On February 2, 2018, British Columbians said goodbye to a man whose legacy casts a long shadow on the province still today. Undoubtedly an icon of BC politics, Dave Barrett, who served as British Columbia’s first NDP premier, passed away aged 87.
Barrett and the NDP took control of the Legislative Assembly back in 1972, winning 38 out of 55 seats and handing W.A.C. Bennett’s Social Credit Party—which had been in power in BC for twenty years—a stunning defeat. Upon taking office, Barrett unleashed “legislation by thunderbolt” as the NDP passed a bill an average of every three days. Achievements which would otherwise take a ruling party a decade to achieve—such as the introduction of Pharmacare, ICBC, and the Agricultural Land Reserve—Barrett’s NDP took only three years.
An avowed socialist who crusaded against capitalism, Barrett often drew criticism for his left-wing stances. His predecessor often attacked him for being a “Marxist,” and Barron’s Magazine once referred to Barrett as the “Allende of the North”—a comparison to Marxist Chilean president Salvador Allende. In reality, Barrett was merely a champion of the little guy, both in opposition and in office. During his time as premier, Barrett passed consumer protection laws, established the BC reformed to BC’s welfare system, introduced the Labour Relations Board, and made it possible for public sector employees to unionize.
For the younger generations, the NDP banned corporal punishment in schools and brought in the French Immersion programme. Anybody drink alcohol? Don’t deny it, but take time to thank a premier who lowered the legal drinking age to 19 and was responsible for creating neighbourhood pubs.
As a staunch environmentalist, Barrett is also sometimes considered the province’s “first Green premier.” His accomplishments in this regard include preserving Cypress Bowl, ending mining in provincial parks, and taking on supertankers and offshore drilling.
Finally, Barrett was also responsible for changing the way the Legislature functions. He was the one who introduced Hansard into the Legislature and was the first to conduct Question Period, where members had the opportunity to question the premier.
All this and more—367 bills in total—Barrett and the NDP accomplished in three years. This week, we bid the late great Dave Barrett a fond farewell.
In other news, Vancouver-Quilchena MLA Andrew Wilkinson won a closely contested BC Liberal leadership race on the fifth ballot. He will be the third consecutive Liberal leader to have served in Vancouver, after former premiers Gordon Campbell and Christy Clark both served in Vancouver-Point Grey. His victory seems to signal the Liberals’ intention to continue focusing on gaining support in the Lower Mainland, despite their base being located in the interior and consistently losing support among suburban voters.
Having been in third place for most of the day, Wilkinson narrowly edged out outsider Michael Lee—who had promised to draw in centrist voters into the party—on the fourth ballot before defeating former Conservative MP Dianne Watts in the final ballot. In short, most Liberals were not thrilled to elect Wilkinson, but were content with him taking over the party.
Wilkinson seemed to be a safe establishment business-friendly pick. He holds a seat (unlike Dianne Watts) and a safe one at that (unlike former Vancouver mayor Sam Sullivan). He was a party insider (unlike Michael Lee) from Vancouver (unlike Todd Stone and Mike de Jong). He is also well-educated—he is both a physician and a lawyer, and holds a degree from Oxford—and looks to appeal to the dwindling population of educated right-of-center free-enterprise suburbanites.
As a final note, the leaders of the three main parties in British Columbia are now all old white guys. Prince Edward Island is the only other province in which white men lead all three major parties, not that this matters.
Image courtesy of the BC NDP