1986: Bill Vander Zalm campaigns for election
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.
Earnest, serious and the opposite of flashy, Skelly wants to talk policy. But his first press conference turned into a disaster when he had an anxiety attack. Still, Skelly insists voters won't be taken in by Vander Zalm's "Cheshire cat" grin.
- Social Credit: 47
- New Democratic Party: 22
• Ten other parties failed to win a seat.
• The majority won by Vander Zalm's Social Credit party -- 47 of 69 seats -- was the biggest B.C. had ever seen, surpassing even those of his legendary forerunner W.A.C. Bennett. To see Vander Zalm savouring the victory, go to the clip Vander Zalm charms B.C.
• In terms of popular vote, however, Vander Zalm's win was not so spectacular. He captured 49.3 per cent of the votes compared to 42.6 per cent for the NDP. That's a smaller share than the 49.8 per cent cast for Social Credit in the previous election.
• The main difference in 1986 was the creation of 12 new MLA positions, mainly in Social Credit strongholds, as part of electoral redistribution.
• Vander Zalm was so confident that, in front of TV cameras, he wrote down his prediction for the Social Credit seat total and sealed it in an envelope. It was opened in front of more cameras the day after the election.
• Vander Zalm's guess of 47 seats appeared to be short by two. Later recounts, however, proved him to be dead on.
• The term "Vandermania" was coined during the campaign to describe public fascination with the populist premier -- who declared almost everything "fantaaastic," -- and his glamorous wife Lillian.
• The huge crowds that greeted the couple started to include women wearing woven headbands like those favoured by Lillian. The Fantasy Gardens theme park owned by the Vander Zalms started selling "Lillian bands" for $5 each.
• Bob Skelly's attempt to recover from his disastrous campaign launch backfired. When asked the next day about his anxiety attack, Skelly joked: "I think I went to lunch and ate the wrong kind of tulip bulbs." It seemed to be a jibe at Vander Zalm for saying his family had to eat tulip bulbs to survive the Nazi occupation of his native Holland. The remark was branded insulting to the Dutch and Skelly was forced to apologize.
• Wilhelmus "Bill" Vander Zalm was born in Holland on May 29, 1934. His family immigrated to B.C. in 1947. Vander Zalm bought a nursery and was elected alderman and then mayor of Surrey.
• After failed bids for federal and provincial office as a Liberal, he was elected Surrey MLA for Social Credit in 1975. Vander Zalm served in the cabinet of Bill Bennett until quitting in 1983 over a land-use vote.
• Vander Zalm launched the Fantasy Gardens theme park in 1984 and returned to politics to seek the Social Credit leadership two years later. As premier, Vander Zalm and his wife Lillian continued to live in a replica Dutch castle with a windmill on the Fantasy Gardens grounds.
• In 1987, a CBC Television documentary showed Vander Zalm greeting tourists and taking a call from Prime Minister Brian Mulroney in an admissions booth. To see it, go to the clip Vander Zalm's kingdom.
• Vandermania didn't last. The premier's freewheeling style resulted in hasty, questionable decisions. Vander Zalm was accused of doing favours for developer friends. He also called a parole board member to complain about a decision and then publicly denied making the call.
• Vander Zalm, a devout Roman Catholic, was also criticized for trying to curtail publicly funded abortions. He also refused to release a $100,000 AIDS education videotape produced by his education ministry for use in schools.
• Vander Zalm resigned from office April 2, 1991, after a commissioner's report concluded the premier had breached conflict-of-interest rules while selling Fantasy Gardens to a Taiwanese billionaire. Vander Zalm was later acquitted of criminal charges of accepting a benefit.
Program: Sunday Report
Broadcast Date: Oct. 19, 1986
Guest(s): Art Lee, Bob Skelly, Bill Vander Zalm
Host: Peter Mansbridge
Reporter: Karen Webb
Last updated: September 18, 2013
Page consulted on December 6, 2013
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