Former B.C. Premier and Kelowna-area MLA Bill Bennett (left) joined then-premier Gordon Campbell and a host of other dignitaries in 2008 for opening of the bridge over Okanagan Lake that bears his name.

Former B.C. premier Bill Bennett dies

Former B.C. premier Bill Bennet died Thursday at age 83. Bennett, who suffered from Alzheimer's, was B.C.'s premier from 1975 to 1986.

Former B.C. premier Bill Bennett died Thursday night at age 83.

Bennett, who suffered from Alzheimer’s, was B.C.’s premier from 1975 to 1986.

He followed his father, former premier W.A.C. Bennett as leader of the B.C. Social Credit Party in 1973 and was elected premier in 1975. He went on to win re-election in 1979 and 1983, retiring undefeated in 1986.

As news of Bennett’s passing started to circulate through the community, well-wishes to his family and reflections on the impact he’s had on this community came to the fore.

“This loss is huge for the province and for our city, and I’d like to extend my condolences to his family,” said Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran.

Although Bennett was elected premier before Basran was even born, he said that the impact of Bennett’s political life can still be seen in Kelowna today.

“The Canadian Federation of Independent Business recently announced that Kelowna is one of the top cities in the country to be an entrepreneur and the roots of that are with Bill Bennett, who was a champion of free enterprise and entrepreneurship,” said Basran. “He created a legacy for us to build on.”

News of his illness became public two years ago when family friend Charles Fipke donated more than $3 million to Alzheimer’s research at the Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health, a partnership between the UBC Faculty of Medicine and Vancouver Coastal Health, in Bennett’s name.

“The end game has to be to find a cure for this,” Brad Bennett said, following news of the donation. “We still don’t know what causes this disease and there are far too many people afflicted with it and far too many families like ours suffering the horrible consequences.”

Former Kelowna mayor Walter Gray said Alzheimer’s is a cruel disease, one that took its toll on Bennett in recent years.

“For those people who were close to him and loved him, I’m sure today is one of mixed emotions,” said Gray.

Gray called Bennett is personal inspiration for getting involved in politics, saying he will remember Bennett for his rapid fire sense of humour, his loyalty to his friends and his ability to be decisive quickly about whether an idea presented to him was good or bad.

“He was a very quick witted person which came through when you were talking to him one on one or in a small group,” Gray recalled. “But when he started out as Social Credit Party leader, he was very uncomfortable being in front of large crowds and dealing with the media at first, so you wouldn’t see that side of him in public. But in time he did become more comfortable.

“But he was very loyal to his friends he grew up with in Kelowna. When he went into political life, he always kept those connections, when he’d be home here in Kelowna he’s always be playing tennis with friends that he’s know from growing up here.”

Gray said Bennett’s legacy to the Okanagan will likely be seen as shepherding Expo 86 to Vancouver and being able to get the entire province behind it, and construction of the Coquihalla Highway, which was tied into Expo and led ultimately to the Connector route opening up the Okanagan, in particular Kelowna.

Gray said Bennett was also wise to know when to leave politics, surprising many by his decision to step down as premier in 1986, when he was succeeded by Bill Vander Zalm.

“Most of us stay in politics for too long, but he knew when to get out. I can remember talking to him about that at the Social Credit  Party leadership convention in Whistler in 1986, and he said he wanted to stay around long enough for Expo to get launched and get the Coquihalla sufficiently underway that no future premier could reverse that decision.

“Ultimately, with the Coquihalla in place, in was only natural then to extend the Connector route as well. Nobody was opposed to that as it was the natural thing to do going forward.”

From a political standpoint, Gray described Bennett as a true visionary, just like his father WAC Bennett before him who was B.C.’s longest serving premier for 20 years from 1952 to ’72, and was able to delegate authority to his political cabinet.

THe CIty of Kelowna is flying its flags at half-mast today, in homage to Bennett.

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

One woman arrested after pair of armed robberies in Campbell River

Police still looking to speak with anyone who was around downtown Chevron Sunday night

Forest industry supporters and convoy arrive at B.C. legislature

Rally delivers petition in favour of ‘working forests’

VIDEO: Convoy of forest industry supporters on its way to Victoria

Rally at the B.C. legislature begins with participants setting off from Campbell River

PHOTOS: Campbell River Storm fall to down-Island rival Victoria Cougars

Cougars win 6-2 and continue to lead the VIJHL as playoffs approach

Budget 2020: ICBC ‘dumpster fire’ to turn into $86M surplus, NDP say

ICBC operating with $91-million deficit for 2019-2020 fiscal year

Teen snowmobiler from Kelowna found after air force’s overnight search

The teen had been missing since just after 6 p.m. on Monday

Two law enforcement trucks ‘deliberately’ set on fire in northern B.C., RCMP say

Police say they have video evidence of a person in the area of the truck fires

Nanaimo man wins lotto, plans to buy $16,000 fridge

Curtis Wright a winner in Lotto 6/49 draw

Three protesters arrested after blocking driveway at premier’s home

Protestors claimed they would make a citizen’s arrest of the Premier, according to West Shore RCMP

Budget 2020: B.C. adds tax to sweet drinks and sodas

All soda, vending machine drinks will be subject to higher PST

Budget 2020: B.C. unveils new grant for students, phases out debt-relief program

For the first time, diploma, certificate students qualify for yearly post-secondary grant

Budget 2020: B.C. NDP taps top tax bracket for more revenue

Minimum wage set to pass $15 an hour by 2021

Budget 2020: Not much new for B.C.’s struggling forest industry

Focus on wood waste utilization, efficiency, Carole James says

Most Read