Bill Bennett, former B.C. premier, remembered in Kelowna

One of B.C.'s most iconic and controversial politicians, former premier Bill Bennett, was remembered on Sunday, almost two months after he died, aged 83.

Bennett was the driving force behind Expo 86, SkyTrain, Coquihalla Highway and Vancouver Convention Centre

Memorial for former B.C. premier Bennett held in Kelowna 1:24

One of B.C.'s most iconic and controversial politicians, former premier Bill Bennett, was remembered on Sunday, almost two months after he died, aged 83.

Bennett was elected premier in 1975 as leader of the B.C. Social Credit Party. He went on to be re-elected twice, staying in power for more than a decade.

On Sunday afternoon, the former politician was remembered by today's political giants, his family and lifelong friends at a memorial in his hometown of Kelowna.​

"He could not have fulfilled his destiny without his family and friends," said friend and former civil servant Bob Plecas. "That was the anchor."

'A singular vision'

Bennett received the Order of British Columbia in 2007, recognizing his work as a leader and builder in the province. (B.C. Government)

In 2007, Bennett was honoured as a visionary and a builder when he received the Order of British Columbia.

He was noted as the leader who brought Expo 86, the SkyTrain, the Vancouver Trade and Convention Centre and the Coquihalla Highway to B.C.

At the time, former premier Gordon Campbell praised Bennett as the man who "ushered us into the modern era."

Honouring Bennett on Sunday, current B.C. Premier Christy Clark said he gone above and beyond for his province.

"To me the impact of Bill Bennett was that he literally was what leadership looked like," said Clark. "He had such singular vision and he had that real ability to take that vision and turn it into reality, which is rare."

Bennett, she said, left behind examples of courage, principles, duty and his love for British Columbia.

"Those qualities of character are the legacies that I will remember," said Clark. "Those are the things that have etched him indelibly in our collective memories."

Insider trading conviction

Bennett helped guide the province out of recession and retired undefeated in 1986 but his post-political career was by no means uncontroversial.

Former British Columbia premier Bill Bennett shown in an undated file photo. (The Canadian Press)

In 1996, the B.C. Securities Commission found Bennett and his brother Russell guilty of insider trading, after they sold shares of Doman Industries using information provided by company president Herb Doman.

In 1999, the brothers and Doman were ordered to pay the commission $1 million to cover the costs of the case.

Some also knew Bennett as hard nosed, for his financial cutbacks in the public service sector.

At the ceremony on Sunday, billionaire businessman Jim Pattison — who was recruited by Bennett in 1981 to lead Expo 86 — described Bennett's approach to money.

"I was to see him in action first hand for the next five and a half years spending the public's money. And he spent the money like it was his own — very carefully."

Struggle with Alzheimer's

Former Canadian prime minister Kim Campbell said Bennett was to blame for everything important that happened in her life. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

Bennett's toughest battle came when he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. The illness ultimately took his life in early December.

He left having influenced people from all walks of life, even prime ministers.

"Everything important that happened in my life was his fault," said former prime minister Kim Campbell. "He had an enormous influence on my life and I'm here with great affection."

Campbell went on to hail Bennett's conviction.

"He wasn't a button pusher. He thought if you understood why he wanted to do something, you would support it too and he had infinite patience in explaining it.

"In the people who govern us in a democracy, substance — whether or not there's charisma — is a very precious thing."

Bennett is survived by his wife of 60 years, Audrey, his brother Russell, four sons, eight grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

With files from Kamil Karamali


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