Since Kamloops-North Thompson MLA Kevin Krueger announced he won’t run for a fifth term next spring, there have been quite a few greatest hits collections, mostly selected shots at his political foes. Here’s a longer version of Krueger’s exit interview with members of the legislative press gallery this week.
On why he’s pulling the plug after what will be 17 years as MLA and occasional cabinet minister:
People have been asking me for 16 years if I was running again, and my answer was I’ll know when it’s time to stop. My wife and I have been back and forth on that question over the years. In 2004, one day I told her I decided I wasn’t running again as the 2005 election approached. You always want to leave people enough time to choose a new candidate if you aren’t going to. And up until then, she had been tremendously opposed to me being involved at all, right from the beginning.
And when I finally told her I was going to accede to her request, she said, ‘what are you talking about?’ She said, look at all the stuff you’re getting done. Who else can truthfully say that they caused a university to be created in in his home town, and she made a list.
And I got up on one elbow and said, ‘who’s this in my bed talking to me like that?’ because it was exactly the opposite of what I’d always heard.
The day John van Dongen did his thing [jumped to the B.C. Conservatives], of course I was asked, I think all of us were, if we were going to run again. And happily for me, she and I had just had a conversation a few days before … where she said, I really think you should run again.
The premier’s made it very clear, and I agree with her, that we need to bring in some new faces, more than maybe presently planned. We talked about cabinet, back at the time her decision was made, and I agreed with her that if you promise new faces in cabinet, and a smaller cabinet, the arithmetic’s not in favour of incumbents. And in my one-on-one interview with her, I told her I really thought Terry Lake should have a shot at it. Really bright guy, more educated than me … and that’s what she did.
On how he can return to his job as an ICBC manager after all that time:
I had a good career going before the fire in the belly made me put my name on a ballot. We all told each other at the time we should go two terms max. But then we had to blow the first term on five years as a visibly unhappy opposition. And so we didn’t feel that clock should start until 2001, when we became government. But I’m way past that.
And I’ve been on this long-term leave without pay from my job at ICBC, and they and I never expected it to go this long, but everyone’s very gracious about it. It is a contract, so they have repeatedly fulfilled the obligation to reassure me, and written to me and said that’s all valid. They’ve probably changed their management guide since, but it was a contract a the time.
I’ve just turned 57 years old, and I’m still a long way from retirement age. I’ve enjoyed my ICBC career and they have a place for me.
On death threats, and getting elected four times:
[Constituents] are really good to me. Nobody has any doubt, I don’t think, that I would have been re-elected again if I ran, and that’s not braggadocio. I don’t get much negative e-mail at all any more. At the beginning I got death threats. I had to go to an unlisted number at home because my children were still young and they were picking up the phone and getting death threats.
The RCMP were involved. They followed me around for a while, saying they were serious. That started the day it was known I was pursuing the nomination. Kamloops used to be a really tough town – not being partisan, this is the truth – from the NDP point of view. The day people found out that I was thinking about not being an ICBC manager any more but a candidate, I started seeing people give me the finger when I drove down the street. I started getting nasty phone calls, and there was a deluge of that once I was running and especially after we became government.
Gordon Campbell had to have RCMP protection right from the beginning, because the RCMP said the same thing to him, that these were serious death threats, and we’re going to be driving you around. I didn’t have to have that for very long, and for years now, I hardly get any harassment, and I never get death threats, which is a welcome change.
Lots of people have said to me, ‘No one would ever presume to take you on or force you out or anything like that.’ You’ve seen how supportive Premier Clark is. Because for the last while I felt as though I paid my dues and I should be able to speak about issues even if they’re controversial. I’ve done that, and I’ve been upbraided sometimes by some of you for that.
When I made my remarks about the judiciary I got considerable criticism from the press gallery, but then all through the following weekend, probably journalists were getting copies of e-mails from all over the province. There was a huge wave of support, completely unsolicited by me.
On speaking his mind, loudly:
When I was a kid growing up on a homestead, listening to my Dad – and he was an ex World War II soldier who went on the beach at D-Day – and all his friends, it was constantly, ‘Why in the world do these people we elect to tell Victoria and Ottawa what we think, always want to tell us what Victoria and Ottawa think? Why don’t they convey our message to government?’ And I felt an obligation to do that. Way too bluntly, initially. I think I’ve gotten a little better at that later. But people like it.
And I get waves of support whenever I take on something controversial. I try to ever say anything hurtful, certainly never things that are untrue. Some things are going to be hurtful, but, you know, I try to be decent about that. I’m a Christian first.
On whether Christy Clark can win the next election:
Oh yes. She will. I have no doubt that she will. If you guys could have been a fly on the wall at our caucus planning session at 108 [Mile House] a couple of weeks ago, the caucus is united. And she was chosen in a process that was fair and square. And it was a tough process….
In the B.C. Liberal government, since Gord asked me to be the liaison between the executive and caucus, that was one of the toughest times. We really felt we needed to make that constitutional change [equal weight for constituencies regardless of membership] so Surrey wouldn’t decide who was the leader every time. It was tough but we got it through, and Christy’s team was really smart. They went out and won support in a lot of the un-held ridings … and from there they still had to work hard, and she won. Mike McDonald is brilliant. Ken Boessenkool is a great choice.
On the B.C. Liberal government’s record:
We have – you really can’t argue with this – admirable results in many areas. It’s quite something to have a triple-A credit rating and the most jobs in B.C.’s history in the teeth of a world-wide recession. The Conference Board of Canada, year after year, says we have the best health care in the country. We’re told over and over we’ve got some of the best education results in the world.
On the impression that he and other MLAs are jumping from Christy Clark’s ship, and the legacy of the HST:
Nobody’s blaming her for that. There may well be others. I hope not too many more, because I think it’s important to have the experience there. For me it was really personal considerations. And one of them is, I was a champion of HST, and I still am. And every time I say that, it bugs people, because they didn’t like it. They mainly say they didn’t like it because of what they call the way they implemented it. And it’s been very painful for me for people to say that we lied, and specifically that I lied. I’ve volunteered repeatedly to take a polygraph, and I still would, because we didn’t lie.
Another criticism that I heard all my life … is that government can’t get anything done quickly. It just can’t rise to opportunity. It takes forever, and the situation has changed. And I was thrilled that my colleagues had the jam to make the decision. When we got that opportunity, it was unheard of. Nobody even bothered to asked me in the whole 2009 campaign what I thought of harmonizing, because they’d heard us deal with that so many times.
And I had pleaded with my colleagues to do it, because I was chairing the small business roundtable leading up to that election. And they consistently said to me – it wasn’t all, restaurants were never in favour, but they’re only about 20,000 out of at that time 380,000 small businesses in B.C., now it’s 400,000, with 1,050,000 employees between them, and as they point out to me, that’s less than three employees per small business average. Generally there’ a couple of partners, often spouses. And they’d say, one of the partners has to spend most of his or her time doing books for two levels of government and dealing with local government, and it just burns up too much time. We can’t grow our businesses properly.
And I’d make that pitch in caucus and in cabinet, but the response always was, no, we’re the tax cutting regime. We had cut taxes at that time more than 120 different times, different ways. And we’re not going to change that. The federal government has always insisted [the HST rate] will be 13 per cent, and five plus seven is 12, and we won’t do it.
Then it really was that first cabinet meeting after the election. [Then-finance minister] Colin Hansen very gingerly said to us, ‘you’re not going to want to hear this, we’ve debated it repeatedly, but I have to report to you the federal government has made us a new offer. And they’ll let us go at 12, and they’ve never conceded that before. They’ll give us five per cent exemptions, and we’ll probably have to burn that up mostly on home heating and vehicle fuels because we did carbon tax, and the public won’t accept that.’ He laid it all out to us and then he said, if we don’t do it, Ontario will be two years ahead of us because this is a two-year legislative cycle in Ottawa. We won’t get an other chance for two years. By then it will have been a huge temptation for investors to go there and create jobs instead of here. And the kicker is, they’ll give us $1.6 billion to be spent wherever we feel it’s most needed.
At that time, one person at the table said ‘what’s their phone number?’ It was almost too good to believe. Our deficit was was much larger than we thought, and I know people think we lied about that too. They think we have our fingers on the levers all through an election. But the convention is – and we followed it – you don’t interfere. You let the civil service run the government, and you only have a cabinet meeting if there was an earthquake or something serious. And that’s how we behaved ourselves. So it was news to us that the deficit was so much larger.
Gordon Campbell, a very smart man as you know, knew exactly how all of this was going to come across to the public. But we really believe it was the right thing to do. And I really believe to this day, if all of my constituents could have been watching us on video, and they were able to use those buzzers they use on TV to vote, it would have been a huge percentage, well over 90, that would essentially think that I was an idiot if I didn’t vote for it.
But of course they weren’t there. I thought once I explained that to everyone that they might agree HST was a good idea. But Vander Zalm outflanked us tremendously, and you all know how it happened. Now I think, of course, that we would have been way better off consulting for two years rather than fighting for two years and then losing. But I’m completely tied to that. My fingerprints are all over it.
I really would like somebody to give me a polygraph so I could prove I’ve never lied for a moment about the thing. And that hurts, but I’m not going away hurt. I think it’s better if I’m gone. People all say how loyal I am to the government and the premiers and so on, and that’s true, but I think Christy Clark deserves to run without me on the ticket, because I am so completely tied and very frankly so, to everything we did. My own constituents would vote for me, I’m confident, but people around the province would say, well, there you go. If that guy’s still there, then nothing has changed.