To be premier of British Columbia you need to be a tough guy.
Few of his political opponents let alone his supporters would disagree with that description by William Andrew Cecil Bennett. He is 76 years old today. For the next half hour a personal portrait of the most durable of BC politicians.
Will there ever be another premier of the province for two decades?
In a stretch?
You are the last?
First and last.
First and last 20 year premier of the province. Maybe for the country?
I don't know about the country.
Why do you think that is?
Communication. People wear out faster than normal..
Not only that We were in a certain period of British Columbia's development and we were made for that period.
If you came to power now you would not be premier in 1996?
That is what you are saying?
That is what I am saying.
Well, If the child makes the man..
and a lovely child. Could not have been better.
Your family in those days was not wealthy.
Would you describe it as poverty?
No. No. I never lacked a meal in my life. We were never poor. Not in the real things.
What are the real things sir?
Good home. Good family. Good brothers and sisters. Good community life. Good church life.
The church played quite a part in your.. entire life ..in those days in particular.
Yes. Yes. The big thing was the church and the Sunday school. Sunday school especialy. Sunday school picknics and stuff, we had barrels of fun. Just lots of fun.
What is your earliest recollection, as a child?
When I was about two years old sitting under a Christmas tree.
You weren't into politics quite at the age of two but it was not very long after you got into involved.
No, when I was eleven when the federal election of 1911 between Sir Robert Borden and Sir Wilfred Laurie and I paraded with the Tories and torch lit parades. and so forth.
In that parade when you were 11 there was an event that had a significant impact on your life was there not a burning effagee of Laurie. There was alot of burning at that time.
Oh yes. There was a great rivalry between the conservatives and liberals only two parties. Each planned to burn the other leader on election night. So they would have a pile of wheel barrels, wooden wheel barrels, and had them soaked. They kept piling them higher each day trying to get them a little higher. Each party trying to get them a little higher than the other. Then on election night..each had a picture of Laurie and Borden. On election night of course the Tories knocked the Liberals down, and burnt Laurie you see on this bonfire oh that was lots of fun.
Did that give you and idea what happened a way down the road a piece in the lake in 1959?
No, but I always knew I think that fire was a very symbolic force.
It was very significant in British Columbia when we payed off all the direct debt. It had never been done in Canada before or anywhere that I know of. So we had to have a symbol for it.
You started to attend political meetings in your teen years, though.
Is that where it started? Do you remember anything from them? Did you follow issues or personalites?
Personalities. On the issues the parties keep changing. But it is personalities. People in politics they say lets talk the issues. And issues are important. But people are followers of men. All through history you will find people follow men. Why do they shift from liberals to Conservative or this party or that party? It is a switch of leadership.
You say a leader you have to be a tough guy. What was the toughtest action you ever took as premier?
The toughest was to fire a friend of mine.
P. A. Gaglardi?
That was tough too. This was tougher than that.
Tell us about that one.
Yep. When I was a boy in New Brunswick this man was a great engineer, and he was building railroads for the govt there and as head of their power commission. I was going on a holiday with a friend on the Saint John River and I was 15 or 16. he said I have a little construction shack you passed by it now you and your friend can use that. To make a long story short, years go by I out I'm in Alberta then British Columbia and then premier. He is the head of the power commission under John Hart. They built some power plants in the island in the interior and there are rumors this plant was going to go out.. collapse the dam was going to collapse. We contacted him three times. He said, No way. No way. He did not even send inspectors in.
So the thing did go out. Appointed royal commission, royal commision found the commission at fault. all three were fired. And that was difficult. To fire a friend of our family from boyhood days who did things for me and everything else, and now I'm the one who fires him.
What do you think was your proudest moment as premier the crowning achievement if you want to put it that way?
The greatest thing we did was the two river policy. The Peace and the Columbia no body else would have built that. Both parties, Liberal and Conservatives, sent their pest beef to defeat us on it. The U.S. come up here and followed me to every meeting where I had a meeting to see what I was saying. They never thought I was going to build the Peace. They thought I was using that as a lever to get the Columbia. Of course I wanted them both.
Our greatest thing was thatagainst everybody else's advice and every body's criticism we built the two rivers in the eartly sixties instead and the NDP wanted to build them in 1984. Even if they were built even as late as this, Social Credit, we saved the people of this province two billion dollars in capital cost.
Mr. Barrett and Mr. Williams love to quote: "Nothing is freer than free my friend."
Nothing is going to be freer than free and when we get full payment from the States and nothing is going to be greater. In the last 30 years of this treaty getting all this American power for nothing!
You believe history will make its judgement on this?
Certainly. History will say this is great. History will say Barrett and Williams were stupid.
Some people have suggested your greatest strength is your greatest weakness is loyalty. For example some people suggested that loyalty kept you from taking action in the Somers case, from taking action for a long time. What would you say to that criticism now almost 20 years later?
That was the low point in our regime. We heard rumors something was wrong in the forestry department. Soon our government we hired private detectives, the best in Vancouver the best, to go in and see they came in and inspected they said there wasn't anything, we sent them back again they said it was straight political. And that is the reason why when it came out I thought there was nothing to it because we had already looked into it. That's secured..
Really, what the fellow did was something very stupid. His daughter was getting married, apparently, he needed some new rugs fix house and he didn't have any money, going under, these people gave it to him, borrow it, lent it to him what ever they did and he said he was going to pay it back.
When we did find out about it he was out just like that. Just like that. In the afternoon, Williston was was sworn in as forestry minister and Kernan as Mines that afternoon everybody was looking after thier departments. Nobody knew anything about it it was just like lightning. But when he went out we had the friends and foes within the department search that department with a fine tooth comb and they did not find one single concession given to any business or any industry, not one cent. But he was stupid. He acted in a foolish way and had to pay for it.
Did you ever talk to him after that?
Is he bitter?
I don't think so. He must feel badly about it because he knows as I know he did really nothing wrong.
He did something wrong in that he committed a criminal act?
I don't think he committed a criminal act. In my opinion he did not.
He did go to jail for it.
Yes, I think things happen in Ottawa every day nearly 10 times worse and nobody goes to jail.
Do you thing it was partly politcal?
I will let you surmise.
One other case in your 20 years that people thought you were not tough enough. Loyalty lasted too long. And that was the case with Mr. Gaglardi.
Why now Gaglardi? Every thing I asked Gaglardi to do, he did. I asked him to build highways as minister of finance I gave him double money and told him what highways I wanted him to build and everything else. He built them efficiently built them well and amazed us all. He amazed everybody what a good job he did. But he talked alot, he made lots of enemies and people were after him. But I don't think he was dishonest. Most provinces would give their eye teeth to have a good minister like Gaglardi.
He became a political liability?
I don't know. In certain areas, in certain districts, among groups of people he was a great asset. He has his strong supporters to this day. Oh yes, if we had a meeting in Kelowna tonight they would get out and cheer him, sure.
Do you ever talk to him now see him?
I saw him a few months ago in the Vancouver Hotel. I have no feelings against people. Friend and foe I have no political enemies. The six or seven liberals, conservatives, NDP leaders I defeated in this province, I have no feelings towards them.
What about the man that defeated you, Mr. Barrett?
No, no, I feel very sorry for Mr. Barrett, that he entered his position without knowledge. He meant well in many many things but he did very poorly.
Chap said to me in Vancouver the other day after the government raised the car licences. I have three or four cars. I am not going to vote Socred anymore. I said That is up to you. You have a business, a drug store, and I am your friend, let me run it for you for a while. I guarantee not to double your business but to triple your business inside of six months. How are you going to do that? I will sell all your merchandise at not on third your selling price, one third your cost! That's not the way to run a business or any thing else, you are going to get into terrible trouble. That is what Barrett did with car insurance. Anybody can get popular giving away ice cream cones!
You still believe in balanced budgets at any cost?
At any cost. But the other cost you have to pay next year you have to pay the balanced budget plus the interest charges on the old one.
Of all your opponents which do you fear or respect the most, we will say respect?
Winch. Cleverest, best trained. Harold Winch was the best leader of the Opposition that has ever been. When we coalitioned and he was leader of the opposition we were in a post war rehabilition project and we travelled the province together. We became great friends, he has been in this home. He has had dinner here.
What is a typical day in the life of WAC Bennett these days?
Is one of relaxation. I am not tired and not retired. My mind is very active, my body more active. I walk three four times a day around my driveway. I am 168 lbs, in fighting shape.
What is the condition of the province of British Columbia today?
Very, very difficult. I have to be careful I don't get into the position of being too critical of the short Barrett years. I am glad the government is a realistic government. I am sorry they had to put on the tough medicine. I cried they had to put on the tough medicine. To pay the extra ferry, car insurance. They had to face it. I would think that in the start of next year, in April 1977 we are going into a new period. I would suggest to British Columbians, to private enterprise they start to get ready for the benefits of expansion. Canada is the best country, I am convinced, BC is the best part of Canada by far. Our population is going to increase on a percentage basis faster than any place else.
Our growth is natural as long as you study that growth, cultivate that growth, take care of that growth. Things don't just happen.
What would it be based on?
Confidence. Confidence, nothing else. What took Britain two world wars and had to sell all her treasure to pay her debt?
Look at the situation they are in now.
Yes and who else could stand it? Britain will come out all right. Don't sell Britain short.
Do you think we are in a period of boom?
We are in a period of expansion.
You don't prefer the word boom?
I was never a boomer. I was called a boomer, was never a boomer. I was an expansionist. I believe in growth. These people that say no growth, must love to see unemployment, the Master condemned, people idle in the market place.
There is a lot of talk about keeping immigration down.
Yes, keep it down.
We all came from somewhere else.
Certainly but we don't have to let everybody in at once! When we have a slack in employment we must not have excess immigration. That is just stupid. Some of the policies of the present federal government are really stupid. That is number one. Number two is, they are really stupid, is they keep the dollar higher than our American dollar. Number three is, they are so stupid, is they keep our interest rate way higher than the American rate. You heard of the three wise men from the east. These are the three stupid policies of the east.
The interest rate is up there because of the demands on the economy.
The Bank of Canada..They should not get the interest rate down bingo tomorrow. You do that quarter, quarter quarter with common banking.
Who is going to win the next federal election?
If he is still the leader.
Do you think there is a chance he won't be?
I don't think so. If he starts to fight over these little things he will snatch defeat out of victory.
That is exactly what he is doing.
He won't, surely he won't.
For someone who has had certain success dealing with opposition leaders through the years and defeating all but one. Do you have any secret perhaps if anyone had known..?
Perhaps you noticed today, I am a very emotional person. Good thing the opposition never knew that really. If they had apraised me, I would have collapsed.
50 or 100 years from now how would you like you and your administration to be though of? What image would you like to have left on the history of British Columbia?
We found BC country's number one have not province to in 21 years become the country's number one have province. We made the public sector that way we made the private sector that way.
One thing we will have to ask, could not conclude this interview without it. Who will win the provincial election should we say in BC?
And I don't think the NDP will be back for a long long time. People have been innoculated against it.
So the NDP will never get back in. So how did they ever get in the first place?
I studied the world. There was only one problem, inflation.
I told my cabinet to prepare for defeat.
You chose defeat?
Rather than fight inflation. I have always said once a government gets out of the cool water they are finished. We are out of the cool water now, and that is inflation.
Is Trudeau's anti-inflation board in effect what you were going for only stronger?
We were going to use pressure.
You were trying to do it in a voluntary basis. Would we have seen a provincial anti-inflation board?
6 1/2 %
6 1/2 %
Would it have worked?
Did the cabinet try to talk you out of an election?
I will say this of my cabinet. They have not tried to talk me out of anything. In my cabinet we never had a vote ever, everything was done by mutual agreement.
WAC is 76 years old today, still ready today to fly into a heated political debate at the mention of Columbia River Treaty, pay as you go, Phil Gaglardi, BC ferries. The arguments of course will never end.
How does he want to be remembered in the history books? The answer is so unlike his term as premier. It is short and it is simple.
I did my best, that is all.
This has been WAC at 76.