February 2, 2018 6:15 pm
Updated: February 3, 2018 4:27 am

Dave Barrett dead: former B.C. premier was the NDP’s first in office

The family of former B.C. premier Dave Barrett announced that the 87-year-old died Friday morning in Victoria after a long battle with Alzheimer's disease.

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Dave Barrett, the first BC NDP premier of British Columbia, has died.

Barrett served a single term in office from 1972 to 1975, ending 22 years of rule by the Social Credit Party.

WATCH: Dave Barrett’s lasting legacy in British Columbia

A statement from Barrett’s family said that he died on Friday morning after a “long struggle with Alzheimer’s Disease.”

“He cared deeply about his province and devoted much of his life to trying to make it a better and fairer place to live,” the statement said.

“His love of the province was surpassed only by his devotion to his family. he will be sorely missed.

WATCH: A feature from 1984, looking back at Dave Barrett and the NDP’s term in power from 1972 to 1975

Born in Vancouver in 1930, Barrett was first elected in 1960 as a member of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), and then re-elected with the BC NDP in 1963, 1966 and 1969.

He became party leader in 1969 and led the BC NDP to their first government in 1972.

Barrett was known for a question he asked his cabinet at their first meeting, after having slid down a table: “are we here for a good time or a long time?

WATCH: Dave Barrett farewell speech

He introduced a number of reforms that still resonate today.

Barrett’s NDP worked to pass 367 bills in the coming three years, according to the Broadbent Institute.

Reforms introduced by his government included the creation of the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) so that farmland would be protected.

The BC NDP also launched ICBC, created the Labour Relations Board and ushered in changes to the welfare system.

Barrett’s reign as premier was chronicled in the book The Art of the Impossible by journalist Rod Mickleburgh and now-chief of staff to Premier John Horgan Geoff Meggs.

WATCH: The Art of the Impossible: Dave Barrett and the NDP in power 1972-1975


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“In this day of big government, it is absolutely imperative that MLAs stand up and fight for those little people who are being forgotten under rigid government legislation,” he said.

Barrett called a snap election in 1975 and was beaten by the Social Credit Party, which was then led by Bill Bennett.

He also lost his seat in Coquitlam but he returned to the legislature in a byelection the following year.

Barrett would run in his last provincial election in 1979 before he left provincial politics.

READ MORE: B.C. proposes big changes to land reserve

In 1983, Barrett became the first MLA to be forcibly removed from the legislative chamber after he refused to withdraw a challenge to a ruling by the speaker.

“I have never in my 23 years witnessed anything as arbitrary or immoral as what has just happened,” he said.

Barrett’s political career later took him to Ottawa, winning the federal NDP the seat of Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca in the 1988 provincial election.

He ran for the seat again in 1993 but lost it to the Reform Party’s Keith Martin.

While in parliament, he served as the party’s trade critic.

He also contested the federal NDP’s leadership but lost to Audrey McLaughlin.

A strong sense of humour

Premier John Horgan was first exposed to Barrett in 1983, when he delivered a speech to a rally of as many as 30,000 people in front of the B.C. legislature in Victoria.

“I was captivated by his speaking style which wouldn’t necessarily lend itself to TV today,” he said.

He related a story about how Barrett was once in a coffee shop in Prince Rupert.

“Two women came over to him and said, ‘we’re so happy to see you, Mr. Bennett,” referring to former Social Credit premier Bill Bennett.

“And he said, ‘oh, he has more money than me, but I’m better looking.’

“And they laughed right away, and they went away feeling confident that here’s a guy who’s just like us.”

The BC NDP mourned Barrett in the following tweet: 

Politicians paid tribute to Barrett from various parties: 

Former NDP premier Glen Clark said Barrett was full of drive and ideas.

“In three and a half years, there wasn’t a day that went by that he didn’t get up and think, ‘how can we make British Columbia better? How can we make change for working people? How can we deal with poverty? How can we make life better for people?”

Former Social Credit premier Bill Vander Zalm said Barrett was “one of the greatest guys I’ve ever known in politics.”

“The nice part about Dave among other things of course was the fact that he never held the politics against you that much,” he said.

“We could argue and debate, but in the end, he was jut a good guy, nice guy and he’d do anything for you.”

BC Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver released a statement on Barrett’s death.

“As Premier, he enacted bold, sweeping changes that touched on every aspect of life in B.C. He has left a lasting imprint on our province. Many of the reforms enacted under his leadership are still with us today, including lasting protection to our agricultural land through the Agricultural Land Reserve, and Pharmacare.

“I extend my sincere condolences to the Barrett family for their loss.”

  • With files from Terry Schintz, CKNW

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