British Columbia

'Outrageous, flamboyant, always very quotable': Former B.C. premier Dave Barrett dead at 87

Former B.C. premier Dave Barrett, who died Friday in Victoria at the age of 87, led the province's first New Democratic Party government from 1972 to 1975.

Barrett governed British Columbia from 1972 to 1975

Dave Barrett was elected British Columbia's first NDP premier in September 1972. (CHEK News)

Former B.C. premier Dave Barrett, who led the province's first New Democratic Party government, died Friday at the age of 87 in Victoria.

His short-lived government from September 1972 to December 1975 carried out reforms at a blistering pace including the creation of the Agricultural Land Reserve, the public auto insurance corporation ICBC, a provincial ambulance system and Pharmacare. It also brought in full Hansard transcripts of proceedings in the legislature. 

After just three years in government, Barrett called a snap election and the Social Credit party swept back into power.

Government in a hurry

In their recent book, The Art of the Impossible: Dave Barrett and the NDP in Power 1972-1975, authors Rod Mickleburgh and Geoff Meggs, recounted the story of how Barrett asked his ministers at their first cabinet meeting: "Are you here for a good time or a long time?"

"They were hoping to get a second term of course," Mickleburgh said in an interview. "But they said that is not our goal. Our goal is to change British Columbia and do what has to be done. 

"The result was the most incredible government in the history of Canada based on how short a time they were in office and what they accomplished," he said.

Lots of gaffes

MIckleburgh said the 97 accomplishments listed in his book included the strongest labour code, consumer protections and human rights legislation in North America. Barrett's government also started the Seabus program, though it was his Social Credit successor Bill Bennett who completed it..

"An unparallelled record in government," Mickleburgh said, "Plus lots of gaffes. They weren't a perfect government."

First elected to the B.C. legislature in 1960, the former social worker from Vancouver who became known as the champion of the little guy would be elected to the assembly eight times.

David Mitchell, a former B.C. Liberal MLA and political analyst, said Barrett "epitomised the politics of personality, at a time when British Columbia was known for larger than life personalities."

"He was outgoing, funny, outrageous, flamboyant, always very quotable, but behind all of that flamboyance, he always had a very strong policy background. Those initiatives that the first NDP government in B.C. launched in the 1970s continue to this day all these years later."

Dragged from legislature

As Opposition leader, Barrett earned the distinction of being the first MLA dragged out of the legislative chamber in October 1983 during a convoluted procedural exchange on a hotly opposed government bill.

After leaving provincial politics, Barrett was elected as NDP member of parliament for the riding of Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca which he served from 1988 to 1993.

Barrett's son Dan said in a statement his father died after a long struggle with Alzheimer's disease.

He said his father cared deeply about the province and that he devoted much of his life trying to make it a better and fairer place to live. His love of the province was surpassed only by his devotion to his family, he added.

Barrett was living in a Victoria care facility in recent years.

Dave Barrett and the NDP finally smash Social Credit's iron grip on B.C.

Legendary sense of humour

B.C. Premier John Horgan said in a statement the province had lost "a giant" with deep commitment to helping ordinary people, a legendary sense of humour and the ability to command a room with his gift for public speaking. 

"We are all better off, thanks to his tireless work and immeasurable contributions to public life," Horgan said. 

 "He was an inspiration to me and many other British Columbians, and I am grateful for his friendship and guidance over the years. His legacy will live on in our hearts," Horgan said.

With files from The Canadian Press and Susana da Silva.