I had this great idea for a new game to play on nights when television offers no release from the cares of the day. I would sit quietly and review the life and times of provincial politicians and select the team I thought would make an all-star dream team to govern my home province – British Columbia.
A bit like selecting a favourite sports team dotted with players past and present.
I was in trouble from the get-go. Who would top my list as Premier, the person best equipped to navigate our ship of state through the troubled waters we sail today? The selection list isn’t long with only 35 Premiers listed since November 1871 when John Foster McCreight became the first and March, 2011 when Christy Clark became the last. Maybe, with an election pending next year, it would be wiser to say “most recent.”
Anyway, to me the immediate response was an easy decision for first choice of W.A.C Bennett who captained the team from 1952 to 1972. There can be no challenge to the fact that in his 20 years he achieved many things from the electrification of the province to the hydro power developments that made it possible. But then, I thought what about Richard McBride who served as leader for only half the time of W.A.C. but can be credited with bringing order to what was chaotic political disarray between 1903 and 1915. He was affectionately and cheerfully known as “the people’s Dick” and when he was knighted and became Sir Richard the nickname never changed and the people rejoiced in his honour.
Then there’s Premier William Richards “Bill” Bennett, son of W.A.C., who wore the captain’s armband from 1975 to 1986, brought mega economic expansion to the province and held government fiscally stable during the toughest recession since the Dirty Thirties.
At this point my ambition to create a comfortable winter entertainment ended. The only clear decision I could make was that picking an all-star Premier was impractical, impossible and too exhausting. I concluded that every one of the 35 we have so far witnessed in action, even the ones who brought confusion to the office and left even more behind when they departed, contributed to the way of life we enjoy today. A way of life full of problems – but pretty good nevertheless when we look at the rest of the world.
Readers shouldn’t let my failure to name an all-star premier prevent them from the fun of trying. New Democrats might have some difficulty because they don’t have much of a list to choose from. Of the four 1990s NDP Premiers only Mike Harcourt – November 1991 – February 1996 – served long enough to rate all-star selection. The other three were in the NDP revolving door years post-Harcourt: Glen Clark, Dan Miller and Ujjal Dosanjh. So NDPers might fare better trying team selections among some of their former giants like Bill King, Dennis Cocke, and Bob Williams who could justifiably claim all-star status when they served the province respectively and so well as ministers of labour, health, and lands and forests.
Two NDP Premiers added much to a “captain’s” stature when they held the title but too briefly to achieve long term ambitions. Dave Barrett deserves a clear gold star for his contribution both as Leader of the Opposition and his three plus years as Premier; as does Miller who held the NDP together and kept government functioning between August, 1999 and February, 2000, while the party sorted out the disarray after Clark’s brief tenure. Dan was, and remains, an unsung hero.
Only one guarantee for readers prepared to cast their minds in review: They will realize that in little more than two decades our Legislature has lost a few giants. Where once it was hard to choose an all-star, it’s now hard to find one.