(Editor’s note: 25 years ago on June 13, 1993 Progressive Conservatives elected Kim Campbell as leader. Campbell inherited an unpopular tax, unprecedented federal debt and national recession, and four months later led the party to its worst electoral defeat. The former prime minister recalled the campaign in a June 1, 2011 interview with Blacklock’s publisher Holly Doan. Following is a transcription of Campbell’s remarks)
When I became prime minister in 1993, Brian Mulroney was the most unpopular prime minister in the history of Canadian polling. Even though I had the highest approval rating for a prime minister in 30 years in the summer of 1993, we were not in election mode. There was no time to put a new face on the party. So, we lived with that legacy. I didn’t have time to put it back together.
You have to do the hard things at the beginning of the mandate, so that by the time you get to the next election people can see how they’re playing out. They can see results, as opposed to just seeing the pain.
Instead, there was a kind of Chinese water torture that kept reminding people of all the reasons they didn’t like Brian Mulroney. It was constant. Canadians were mad. Our time in government had been very tumultuous. We were in a recession, the economy wasn’t going – there were just a lot of things happening, and people were mad. And who do you take it out on? You take it out on the government.
In Québec, you can always get a rise out of people by pressing their buttons, that “we’re being humiliated”. In the West, there had never been as strong a Western voice in the cabinet, but the Reform Party, to put it politely, did not play well with others. It was fascinating. They discovered other people really do speak French and they’re not just doing it to annoy us.
We all have buttons you can push. In Canada the regional buttons are there to be pushed. But the problem is once you push the buttons what are you left with? Are you left with a configuration of people who can solve problems? Or are you left with simply a fragmentation of power and the people who’ve been angry and said, “We’re going to show you.”
Brian Mulroney was very divisive, there’s no question about it. I didn’t have time to put it back together. One of the other things I’ve discovered is if you’re a non-traditional person in a job, people will look for reasons to validate their discomfort that you’re there.