By Douglas P. Welbanks
Dave Barrett, above all else, illustrates the power of conviction in people and how political parties can change the lives of so many, including by transforming the structure and purpose of governments if the political will is strong enough. He summed it up in one of his first public statements after winning the 1972 election, “When you grow up in the east end you have to work twice as hard to get half as much.”
It was a historic clash between pre-1970s conventions of privilege, status, and power for the few, and the grassroots of society that launched a new era of social justice for all in British Columbia.
A social worker who left epic footprints in Canadian history, Barrett assembled one of the most creative groups of elected officials and collectively redefined the role of government in the post-1970s world of equality and fairness.
His cabinet included Eileen Daily, the first woman to become deputy premier in Canada; attorney general Alex MacDonald; consumer services minister, Phyllis Young; welfare and social services minister Norm Levi; lands, forests and water resources minister Bob Williams; health minister Dennis Cocke; Frank Calder, B.C.’s first Aboriginal MLA as minister without portfolio; and many others.
An incredible bond of agreement flourished in an innovative atmosphere of modernization and progressive policy designed to improve government services, balance the rights of consumers with big business in the marketplace, protect farmland from real estate speculation, preserve Cypress Bowl for public recreation, ensure and protect human rights, enact Pharmacare for the sick and elderly, assign community health (resource) boards to the communities, increase the minimum wage for workers, set aside a statutory holiday to celebrate British Columbia, upgrade a provincewide ambulance service and introduce an air ambulance program for the injured, give government auto insurance (ICBC) to commuters and families, deliver rent controls and dispute resolution to renters, open the doors of the legislature to the public through question period and Hansard, ban corporal punishment (the strap) in all schools for children, and proclaim more than 360 pieces of legislation in just over three years.
Barrett showed the world and reminds us today that people make a difference—and what can happen when politics and government policies are honestly applied to make the world a better place.
Thank you, Dave Barrett.