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1975: Bill Bennett elected Premier of B.C.

British Columbia has a proud tradition of bare-knuckle, drag-'em-out election campaigns. No other province can match B.C.'s flamboyant leaders, its salacious scandals and the trench warfare between free-enterprisers and socialists. Many of the hard-fought victories ended in resignation. CBC Archives takes a look back at campaign highlights going back as early as 1952.

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After only three years of NDP government, British Columbians are rushing back to a familiar party led by a man with a familiar name. In last night's dramatic election, voters swapped the NDP majority government for one of Social Credit led by Bill Bennett -- son of the premier they turfed in 1972. In this television clip, a triumphant Bennett tells supporters in Kelowna that people, not glib slogans, won the election. His father, W.A.C. Bennett, looks like he's going to cry.

Liberal leader Gordon Gibson says his party was devastated by a "kind of tidal wave" of support for the political right. NDP leader Dave Barrett, who narrowly lost his own seat along with the government, swallows the bitter pill with a smile. The party has changed B.C. in ways that can't be reversed, he tells supporters. "Relax. Tomorrow we pick up tools." 
• Seat totals in the Dec. 11, 1975 British Columbia election:
- Social Credit: 35
- New Democratic Party: 18
- Liberal Party: 1
- Progressive Conservative Party: 1
• The final totals differ from those in the clip because of recounts.

• The NDP received virtually the same number of votes in 1975 as in 1972 -- 39.2 per cent of the popular vote compared to 39.6 per cent. The difference was that in 1972 the "free-enterprise" vote was split between Social Credit, the Liberals and the Conservatives. In 1975, the anti-socialist forces deserted the Liberals and Tories to coalesce around Social Credit and its leader Bill Bennett.

• NDP leader Dave Barrett had almost two years left in his term when he called a rare late-fall election. He told voters he needed a mandate from them for his price-control program that was a response to Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau's wage-and-price-control program to counter high inflation.
• Barrett's measures included a price freeze on food, fuel and essential services that was harshly criticized by business leaders.

• Social Credit blamed a sputtering economy and high unemployment on Barrett's socialist policies. Bennett said the NDP's Mineral Royalties Act devastated the British Columbia mining industry while a hike in timber royalties was killing forestry jobs. Social Credit also capitalized on public unhappiness with the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia -- the new government auto insurer that lost $32 million in 1974.

• The NDP's campaign slogan was "People Matter More."
• Barrett touted a minimum-wage hike and a host of social programs he had introduced, including free drugs for the elderly and the disabled. Bennett promised voters that, if elected, he wouldn't scrap the popular NDP programs.
• Barrett countered charges that he was a slave to unions by noting he made the difficult decision to legislate forestry workers back to work after a series of crippling summer strikes.

• Bennett declined to debate the fiery Barrett in front of TV cameras. However, he agreed to participate in a four-party discussion on "morality in politics" sponsored by the Christian Action Group in Vancouver's Agridome.

• Bill Bennett was born April 14, 1932. He became a businessman and investor in real estate before successfully running to replace his father W.A.C. Bennett as Okanagan South MLA in 1973. He then followed his father's footsteps as Social Credit leader and premier. After the 1975 election, Bill Bennett was re-elected twice, in 1979 and 1983. He stepped down to return to business in 1986.

• Bennett's recipe of government spending cuts and tough restraints on the civil service led to massive protests, especially by public school teachers. The protests spawned a movement called Operation Solidarity in 1983.
• Bennett's tenure also included mega-projects such as the Coquihalla Highway. To see Bennett reflect on his decision to step down, go to the clip Bill Bennett steps down.

• In 1996, Bill Bennett was convicted under B.C. securities laws of insider trading involving the sale of shares in a Duncan, B.C., company two years after he stepped down as premier.
Medium: Television
Program: Take 30
Broadcast Date: Dec. 12, 1975
Guest(s): Dave Barrett, W.A.C. Bennett, Bill Bennett, Gordon Gibson, Alex Macdonald
Host: Mary Lou Finlay
Duration: 5:38

Last updated: September 18, 2013

Page consulted on January 5, 2015

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