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1972: Dave Barrett elected Premier of B.C.

The Story

The winds of change are howling across B.C. The Social Credit government, which transformed the province in 20 years under W.A.C. Bennett, is falling. In this CBC Radio clip, we hear Bennett, now in his seventh re-election bid, warn voters that "the socialist hordes are at the gates in British Columbia." But, on election night, he's forced to concede that the people have handed a commanding majority to the NDP and its leader Dave Barrett. Speaking to his overjoyed supporters, Barrett says a total of 10,000 people spent 40 years trying to get the NDP and its predecessor, the CCF, elected in B.C. The man who achieved those dreams then thunders: "I will not let their hopes or aspirations down."

Medium: Radio
Program: Sunday Magazine
Broadcast Date: Sept. 3, 1972
Guests: Dave Barrett, W.A.C. Bennett, Hans Brown, Derril Warren
Host: Bruce Rogers
Reporter: Norm Griffin
Duration: 7:23

Did You know?

• Seat totals in the Aug. 30, 1972, British Columbia election:
- New Democratic Party: 38
- Social Credit: 10
- Liberal Party: 5
- Progressive Conservative Party: 2

• Shortly before the campaign started, a visit by W.A.C. Bennett and his cabinet to a hotel in New Westminster turned violent as the politicians had to fight their way past 500 angry labour demonstrators. Despite heavy police protection, protesters inflicted injuries -- including broken bones -- on eight cabinet ministers. Bennett tried to blame NDP leader Dave Barrett, who wasn't present, for the melee.

• A week before the campaign, Social Credit cabinet minister Phil Gaglardi told a Toronto newspaper that Bennett was planning to resign soon after winning the 1972 election. Gaglardi was quoted as calling the premier "an old man who doesn't understand what is happening with the young people of this province." Gaglardi later said he was misquoted but the damage was done.

• The race itself also got off to a bad start for Bennett. After the Social Credit campaign kickoff, former Conservative leader Deane Finlayson tricked the premier into shaking hands with the current Conservative leader, Derril Warren in front of a photographer from Vancouver's The Province newspaper. The front-page photo showed a smiling Warren and a scowling Bennett. For the rest of the campaign, Bennett played a bizarre cat-and-mouse game with the media, refusing to tell reporters where he was appearing.

• Issues in the campaign included unemployment, old-age pensions and inflation. But the most talked-about issue was whether or not Bennett, just shy of his 72nd birthday, was simply worn out, along with his party. News accounts of the campaign paint him as halting and crotchety compared to the "bouncy" 41-year-old Barrett.

• Dave Barrett was born Oct. 2, 1930, in Vancouver. The son a fruit seller, he earned a masters of social work and started working in a provincial prison. Barrett was fired after two years for launching a union drive and complaining publicly about prison conditions.

• Barrett was first elected an MLA in 1960 under the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation banner. He became leader of the provincial NDP in 1969 and was B.C.'s first Jewish premier.

• In 1972, the NDP campaign avoided promises of sweeping privatization and government spending. Barrett instead focused on "people issues" including urban transit, auto insurance and increased royalties on timber and minerals.

• Despite the lacklustre Social Credit campaign, no political commentator predicted the end of Bennett's dynasty. B.C. woke up stunned to discover a huge NDP majority government. "The surprise was not just (the Social Credit) defeat, but its magnitude," historian David Mitchell wrote in W.A.C. Bennett and the Rise of British Columbia in 1983.

• Eleven senior cabinet ministers, including Gaglardi, lost their seats. Bennett was re-elected in South Okanagan but resigned after the election. He died in 1979.

• A CBC Television reporter canvassed public reaction to the seismic shift in government the day after the vote. People on the streets of Vancouver expressed sentiments ranging from excitement to horror. To see their reactions, go to the clip Fear and gloating in '72.

• David Anderson, who led the B.C. Liberal party in the 1972 election, later became a federal MP and Liberal cabinet minister in the Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin governments.


How the West is Won: B.C. Elections, 1952-2005 more