I was completely surprised by the announcement Tuesday that TV broadcaster Bridgette Anderson had taken the position of BC Liberal Premier Gordon Campbell's press secretary.
Surprised because of a past controversy during the 1996 provincial election campaign, which Campbell narrowly lost to NDP Premier Glen Clark.
Anderson was then the Victoria-based political reporter for UTV [the station that has also been known as CKVU.] At that time I was Communications Director in the Premier's office and, during the election, campaign tour communications director.
On May 10, 1996 - just 18 days before the vote - Campbell made a bad attempt at humour on the campaign trail after being asked by Anderson about his lack of warmth and polls that found him personally a drag on the party.
Watching the 6 p.m. television news after campaigning had ended, our election team was stunned at the reports of Campbell's ill-advised comments and actions.
An accurate accounting of the incident comes from a Fraser Institute report on election coverage in the 1996 and 1991 provincial elections:
Part of the negative attention to Gordon Campbell resulted from his earlier interview with UTV reporter Bridgette Anderson. Just as Liberal leader John Turner before him was haunted by the "bum-patting" incident in 1984, Campbell was considered overly friendly in 1996.
Ironically the offending incident occurred when Anderson asked Campbell about his image problem: "Today in Kelowna, he was back on the campaign trail trying to reshape his image. But that image may have suffered a setback when I asked him about the new Gordon Campbell. . . .
Critics have said that you're not known as a very warm kind of human being. Are you trying to change that image?"
Campbell responded by putting his arm around Anderson and saying: "I sure am Bridge, no question about that."
Although Campbell apologized for his actions, the incident was reported on all three stations. BCTV's Keith Baldry went so far as to say on May 10, 1996: "On to another topic, Pamela. Of course a lot of attention was paid to Gordon Campbell's economic plan, but it was somewhat overshadowed by an event involving Mr. Campbell on the campaign trail in Kelowna."
While UTV and BCTV showed some restraint by placing this story after reports of the Liberal economic plan, CBC launched the night's news with the incident. In introducing the story, anchor Erica Johnson made this comment: "But no sooner had the Liberal leader taken his new image and tax plan on the road today than his campaign was on the defensive. One brief gesture almost derailed the day's closely scripted plan."
I remember the response of some of the female Clark campaign members at the time. "That's creepy," one said, while others were simply astonished.
The incident should not be overemphasized but it hurt Campbell with women voters at a time when the election battle was neck and neck.
Anderson, while obviously rattled by Campbell's actions, remained a professional journalist throughout and did not attempt to make more of it than the story that day.
Still, I shook my head upon hearing that she had gone to work as Campbell's press secretary.
I wish Bridgette well - she is not a political person in my view but the premier's staff are hired to defend the premier and improve his image - and that may be a real challenge.