Gordon Campbell's resignation was inevitable. He lost the confidence of British Columbians and, finally, of at least some within the Liberal ranks.
But the timing was a surprise and leaves the party, government and province in a tough spot.
I expected Campbell to stick around and defend the HST in the run up to next September's referendum. Then he could leave and a new Liberal leader could declare the tax battle in the past, say lessons had been learned and pledge a fresh start.
That didn't work. Campbell faced increasing internal discontent - note Energy Minister Bill Bennett's criticism of the premier's autocratic decision-making on resource minstry restructuring - that increased when his televised address last week was a failure.
The early departure creates big problems. The Liberal party executive has six months to call a leadership convention. The latest date would be in May.
The HST referendum is set for Sept. 24. That means a new Liberal leader faces months either campaigning in favour of the HST or dodging questions about the tax. Either way, public anger about the tax and the incompetent way it was introduced would fix immediately on the new leader.
The leadership race will also be run with the tax still a live issue. That's bad news for potential candidates from within the current cabinet, like Rich Coleman, Kevin Falcon, George Abbott or Mike de Jong.
They have all defended the HST and backed the government's position that it was not possible or necessary to consult the public. They have all supported the claim the tax "wasn't on the radar" during the election campaign, even though talks on implementing it started days after the vote. They have supported, they insisted, Campbell's actions.
The same actions that so angered the public that he had to resign.
Those are problems for the Liberal party. (Although they could be eased by moving the referendum date up to the spring.)
But months of uncertainty are also bad news for the government and the province.
The government had big, if vague, plans for changes to the education system, for example. Those are stalled. The major shuffle of resource industries to speed project approvals announced last week will slow as all involved wait to see what the new leader thinks.
And work on next year's budget, to be presented in February, will move into high gear in coming months. Absent a leader, decisions on everything from health spending to tax policy will be put off.
This is all coming as the province emerges from a recession and businesses and consumer wait to see if the HST will survive the referendum (or, for that matter, whether the Liberal government will survive recall attempts).
The uncertainty will be damaging.
It's a sad end for Campbell, no matter what people think of his time in government. He rode into office with considerable goodwill in 2001 (in part because the former NDP government was so loathed). And he was re-elected twice. No one has ever challenged his work ethic or commitment to the job. His enthusiasms - for First Nations treaties, health reform, action on climate change and all those other great goals - were compelling.
But they were also short-lived. And as time went on they were overshadowed by broken promises and a sense that this was a one-man government not much interested in the views of anyone outside a like-minded inner circle. It was not just the public's views that were discounted; Liberal MLAs weren't consulted about the HST or a host of other policy directions either.
That was too bad. Leaders, unless they are careful, ended up surrounded by people who think like they do and are far more likely to say "great idea, chief" than they are to raise concerns - either their own or their constituents.
So premiers come to believe, for example, that the reason people oppose the HST is that they are just too dim to recognize the premier's wisdom.
And eventually, they stand in front of the TV cameras offering their resignations.
Footnote: The Liberals should be looking ruefully at that 15 per cent tax cut. It reduced revenue by $1.2 billion over the next two years without saving Campbell's job. That's money a new leader could have used to build quick public support, either through tax cuts or an expansion of needed services.