In politics one finds both the best and the worst sorts of people, but the worst sort are more entertaining. One such provincial politician in BC featured prominently in P.S. Knight’s business experience between 1978 and 1980. This politician was a particularly entertaining specimen. He was like margarine, in that he was pretty solid until things heated up. He was given a cabinet seat for optics reasons but he wasn’t expected to do much, and he didn’t let anyone down on that point. His trouble was that he was so accomplished at getting nothing accomplished that people started taking notice. It seems he felt that he had to do something in order to have another shot at cabinet in a year’s time, after the 1979 election.
After a suitable period of handwringing it was decided that his Ministry would publish an electrical guidebook. Never mind that P.S. Knight Co. had by then been publishing “electrical guidebooks to help the citizen” for more than a decade, this new guidebook would be miles better since it would be published by government bureaucrats. Nothing summons thoughts of quality or efficiency or customer service quite like government bureaucracy. Pardon the incivility; we’re still a bit sensitive about this.
The Minister condescended to a meeting with Peter Knight. It was pointed out that Electrical Code Simplified (“ECS”) was already doing what the Ministry was just starting. It was further argued that the same Government which was now publishing electrical guidebooks was inspecting the electrical work that was done based upon them. The Ministry was effectively introducing a major conflict of interest in the electrical sector; it was going to compete commercially within the market that it was regulating. And it planned to do this at the expense of the taxpayers, one of which was in competition with that Ministry. Peter Knight, in other words, was being asked to subsidize the fight against his own business. To add insult to injury, this Minister was Peter Knight’s local MLA. How’s that for representing the interests of one’s own constituents?
The Minister admitted to Peter that he hadn’t properly considered these matters and, given this new information, the government book would be withdrawn. This commitment lasted for about three days. After consulting with his Ministry officials, the Minister reversed himself and announced that distribution of the book would continue.
In fairness, we shouldn’t think too harshly of these sorts of people. They’re undoubtedly nice folks in their own way, and we all have weaknesses like they do, its just that in some cases their weaknesses lined up to make them challenging to work with in political contexts. Years later I (Gordon Knight) had the privilege of working with the Minister’s sister in an unrelated job. I heard about another side to this man and the experience did much to temper my views of him. And it’s also true that the good sort of politicians have their weaknesses, it’s just that these don’t seem to impact so heavily on their political activities.
As an MLA, Grace McCarthy was an example of an imperfect politician who performed perfectly on our behalf. In contrast to the aforementioned Minister, and regardless of whether you agreed with what McCarthy was doing in cabinet, it’s hard to argue that she wasn’t a powerhouse of productivity. Peter Knight called on Grace to help with the other Minister. And she did. She quickly determined that the Minister’s actions were a significant legal liability for the Government; she considered the government book as contraband, (though the use of the term might be stretched here.) She agreed that the book was indeed a conflict of interest and was in conflict with existing Provincial legal statutes, and she committed to have the book pulled from distribution. By 1979, the BC Homeowners Guide had been deemed illegal in British Columbia. Apart from one copy in Provincial archives, P.S. Knight Co. is the only known legal owner of this now defunct book. And we’re still quite pleased with Grace McCarthy.