The summer of 1979 was not the happiest for the members of the BC Legislative Assembly, and it was made more acrimonious by the debate to establish the municipality of Whistler. They had argued their way through most of July and were now, reluctantly and acrimoniously, on the verge of violating the time-honoured adjournment of the House for the sacred holiday month of August.
Traditionally, politicians would be in their home ridings playing host to family visitors or vacationers in the thousands, flocking west to seek a mountain to climb, a lake to fish or a Pacific Ocean beach to dream on. But not this year; not this summer, as they gathered each weekday – sometimes morning, afternoon and evening – to hammer out new laws they hoped would please the people. And each evening, the MLAs with young families would be reminded that summer was fleeting fast; the opportunities to build a sandcastle or two with son or daughter soon to be lost.
Historically in the Legislative chamber, government and opposition MLAs sit two sword lengths apart to make sure attacks are verbal only. Debate rules are supposed to confine discourse to courteous language, but that is a convention rarely enforced by the Speakers. As such, Hansard – the source of my research and verbatim record of everything spoken in the House in session and relatively new in the BC Legislature in the 1970s – had become a receptacle for far too rarely erudite English but many a spiteful phrase.
And so it is in 2020 – with a frightening pandemic tugging our souls; with fires, floods, high winds and an always pending “Big One” threatening; with daily newspapers and their reduced news diet of gruel so thin even Oliver Twist wouldn’t ask for more; and with our ration of political pottage, sporadic and lacking in “coherent content” – I turn to an old 1975 BC Legislature Hansard for a look at MLAs facing another day without the distraction of a pending family outing.
Here I find Dave Barrett sticking needles into Alan Williams, then MLA for West Vancouver-Howe Sound and Minister of Labour in Bill Bennett’s Social Credit government. (Under House rules, Dave can’t name another member, only the riding he represents). So, he says: “My very long fellow member … once a Liberal and now a Socred – politically re-born, having seen the light of A plus B and now Minister of Labour, sanctimonious to the nth degree – this secret closet Socred who nurtured his whole political career … (while) waiting to burst forth as a butterfly in the Social Credit cabinet …”
Earlier in his dissertation, Dave had referred to the member from Yale-Lillooet as a “commie pinko.” No one knew what on earth was meant by the slur, but Minister of Forests Tom Waterland, a quiet-spoken chap, was chuffed enough, and unwise enough to ask the Speaker to request an apology and withdrawal because he found it “very offensive to be referred to as any kind of socialist.”
And Dave, never one to miss a proffered target, found it hard to hold back a grin as he responded without hesitation: “On behalf of all socialists, I withdraw the remark.”
Here are a few thoughts on the debate I cherry-picked as a change of pace from COVID-19 and life’s other continuing disasters. The debate centred on the Resort Municipality of Whistler, a community that was an amazing BC story. Having been present on site as the first roads were being shaped and having been there for many events before it became a municipality moving towards international status, I’m an unabashed admirer of the jewelled community.
It’s a story I hope to tell more fully before being called for my big sleep. The debate recorded in Hansard that I have referred to was bad-tempered and ill-mannered. The “special resort municipality” legislation was debated and condemned by the NDP in every way, shape, and form. But it was not originally a Social Credit government idea. That honour belongs to the NDP’s Minister of Municipal Affairs Jim Lorimer, who placed the idea on the table during Dave Barrett’s brief tenure as premier. The NDP government lost power before it could be developed further. When the Socreds took over with Bill Bennett at the helm, the creation of a “special resort municipality” was dusted off. It was embellished, polished and brought back, centre stage, on the legislative agenda.
Hansard records that one of the first things Alan Williams did when the debate reached its most strident pitch was to congratulate Lorimer “for his earlier foresight” in introducing the “special resort municipality” thinking the Opposition NDP now attacked as a betrayal of democratic rights.
The legislation survived; so has democracy and Whistler continues to prosper.