Memorial for former BC premier Dave Barrett draws tributes for underdog champion

first_imgVICTORIA – Former British Columbia premier Dave Barrett was hailed as a political trail blazer whose passion, care and charisma captured the heart and soul of the province during a state memorial service Saturday that at times took on the tone of grassroots political gathering more than a grieving ceremony.Barrett, B.C.’s first elected New Democrat premier, died last month in Victoria after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease. He was 87.Premier John Horgan said he joined the NDP after hearing Barrett speak to a crowd of 30,000 people at an anti-government protest rally in 1983 in Victoria during the height of B.C.’s solidarity protests against restraint programs.“The meaning of social justice, of compassion, of caring for all British Columbians, not just a select few but everybody, that’s what Dave Barrett was about,” said Horgan. “It was in the morning, in the afternoon and before he went to bed.”He said he will always remember Barrett’s speeches. They started slowly, but within minutes his shirtsleeves were rolled up and his foot was up on a chair and he was loudly proclaiming the best way to help people, especially those considered underdogs.“Dave had an ability to capture your heart, mind and soul,” said Horgan, who described Barrett as the most captivating political orator he has ever seen and will likely ever see again. “Dave had a knack.”Horgan said Barrett would be pleased with the crowd of 1,000 people who attended his memorial service, but he would have liked to be there “to pass the hat around for (donations for) the next campaign.”The NDP swept to power in the province for the first time in 1972 under Barrett’s leadership and passed a record 357 bills that led to enduring reforms including public auto insurance and the Agricultural Land Reserve.Welfare reforms, a provincewide ambulance service and affordable prescription drugs through the Pharmacare program are also legacies of Barrett’s political accomplishments during his time in office, which lasted for three years.Barrett’s New Democrats made history by defeating the five-term Social Credit government of W.A.C. Bennett, marking the end of that party’s dominance in B.C. politics.The former social worker from Vancouver was fondly remembered for his wise-cracking personality. But others paid tribute to his political accomplishments.“Dave touched the hearts of men and women across B.C.,” said Lt.-Gov. Judith Guichon. “His vision indeed far exceeded that of so many Canadians. He made hard decisions.”Barrett’s former labour minister Bill King said the NDP government was accused of crippling the economy for raising the minimum wage by 50 cents an hour, but the cheers of hotel and restaurant workers drowned out the complaints of the “captains of industry.”“Dave was very passionate about trying to elevate the standard of living for pensioners, retired people, people at the lower end of the economic ladder,” he said.“Barrett was passionate, hilarious and at times impetuous. He was really a fireball. It’s really a great honour to have the opportunity to say goodbye to an illustrious premier, a great friend and a colleague for many years.”Horgan has called Barrett’s accomplishments during his short time at the helm extraordinary and remembers Barrett bringing his “B.C. swagger” to Ottawa when he was elected to the federal NDP in the late 1980s.Horgan said B.C.’s no-holds-barred politics were steeped in Barrett’s political rivalry with W.A.C. Bennett and then with Bill Bennett, the son of the man he’d dethroned in the 1972 election.However, Barrett lost to the younger Bennett in 1975, 1979 and 1983.Barrett’s three children spoke at the memorial. His wife, Shirley, sat on stage with her family members and other dignitaries, but did not speak.Barrett’s son, Joe, said his father was able to stay connected with his family in his final years, but it was difficult.“The last few years, even though Dad wasn’t able to respond in words, we knew he was there in gestures, in smiles, in the way he looked at us,” he said.Horgan, along with former New Democrat premiers Glen Clark and Dan Miller, and another 500 NDP members, will gather in Vancouver Sunday to celebrate Barrett’s life.Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version misidentified Barrett’s son.last_img

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