Former Social Credit cabinet minister and broadcaster Jim Nielsen dies

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      One of B.C.'s more colourful former politicians has died in hospital in New Westminster at the age of 79.

      Jim Nielsen represented Richmond in the legislature from 1975 to 1986 for the Social Credit party.

      The gruff-talking yet cerebral former broadcaster didn't hide the fact that he was a smoker during his five-year stint as health minister from 1981 to 1986.

      For part of that period, B.C. imposed a $5 user fee on visits to emergency rooms to discourage people from going there unnecessarily.

      However, hospital taxes like these were eliminated when the Pierre Trudeau government passed the Canada Health Act in 1984.

      The legislation, which guaranteed universal access to health care, was heavily criticized by provincial health ministers at the time.

      According to author Jeffrey Simpson's Chronic Condition: Why Canada's Health Care System Needs to Be Dragged Into the 21st Century, Nielsen sarcastically referred to the Canada Health Act as a "delightful piece of window dressing that will complicate the Medicare system". 

      Nielsen also spent time as minister of environment and minister of consumer and corporate affairs in the goverrnment led by Bill Bennett.

      The former premier trusted and liked Nielsen, who didn't seek reelection in 1986. That was the same year he showed up to the legislature with a black eye after being punched in the face by a jealous husband. Nielsen was quite blasé about his injuries as he expressed remorse for his actions.

      He later chaired the Workers' Compensation Board (now known as WorkSafe B.C.).

      Nielsen was born in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, and worked for several radio stations before becoming an MLA, including C-FAX in Victoria and CJOR and C-Fun in Vancouver.

      After leaving the legislature, he was a political commentator for several years on CBC Radio's Early Edition Show, sparring good-naturedly with left-wing writer Stan Persky.

      They were each honest brokers, telling it like it is and regularly criticizing the parties that they were inclined to support ideologically.

      Persky would sometimes slam the NDP and Nielsen wasn't shy about ripping into Vander Zalm, often with devastating wit.

      In recent years, Nielsen wrote a column for the Kelowna Daily Courier.

      After Prime Minister Justin Trudeau welcomed Syrian refugees to Canada in December 2015, Nielsen noted that most Canadians agreed with the decision.

      And for those who didn't, Nielsen offered this advice: "It is time we crank up our appreciation-engine and understand how well off we are in our country."