Volume 96, Issue 58
Tuesday, January 14, 2003

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Should a DUI spell political doom?

It happened again the other day – a public figure on his own time saw flashing lights in the rearview mirror.

In this most recent case, British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell was pulled over by the police, after a family party on the island of Maui, for driving under the influence of alcohol. The Hawaiian police gave him a $200 fine and sent him on his way – but the premier's worries were just beginning.

Here in Canada, Campbell has received a myriad of criticism from opponents saying that he needs to step down because of the incident. He has already followed the 21st century rules for image control by immediately apologizing to his supporters. For the time being, the negative publicity in a career where image, reputation and credibility are so important, may prove to be punishment enough.

But what is the just punishment for his crime?

In our age of public transparency and news tickers, the actions of public figures are not kept quiet for long. The public not only has an insatiable appetite for news about celebrities, many truly believe they have the right to know.

What makes Campbell's case different is that, unlike actors or athletes, citizens have democratically placed their trust in him. Campbell has the power to make changes to the legal system and people are outraged that he would break any of the laws in this system. Afterall, a policy-maker should be a policy-follower.

What is ironic about Campbell's story is the amount of press that has been generated by an event that happens fairly regularly in this country. Nobody is claiming Campbell acted responsibly – it's pretty clear he exercised poor judgment. Having said that, is it fair to ask Campbell to pay a higher price than the average person might face for a similar infraction?

The truth is, whether you are a public figure or not, one bad decision can adversely affect you for the rest of your life. Campbell should be no exception, and, while it may be extreme to ask him to resign as premier, he has to be prepared to face the consequences of his actions.

The recent trend in politics is for a candidate to no longer campaign on the basis of how smart he or she might be, but on how much he or she resembles "common" people. In a perverse way, this controversy could have much the same effect on Campbell that former United States president Bill Clinton's well-publicized personal troubles did. For right or wrong, once Clinton admitted to cheating on his wife, a lot of people seemed to feel they could relate to him better.

At the end of the day, Campbell's fate will be determined by the voters. While most will probably judge him on the merits of his politics, he will have to accept that, to some people, his actions were inexcusable – and they will vote under that influence.



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