W. A. C. Bennett

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W. A. C. Bennett
25th Premier of British Columbia
In office
August 1, 1952 – September 15, 1972
Monarch Elizabeth II
Lieutenant Governor Clarence Wallace
Frank Mackenzie Ross
George Pearkes
John Robert Nicholson
Preceded by Byron Ingemar Johnson
Succeeded by Dave Barrett
Personal details
Born (1900-09-06)September 6, 1900
Hastings, New Brunswick
Died February 23, 1979(1979-02-23) (aged 78)
Kelowna, British Columbia
Political party BC Conservative (1937–1951)
Social Credit (1951–1978)
Spouse(s) May Bennett
Religion United Church

William Andrew Cecil Bennett, PC, OC (September 6, 1900 – February 23, 1979) was the 25th Premier of the Canadian province of British Columbia. With just over 20 years in office, Bennett was and remains the longest-serving premier in British Columbia history. He was usually referred to as W.A.C. Bennett, although some referred to him either affectionately or mockingly as "Wacky" Bennett. To his close friends, he was known as "Cece".

Early and family life[edit]

Bennett was born in Hastings, Albert County, New Brunswick, Canada, one of five children born to Andrew Havelock Bennett and Mary Emma Burns.[1] His father was a third cousin of Richard Bedford Bennett, eleventh Prime Minister of Canada.

He left formal school in grade nine, during the First World War, to take a job in a hardware store, but would pursue correspondence courses as an adult to improve his knowledge and job potential.[2] He joined the Air Force but the war ended before he saw active duty.[1] At the age of 18, he and his family moved to Edmonton, Alberta and then to Westlock, Alberta, where Bennett's father operated a hardware store.

In 1927 Bennett married Annie Elizabeth May Richards, known as "May".[1] In 1930 they moved to Victoria and then Kelowna with their two children, Anita and R.J.[3] A third child, William ("Bill") was born in 1932. In Kelowna he joined the local Gyro Club, Masonic Lodge, the Kelowna Club, and was active in the United Church of Canada.[3]

Early business career[edit]

Bennett opened his own hardware store in 1927, in partnership with another man, and married soon afterwards.[4] Bennett sold his interest just before the 1929 Stock Market crash, fled the tough Alberta economic conditions, and soon moved to Kelowna, British Columbia where he opened his own hardware store, Bennett's Hardware.[5] A successful merchant, he served as President of the Kelowna Board of Trade from 1937 to 1939.

In 1932 Bennett, Giuseppe Guezzi, and Pasquale "Cap" Capozzi established a wine-making company to produce wine from the vast surplus of Okanagan apples going to waste during the Depression.[6] Three years later Bennett and Capozzi, both teetotalers,[7] concluded that there was no market for their apple wines and switched to making wines from California grapes. In 1936 they established Calona Wines, the name a phonetic spelling of Kelowna. Bennett departed the company in 1940 to enter politics.[7]

Enters politics[edit]

Bennett tried for the British Columbia Conservative Party's South Okanagan nomination for the 1937 provincial election, but was unsuccessful. For the 1941 election, he won the nomination and entered provincial politics as the Conservative member of the British Columbia Legislative Assembly for South Okanagan. Following the election, the Conservative and Liberal parties voted to henceforth govern in coalition, an arrangement formally titled the British Columbia Coalition Organization.[8]

As a coalitionist, Bennett was re-elected in 1945, but vacated the seat in 1948 in order to run, unsuccessfully, as Progressive Conservative candidate in the Yale federal by-election of that year. Regaining the Coalition nomination for the South Okanagan seat, Bennett was returned to the British Columbia Legislative Assembly in the 1949 provincial election.

After failing in his bid to become leader of the provincial Progressive Conservative Party in 1951, he left the party to sit as an independent member. In December of that year, he took out a membership in the Social Credit League.

Social Credit leader and premier[edit]

Commencing with the 1952 provincial election, the province used an alternative vote system that had been designed to enable the Conservative and Liberal parties to keep the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation out of power. What the Liberals and Conservatives failed to reckon with, however, was what CCF voters would do with their second preferences. In the election, the CCF's second preferences went overwhelmingly to Social Credit, making them the largest party with 19 seats out of a total of 48. The Socreds succeeded in convincing an Independent Labour Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) to support them and so were able to form a minority government.

Not even the Socreds had expected to win the election. They had gone into the campaign without a full-time leader; their nominal leader had been Ernest George Hansell, a federal MP from Alberta. Party president Lyle Wicks convened a meeting of the newly elected MLAs to elect the province's new premier. Bennett, one of only three Socred MLAs who had any previous experience in the legislature, was elected party leader and premier-designate on July 15, 1952. Of the 19 votes cast, Bennett received 10, another received 2, and two more (including Philip Gaglardi) one vote each.[9]

On August 1, he was sworn in as Premier of British Columbia, an office he went on to hold for 20 years. In order to get a stronger mandate, Bennett deliberately engineered the defeat of his initial minority government with a school funding proposal, forcing an election for June 1953. Social Credit was re-elected with a clear majority. Preferential voting was not used in BC again as Bennett, who had profited from the system, abandoned it following his 1953 victory.

The Social Credit Party won seven consecutive elections during W.A.C. Bennett's involvement and leadership: 1952, 1953, 1956, 1960, 1963, 1966, and 1969.[10] The only election Bennett lost as a member of Social Credit was in 1972, the last election in which he was a candidate.

Political ideology[edit]

While the Social Credit party was founded to promote the social credit theories of monetary reform, these could not be implemented at the provincial level, as the Alberta Social Credit Party had learned in the 1930s. Bennett quickly converted the provincial party into a populist conservative party, and it became a vehicle for those who sought to keep the CCF out of power. However, as leader of the Social Credit Party of Canada's second most powerful provincial branch, he spoke for the party in federal election campaigns. During the 1957 election, he spoke for the party at a rally in Regina, Saskatchewan. In the 1965 election, Bennett and his cabinet ministers toured BC to encourage voters to elect Social Credit MPs to promote BC's interests.

The cabinets of the Bennett governments over 20 years had several memorable ministers, including the flamboyant "Flying Phil" Gaglardi, who oversaw the rapid expansion of highways throughout the province and a similar expansion of BC Ferries.

Flag of British ColumbiaFlag ratio: 3:5

In 1960, the Bennett government introduced British Columbia's first provincial flag, the first official provincial flag adopted west of Quebec.[11]

Financial policy[edit]

A fiscal conservative, he served also as the Minister of Finance, keeping tight control over government spending, while leading his province into an era of modernization and prosperity. His practice of "pay as you go" carefully tracked spending, transferred debts to other government agencies, which allowed Bennett in 1959 to claim that the province was debt free.[12]

Government expansion[edit]

Bennett's governments undertook a series of nationalizations to create provincial Crown corporations, including BC Ferries (1960) and BC Hydro (1961). BC Rail, formerly the Pacific Great Eastern Railway, owned by the province since 1918, underwent a series of major expansions.[13] His Minister of Highways, Phil Gaglardi, oversaw major highway expansions and improvements. Major hydro-electric dam-building projects were undertaken on the Columbia and Peace Rivers. Bennett was instrumental in establishing the Bank of British Columbia with the government taking a 25% ownership.[12]

Bennett advocated in 1955 for a universal medical, dental, hospital, and pharmaceutical insurance coverage. [14] Universal, publicly funded medical and hospital insurance was introduced as part of the federal government's creation of what became known as Medicare. The provincial government introduced a retail sales tax to fund the program.

Post-secondary education institutions were created and expanded in the 1960s, including with the addition of BC's second and third degree-granting universities: the University of Victoria in 1963 and Simon Fraser University in 1965. (The first was the University of British Columbia.)

Columbia River Treaty[edit]

In 1961 the Columbia River Treaty was signed by Canada and the United States. Although the signatories were the federal governments of Canada and the United States, Premier Bennett was reported to have played a major part in the negotiations. Under the provisions of the treaty, the U.S. paid British Columbia C$275 million (plus interest) for the downstream power generation rights over the following 30 years. BC used the money to fund construction of dams on the Columbia River for power generation and flood control.[15]

BC-Canada relations[edit]

Bennett proposed that Canada be considered as a group of regions instead of provinces: Atlantic Canada, Quebec, Ontario, Western Canada, and BC. He also proposed that the four western provinces be expanded north, with BC absorbing the Yukon Territory. Although there were no concrete results, the concept of different regions, instead of provinces, has become part of how Canadians discuss the country.

BC hosted the 1971 constitutional conference in Victoria. From this emerged the Victoria Charter, the most far-reaching federal-provincial agreement on constitutional amendment since Confederation. Bennett advocated that BC should have a veto over constitutional amendments, along with Ontario and Quebec.

Post-premiership[edit]

Bennett Memorial at Kelowna Memorial Park Cemetery

Following his party's defeat in the 1972 election by Dave Barrett's revitalized New Democratic Party (the successor to the CCF), he served as Leader of the Opposition until resigning his seat as member for South Okanagan in June 1973.

His son, W.R. "Bill" Bennett, won the South Okanagan by-election in September. W.A.C. Bennett retired as leader of the Social Credit Party on November 15, and his son Bill Bennett was elected leader of the BC Social Credit Party on November 24, 1973. NDP Premier Dave Barrett dropped the writ and sought re-election in the fall of 1975, the Socreds were returned to power with 35 seats in the 55-seat Legislature, and W.A.C.'s son Bill became the new Premier of British Columbia, inheriting his father's mantle of power as well as many of his father's cabinet members.

In 1976, W.A.C. Bennett was made an Officer of the Order of Canada. He died in 1979, and was interred in the Kelowna Municipal Cemetery, in Kelowna, British Columbia.

In 1998, the Government of Canada honoured W.A.C. Bennett with his portrait on a postage stamp of Canada. The W.A.C. Bennett Dam near Hudson's Hope, built under the Two River Policy, is named after him. The library at the Burnaby campus of Simon Fraser University also bears his name. He was featured on the cover of Time Magazine on September 30, 1966.[16]

Quotes[edit]

  • "Just say that I smiled and I smiled and I smiled!" – signature riposte when asked to respond to criticism from opposition party or media
  • "The finest sound in the land is the ringing of cash registers."
  • "The Socialist Hordes are at the gates of British Columbia!"
  • "I couldn't give it away, so we decided to build it and run it." – On the British Columbia Railway.
  • "We are a young country; we must build on the solid rock of sound economic policies and balanced budgets. But, we must be prepared, as a nation, to step from the solid rock onto new ground. The path of ease, the path of tradition alone, is not the path of a greater Canada." – Addressing the Canadian Chamber of Commerce in 1962.
  • "I'm plugged into God" – On the reason for his political successes
  • "It's the smell of money." – To residents complaining of the smell of a local pulp mill
  • "They couldn't run a peanut stand." – On the New Democratic Party
  • "You may not be my friend, but I'll be your friend, even if I'm the last friend you ever have." – On his frequent application of "my friend" to everyone, including political opponents.
  • "The answer is 'No'." – How Bennett would emphasize his stubborn opposition

Further reading[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c UELAC.org
  2. ^ Bowering's B.C.: A Swashbuckling History, by George Bowering, Toronto 1996, Penguin Canada, ISBN 0-14-024004-0, pp. 299-300.
  3. ^ a b Sunnyokanagan.com
  4. ^ Bowering's B.C.: A Swashbuckling History, by George Bowering, Toronto 1996, Penguin Canada, ISBN 0-14-024004-0, pp. 300.
  5. ^ Sunnyokanagan.org
  6. ^ Calona Vineyards - history
  7. ^ a b [Asper, Vintage Canada]
  8. ^ Bowering's B.C.: A Swashbuckling History, by George Bowering, Toronto 1996, Penguin Canada, ISBN 0-14-024004-0, pp. 300-301.
  9. ^ Mitchell, p.165.
  10. ^ Mitchell, p.461
  11. ^ List of Canadian flags#Provincial
  12. ^ a b Canadian Encyclopedia
  13. ^ John R. Wedley, A Development Tool: W.A.C. Bennett and the P.G.E. Railway
  14. ^ Canadian Museum of Civilization
  15. ^ NW Council
  16. ^ "A Letter From The Publisher: Sep. 30, 1966". Time. 30 September 1966. Retrieved 5 February 2011. 

External links[edit]