Vaughn Palmer

March 1, 2009

How has politics changed in the quarter-century you’ve been covering it?
I arrived in Victoria at the end of the Solidarity episode, in 1984. We came close to a general strike, and the leader of the Opposition was physically dragged out of the legislature chamber. It was front-page stuff right across the country. My first day on the job as the Vancouver Sun’s Victoria columnist there was a fellow outside the legislature, strapping himself to a cross in protest. “Boy,” I thought, “this is going to be fun.” Things can get nutty these days, but nothing like that.

How has the media changed?
I started on a typewriter, which is like saying you started out with a horse and buggy. Computers have been one revolution, cellphones another. And then came the Internet. I know how the guys with quill pens felt when Gutenberg appeared on the scene.

How have those changes affected the way reporting works?
The news cycle has shortened from days to hours and even minutes. There’s much more information at everyone’s fingertips—more sources, more observers, more conduits from politicians to public. We use stuff up faster; you need to keep coming up with new material, move with the story line.

Who’s the smartest person you’ve come across in your work?
The most astute was Bruce Hutchison, the late long-time editor of the Sun, who ran a one-student journalism school for me during my first years in Victoria.

Who’s the most effective politician you’ve seen?
Dave Barrett served only one term as premier, but he introduced two controversial things that none of his successors have dared to overturn: public auto insurance and the Agricultural Land Reserve. Gordon Campbell has managed to do something that only a handful of B.C.’s three dozen or so premiers accomplished: govern well enough to persuade the voters to reelect him once, with a shot at an even rarer third term.

What impression did you form of Gregor Robertson when he was an MLA?
He was underwhelming at first, awkward in the house, weak in question period. But he learned on the job, found a couple of issues to get behind—the Cambie merchants affected by the Canada Line construction, for example—and he got better as time went on. I’d guess that he switched to the civic arena because he found his role in the provincial NDP frustrating. In opposition you can say whatever you want, but you can’t actually do anything.

Does the election of a left-wing mayor and council in Vancouver tell us anything about the provincial election coming in May?
It tells us how important it is for political parties to remain united and to avoid massively stupid mistakes on the eve of an election.

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