Vancouver Sun

Barrett transforme­d B.C.’s political scene

Province’s first NDP premier took steps that continue to reverberat­e decades later

- To mark Canada’s 150th birthday, we are counting down to Canada Day with profiles of 150 noteworthy British Columbians. STEPHEN HUME

To Social Credit Premier W.A.C. Bennett, this social worker turned politician symbolized the “socialist hordes,” a bête noir he energetica­lly invoked for elections. Socialists would overthrow the bastions of free enterprise.

But in the fall of 1972, the bête noir proved a paper tiger and Dave Barrett proved a mesmerizin­g orator, his folksy style peppered with wisecracks about opponents and self-deprecatin­g humour.

He offered a compelling counterpoi­nt to the thin pronouncem­ents of a visibly aging premier who had been in office for 20 years.

Barrett, running in Coquitlam, turned the legislatur­e upside down.

On dissolutio­n, the New Democratic Party was outnumbere­d 38 to 12. When the ballots were counted, 38 NDP candidates had been elected and Social Credit had dropped to 10. Two Progressiv­e Conservati­ves and five Liberals rounded it out.

Not exactly Ten Days That Shook the World, as the Communist revolution in Russia had been described in 1917, but a stunning upset that shattered right-of-centre assumption­s about the inevitabil­ity of power that had prevailed for the previous century.

Barrett then unleashed what writer Crawford Killian calls “legislatio­n by thunderbol­t.” It has been said that while in power, the NDP under Barrett passed a new law every three days, many of which still shape B.C.’s constituti­onal and political landscape almost half a century later.

The Agricultur­al Land Reserve, progressiv­e labour laws, consumer legislatio­n, a human rights code, neighbourh­ood pubs, community health centres and the B.C. Cancer Control Agency, SeaBus, an end to corporal punishment in schools, extending bargaining rights to provincial employees, Pharmacare, the Islands Trust, B.C. Day, Cypress Bowl, B.C. Children’s Hospital — all among the enduring innovation­s.

But Barrett couldn’t sustain his government’s momentum. He called a snap election in 1975 and was defeated, having enraged organized labour by legislatin­g striking unions back to work.

Barrett was born in Vancouver on Oct. 2, 1930, to Samuel Barrett, a Jewish vegetable vendor, and Rose Hyatt, just as the world slid into the depths of the Great Depression. His parents were leftist political activists.

He attended Britannia High School, played rugby, was a bright but indifferen­t scholar and, at 18, enrolled at Seattle University, married, received a graduate degree in social work at St. Louis University, and then worked at Haney Correction­al Institute until 1960 when he knocked-off a Social Credit cabinet minister in Dewdney.

After a spell as a federal MP, he retired from politics in 1993.

Barrett was named to the Order of Canada in 2005 and the Order of B.C. in 2012.

 ??  ?? Dave Barrett is escorted to his seat in the B.C. legislatur­e by colleagues Bill King, left, and Alex Macdonald after winning the 1972 election.
Dave Barrett is escorted to his seat in the B.C. legislatur­e by colleagues Bill King, left, and Alex Macdonald after winning the 1972 election.

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