention that had selected him.

Next? Another marriage. Leading eventually to another marriage failure. The attention span seemed to be ever foreshortened, a frenetic leaping from ledge to ledge on the cliff to the top.

When Vancouver Centre’s Pat Carney suddenly announced she wouldn’t run in the 1988 federal election, her functionaries desperately chased three high-profile replacements for her, including round-the-world paraplegic Rick Hansen and haggis-hotliner Jack Webster. Only a short month be-

fore the election, the ever-restless Campbell became a sudden Conservative—and squeaked in by 269 votes.

All this reveals the paucity of talent in the Conservative upper reaches after they have been rewarded by Canadians with two successive majority governments.

Brian Mulroney bequeathed to voters a clutch of faint-hearted senior ministers—from Joe Clark to Perrin Beatty—who ran for cover the minute the usual ephemeral polls indicated that the golden girl was a cinch winner.

So we are left with only two possibilities. One, a sharp-tongued mini-Thatcher with an alarming ability to leap wherever ambition leads her. And a nice 34-year-old who has no discernible policies or vision. And, come autumn, either of them going up against a 59year-old who has recycled himself so often he is equally bereft of telling us where he might lead us.