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Last Saturday Dave Barrett, Shirley, his wife of 57 years and their family celebrated his 80th birthday, a good moment, I think, to look back on his career.

Dave became leader of the NDP in 1969 when the NDP under my old classmate, Tom Berger, lost yet another election to WAC Bennett. He led them to an upset victory in August 1972. He was later an NDP MP and ran for the leadership of the national party – and lost – but it’s his term as premier that I want to look at today.

I came into the Legislature the year he lost the government, never to be premier again, in December 1975 and sat across the chamber from him. That’s not quite accurate since Barrett lost his seat in 1975 but with a bit of the coin of the realm, Bob Williams was induced to resign his Vancouver East seat and Barrett swept back into the Legislature and became Leader of the Opposition, a post Bill King held while Dave was outside looking in.

It was an interesting time to be a rookie MLA and Cabinet Minister. Bill Bennett and Barrett, not to put to fine a point on it, hated each other’s guts and it showed between the two parties in the House.

How did Barrett lose in 1975, barely 3 years after he took office?

Looking at that, one must examine his record and that discloses that two very large policy changes he initiated which remain today and will remain – the Agriculture Land Freeze and the Insurance Company of BC, (ICBC). Both of these policies were bitterly fought by the Socreds and the business community at large. On the Land Freeze, Barrett initiated one of the largest demonstrations on the Legislature lawn ever seen and the Socreds, never guilty of understating an issue, raised the spectre of a communist takeover in Victoria. What they conveniently forgot was that an earlier land freeze was brought in by WAC Bennett who reduced the size of farms open to subdividing to 5 acres. At that time the Socreds in the Bennetts’ home town led the demonstrations. Only hard right wingers would now support serious revision of the freeze.

ICBC was controversial though nowhere as much. While the Socreds and allies opposed ICBC, again the communists  were at work, the public had no sympathy for the private companies and when we took office in December 1975, we saw that the scrambled egg could never be returned to its shell.

Where did Dave go wrong?

He scared people by using public money for highly questionable purposes. He bought the town of Ocean Falls after the mill died for want of trees; he bought a restaurant near the legislature immediately dubbed “Barrett’s Beanery”; he bought up a huge pile of BC art, most of which remains in the basement of the Parliament Buildings; he started a potato chip plant in the Kootenays on a letter from Safeway which said they would look at what was produced – it failed; and he bought Panco Poultry, immediately dubbed “Pinko Panco” which produced “all left wings and assholes”.

Barrett brought in a mining royalty which was ill thought out and stubbornly maintained it so that when I campaigned in the mining town of Logan Lake, standing outside a mine as the workers came off shift, they asked me why I was standing there freezing and shaking hands when they were going to vote for me anyway. And they did – it was one of my best areas.

Let me pause with an anecdote. One of my staunch supporters, the late Art Redman, owned a trailer park which was, itself a polling station. The vote was 34 Mair, 0 NDP and 2 Liberals. When that vote came into what was already a very excited campaign headquarters, Art rushed up to me and said “Rafe, if it takes me a year I’ll find those two fucking Liberals!”

I personally think Barrett lost in 1975 because WAC Bennett said “the NDP couldn’t run a peanut stand”, a theme successfully played upon by the Socred opposition.

The icing on the cake came in a strange way and was in fact based upon a piece of nonsense. Here’s how it happened.

During Ministers’ “estimates”, that being what they expect to spend in the next fiscal year, Members were allowed unlimited time to ask questions, questions which usually consisted of fiery statements with a question mark tagged on. As part of reforms to the practices in the legislature, the NDP put a time limit of 135 hours, all told for all ministries.

Bill Bennett decided upon a way to make this work to his advantage. The Socreds used up the entire 135 hours before it was the Finance Minister’s turn. It must be made clear that his estimates traditionally pass in a few minutes, since while his ministry doles out the money to other ministries, it spends very little itself.

When the Finance Minister’s turn came the Socreds tried to question him but were ruled out of order.

Bennett then, playing the tune set by his father and peanut stands to a fare-the-well, went around the province shouting “not a dime without debate”. It was a phony, contrived issue but it worked especially when Barrett made the huge tactical error of cutting off Bennett’s legislature pay during this absence allowing Bennett, a Kelowna millionaire, to pull out the “poor me” card.

Dealing with changes to legislature practice Barrett brought in three first class ones – Hansard, Question Period and he made the chairmanship of the Finance Committee a member of the opposition.

I mustn’t leave this bit without telling this story.

After we had won in 1975, our House Leader, Garde Gardom, thought about this 135 hour limit on debating estimates and concluded that it was pretty reasonable after all and suggested to the NDP House Leader, the late Dennis Cocke, that it be followed. I don’t know precisely what Cocke said but it was something like “you have to be ……. well kidding – you will never get through the estimates by the time our members are done with you!” True to his word the NDP spun out the estimates until two or three days before Christmas including what was customarily the Summer break.

We deserved it … and we knew it.

How does the Barrett era look now?

Not nearly as bad as it did in December 1975. There are few premiers who have ever left office, after just a bit over three years,  instituting two permanent public policy decisions, ICBC and the Agricultural land freeze, and several long overdue changes to House Rules.

Barrett made a fundamental mistake – he forgot that the NDP are not the natural governing party and could not beat a unified opposition. He scared people, not so much with his main changes noted above, but with the silly things as also noted above. Bill Bennett painted Barrett and the NDP as wastrels who “couldn’t run a peanut stand” and Barrett provided the prima facie evidence of its truth. This coalesced the opposition and he lost. In this context it’s useful to note that in 1972 the NDP won a near landslide with 39% of the vote and in 1975 lost a near landslide … with 39% of the vote!

My conclusion is that Dave Barrett, controversial as he was, made a very positive and substantial contribution to our province and it’s long overdue that this be recognized.

From this aging politico to another – Happy Birthday Dave and many more of them.

9 Responses to “A retrospective look at Dave Barrett”

  1. BC Mary says:

    Me, too, Rafe: Happy Birthday to former premier Dave Barrett, and many more happy birthdays to come!

    I remember that election. August 1972, you say? Remember WAC Bennett running on about the “Socialist hordes are at the gate!” Jeez.

    I remember our family camped out in a Saskatchewan field listening to CBC radio. We were there on a summer holiday … but we were also there, thinking of moving out of a British Columbia which, even then, was becoming so profit-oriented and spiteful. (It’s hard to believe that WAC Bennett created those wondrous social experiments: BC Rail, BC Hydro, BC Ferries, even SFU. If the NDP had done such things, what a howl of outrage there would’ve been. Communism, for sure!)

    How well I remember that the soft Saskatchewan night, hearing that Davey Barrett would be Premier of B.C. Right then and there, we decided to come home again. And BC in the Seventies were good.

    British Columbians, we heard, had flocked to Victoria for Dave Barrett’s swearing-in. That NDP government was made up of the gallant survivors of a long, ugly battle to keep power in the hands of profiteers. Tears of joy were shed for the scarred victors of a long battle won at last.

    I don’t doubt that errors were made. [How Socredably kind of you, Raif, to parade them all … with their derisive nick-names.] I don’t doubt for a moment that, behind the scenes, every obstacle was thrown in the path of the new government hoping for it to stumble and fail. For proof: just think of how the PacifiCats were used.

    I wonder what Dave himself thinks of current events in the province we love. How does he bear it?

    So once again, I feel tears of joy and sadness too … that there ever were people like Davey Barrett in a BC government. Thanks for the memories, Mr Premier.

  2. Stephen Tait says:

    What we should also remember, is that public schools spending started to decline during this period. If we fail to teach civics in our public schools, then where are people going to learn how government works? Yes, about 5% of Canadians actually watch question period, but if most of us are ignorant about the history of our governments what does that say about our participation in our democracy? If it wasn’t for you, Rafe I would have no idea what BC politics are traditionally about. This is the problem, BC politics is like an exclusive club that most citizens are outside looking in. Having a capitol on a exclusive island doesn’t help eigther. But that culture of exclusive governance culminated over years, possibly starting in 1975 in this provence. I like history, Rafe thanks!

  3. Kim says:

    Yes, thank you Rafe, your memory is an asset to us all. I was 9 in 1972, blissfully unaware of the “going’s on” in Victoria and I too love to hear about the crazy people who shaped this place I call home. A very happy Birthday to Mr. Barrett and a hearty shake of the hand!

  4. Joanne Manley says:

    Kind of mean of you to remind us of all the nasty names applied to Dave and what he did. You, Rafe, were part of the Socreds at that time, and some of us had names for you too, but are too polite to mention them. At Dave’s age, and yours, we can forget a lot and forgive some of
    the mistakes, yours and his. It’s time, Rafe.

  5. BC Mary says:

    Questions for Stephen Tait: how do you feel about British Columbia’s news media which, in my view, not only fails but betrays its duty to keep the citizens accurately informed of the flesh-and-blood civics in of our daily lives?

    I’ve spent the past 4-1/2 years trying to fill in the enormous gap in BC’s news — which, for example, ought to have been filled with the who, what, where, when, and why of a historic police raid on the BC Legislature.

    I dread to think of the BCRail Political Corruption Trial being taught in our public schools, if all they have to go on is the skimpy reports in the West Coast dailies. Or … no reports at all.

    For example the man being tracked by police when they raided the BC Legislature was thought to be Mr Big in the West Coast cocaine trade! Imagine. When he was sentenced to jail … NOT A WORD was published … no, under a cloak of silence, Jasmohan Singh Bains went to trial (June 2008), was found guilty (Aug 2008) and sentenced to 9 years in prison (Sept. 2008), and nothing was said. Can you believe it? Where would you find that in the history books … much less in a current civics course?

    It wasn’t until Dec. 2008 that a citizen overheard a comment in BC Supreme Court about “Jas Bains received 9 years …” and, seeing no Big Media journalists in the courtroom, he sent the tip to me. I couldn’t believe it! How could the entire BC press corps fail to notice? Or did they cover it up? Well … I checked it out … proved it was correct, and published the news on my site (http://bctrialofbasi-virk.blogspot.com/) in Dec., thinking to myself “Now, big Media will pick up the news.” But no. It was February 2009 when I happened to mention it to Ian Mulgrew. He picked it up and did a good column on it … again, I thought, it will become widely known: that the guy police were tracking right into the BC Legislature, is now in jail. But no. Not another word. Coincidence, ya think?

    On the other hand, check out Neal Hall, Vancouver Sun, on this point. Neal continues to write that police raided the BC Legislature searching for BC Rail evidence. Not true. Police were tracking Bains … and only heard of the BC Rail hanky-panky from listening to their wire-taps, on Dave Basi’s telephone.

    So how can we blame the citizens for not knowing these critically important things? How do we explain that even Neal Hall of Vancouver Sun continues to say that police raided the Legislature on the trail of BC Rail hanky-panky. I only wish that were true! But it isn’t. The raid was originally about Organized Crime. Who is shape-shifting the news, I ask you.

    I hold good journalism in the highest regard because they provide the essential information to sustain a fair and democratic society. To be employed to pervert that golden rule must surely be a form of hell on earth. As for the citizens and students: how are they going to learn how government works? Because, in my view, preventing the citizens from knowing how the Campbell Government works, is really what the long, painful, expensive Basi-Virk trial is all about. And their goal seems to be to prevent citizens from knowing. Even the tainted BCR-CN deal is still partly secret.

    On the other hand, Stephen, please say a few words about the 200+ well-paid BC government employees who are Campbell’s specific propaganda arm known as the Public Affairs Bureau. Miro Cernitag of Vancouver Sun had an excellent column describing them as “bigger than any newsroom of any newspaper in Canada”. The U.S. president’s office apparently has “only” 75 such PABsters.

    I’ve digressed. But to me, the Basi Virk trial is largely about integrity and government processes. In my view, the trial is not so much about the 3 unfortunate persons caught up in these Campbell processes and who now – alone – stand accused … it’s about the aims and methods of the Campbell government … something which Rafe Mair has been exceptionally brave in denouncing on the issues. When will we smarten up — toss out partisan politics — and join forces (Dave Barrett, Rafe Mair, Joy MacPhail, Paul Nettleton, Vicki Huntingdon … etc) and set to work on the issue of restoring, preserving, protecting British Columbia.

  6. BC Mary says:

    Questions for Stephen Tait: how do you feel about British Columbia’s news media which, in my view, not only fails but betrays its duty to keep the citizens accurately informed of the flesh-and-blood civics in of our daily lives?

    I’ve spent the past 4-1/2 years trying to fill in the enormous gap in BC’s news — which, for example, ought to have been filled with the who, what, where, when, and why of a historic police raid on the BC Legislature.

    I dread to think of the BCRail Political Corruption Trial being taught in our public schools, if all they have to go on is the skimpy reports in the West Coast dailies. Or … no reports at all.

    For example the man being tracked by police when they raided the BC Legislature was thought to be Mr Big in the West Coast cocaine trade! Imagine. When he was sentenced to jail … NOT A WORD was published … no, under a cloak of silence, Jasmohan Singh Bains went to trial (June 2008), was found guilty (Aug 2008) and sentenced to 9 years in prison (Sept. 2008), and nothing was said. Can you believe it? Where would you find that in the history books … much less in a current civics course?

    It wasn’t until Dec. 2008 that a citizen overheard a comment in BC Supreme Court about “Jas Bains received 9 years …” and, seeing no Big Media journalists in the courtroom, he sent the tip to me. I couldn’t believe it! How could the entire BC press corps fail to notice? Or did they cover it up? Well … I checked it out … proved it was correct, and published the news on my site (http://bctrialofbasi-virk.blogspot.com/) in Dec., thinking to myself “Now, big Media will pick up the news.” But no. It was February 2009 when I happened to mention it to Ian Mulgrew. He picked it up and did a good column on it … again, I thought, it will become widely known: that the guy police were tracking right into the BC Legislature, is now in jail. But no. Not another word. Coincidence, ya think?

    On the other hand, check out Neal Hall, Vancouver Sun, on this point. Neal continues to write that police raided the BC Legislature searching for BC Rail evidence. Not true. Police were tracking Bains … and only heard of the BC Rail hanky-panky from listening to their wire-taps, on Dave Basi’s telephone.

    So how can we blame the citizens for not knowing these critically important things? How do we explain that even Neal Hall of Vancouver Sun continues to say that police raided the Legislature on the trail of BC Rail hanky-panky. I only wish that were true! But it isn’t. The raid was originally about Organized Crime. Who is shape-shifting the news, I ask you.

    I hold good journalism in the highest regard because they provide the essential information to sustain a fair and democratic society. To be employed to pervert that golden rule must surely be a form of hell on earth. As for the citizens and students: how are they going to learn how government works? Because, in my view, preventing the citizens from knowing how the Campbell Government works, is really what the long, painful, expensive Basi-Virk trial is all about. And their goal seems to be to prevent citizens from knowing. Even the tainted BCR-CN deal is still partly secret.

    On the other hand, Stephen, please say a few words about the 200+ well-paid BC government employees who are Campbell’s specific propaganda arm known as the Public Affairs Bureau. Miro Cernitag of Vancouver Sun had an excellent column describing them as “bigger than any newsroom of any newspaper in Canada”. The U.S. president’s office apparently has “only” 75 such PABsters.

    I’ve digressed. But to me, the Basi Virk trial is largely about integrity and government processes. In my view, the trial is not so much about the 3 unfortunate persons standing accused … it’s about the aims and methods of the Campbell government … something which Rafe Mair has been exceptionally brave in denouncing on the issues. When will we smarten up — toss out partisan politics — and join forces (Dave Barrett, Rafe Mair, Joy MacPhail, Paul Nettleton, Vicki Huntingdon … etc) and set to work on the issue of restoring, preserving, protecting British Columbia.

  7. Curt says:

    I concur with Mary. And to go back to not being able to run a peanut stand, the lieberals are playing this record again in regards to the NDP.

    In fact, the auditor general came out with a report saying that the NDP actually had a balanced budget for 2000-01 with a 1.5 million dollar surplus. And towards the end of the review which was done January 2002, the AG said, “Mr. Campbell’s own government is the major culprit for the fiscal deterioration… and goes on to say, the liberal government is slashing personal and corporate taxes .. largely in ways not promised during the campaign …

    All I can say is, we are in the worse shape ever as a province, being led in the last ten years by the current government when the economy was booming. To blame it on the recent and continuing global downturn is in my view, simply not acceptable, and deceitful.

    We were in boom times in the early years and they have blown it and for that, there are a lot of people in this province suffering as well as what is going with child proverty, minimum wage, privatization of the “people’s resources”, outsourcing, good paying jobs gone, forestry in shambles, rural BC suffering, and the list goes on.

    I guess the lieberals also, cannot run a peanut stand.

  8. Dick Goold says:

    The NDP left us in “boom”times ? Short memory!

  9. Stan Fraser says:

    HST
    Brought a stamp today $1.22 plus HST .15c for $1.37.
    It’s postage a tax and if so why am I paying taxes in taxes?
    Isn’t the Trans Canada Highway called a freeway if so why is a foreign company going to be allowed to correct tolls (taxes) on the freeway bridge going over the Fraser river at Port Mann which I believe is part of the freeway?

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