After 30 years, two terms as MLA, six cabinet posts, and three recall attempts, Paul Ramsey left Prince George in early April for Saanich.
He arrived in 1975, when the College of New Caledonia – where he had taught for 20 years – was a dirt parking lot.
“And the trailers leaked,” he said.
And now he leaves with his name on the plaque commemorating the expansion.
Ramsey said he has regrets about leaving.
“I’ll miss very much many friends and acquaintances (wife) Hazel and I had. I’ll very much miss the land – I canoed a lot of rivers, and caught and ate a lot of trout.”
But he will keep the fly fishing rod active on Vancouver Island, where he can be closer to his two children, Paul and Ann.
“My daughter is in Vancouver, and my son is in Victoria. I can’t get either of them to move back north,” he said. “Hazel and I want to spend the next part of our lives close to our children.”
Ramsey worked for 20 years as an administrator and educator at colleges and universities in Canada and the United States, most recently at the college and the University of Northern British Columbia.
He was elected MLA for Prince George North in 1991, and was re-elected in 1996. During that time, he served as Minister of Health from September 1993 to February 1996; Minister of Education from February to June 1996 and January 1997 to September 1999; Minister of Environment from June 1996 to January 1997 ; and Minister of Finance from September 1999 until the 2001 election.
Also during that time, he faced an unprecedented three recall attempts under the 1994 Recall and Initiative Act: In December 1997, January 1998, and October 1998. The first failed under judicial review, the other two failed for lack of votes.
Ramsey said he has no quarrel with most of the people who criticized him while an MLA.
“People will advocate for different choices,” he said. “But there are a small number of people involved in a (recall) campaign I hope feel ashamed of themselves.”
Asked what he’s most proud of, Ramsey has a list of three accomplishments. The first is an issue close to his heart.
“We expanded education at the college and university – we had as good facilities here as anywhere in the province, and I was at the table for that.”
Education is the key to the north’s future, he said, and that wasn’t the way it was in 1975.
The second accomplishment is upgrading the Prince George Regional Hospital.
“I worked for five years with Murry Krause and Ann Martin – lots of us said we need a regional hospital that looks like one and can be one.”
Securing provincial funding for the hospice house “was huge for me,’ he added.
The third accomplishment has nothing to do with bricks and mortar, but rather Ramsey’s most beloved Prince George landmark: The Nechako River.
His work led to the cancellation of the Kemano completion project, which he said would have reduced the size of the river, affecting fish, wildlife, and economic opportunity.
“(The project was good for electricity, but disastrous for everything else,” he said. “I canoed every inch of that river – it was sort of a playground for me.”
Looking forward, Ramsey will be involved with the upcoming election campaign. NDP leader Carole James asked him last fall for his help.
“He has experience as a high-profile cabinet minister as well as election experience,” James said. “It makes sense to have new people and as well as people who have been through elections (on the team).”
ï»¿”I think Carole sees me very much as a moderate in the party. I’ve worked hard for good social programs, but I paid attention to the books,” Ramsey said.
“I introduced two balanced budgets, in 1999 and 2000.”
ï»¿ï»¿His job is to co-ordinate the development of the party’s platform, released last Wednesday. His official title is co-chair of the platform development committee with former party president Maura Porte.ï»¿ï»¿
“I’m asking lots of people for their good ideas, both from inside and outside the party,” he said. “Educators, businesspeople, social activists, people concerned about the environment. There’s lots to do.”ï»¿ï»¿
The NDP is the underdog in the May 17 election, he said. “The government always has the advantage going into an election,” he said. “It gets to make announcements, it gets to spend money, and ask friends for favours. And we’ve seen all of that (in the run up to the election) and we’ve seen it has an impact on the polls.”ï»¿ï»¿
In Prince George, the north, and in the entire province, though, Ramsey sees a tight battle for government.ï»¿ï»¿
“The Prince George ridings are swing ridings, and they have been for a long time,” he said. “We took two out of the three twice, and then we took none. I was surprised, and I was very disappointed.”ï»¿ï»¿
This election will be about trust, he said.ï»¿ï»¿
“At one time, I thought this would be a battle about health care. Lots of folks in the central Interior feel the government said one thing and did another. There’s lots of anger out there,” he said. “And I thought it might be about education – 13 schools here were closed, that’s far more (than justified) than falling enrolmentï»¿ï»¿.
“But now I don’t think it is about those things, I think it’s about whether the province wants to trust Gordon Campbell. I think that underlines everything – health, education, and surely BC Rail.”ï»¿ï»¿
Asked whether Liberal pre-election spending, an improved economy, and a less-than-pleasant memory of the 1990s – Liberal MLAs often bring up the “dismal decade” – will hurt the NDP on May 17, Ramsey has a pithy answer.ï»¿ï»¿
“Pat Bell wants to run against Glen Clark,” he said. “Or, if he’s not available, [BC Federation of Labour head] Jim Sinclair. The difficulty is Carole James is on the ballot, not Glen or Jim, and people know that. I find that an interesting Liberal strategy.”ï»¿ï»¿
He said James is a different sort of leader.ï»¿ï»¿
“She brings a different perspective because of her background,” he said. “She doesn’t have a lot of time for some of the things that have been the staples of B.C. politics.”ï»¿ï»¿