Dave Barrett and his 1972-75 government is the answer to people who assert that, once elected politicians lose their boldness. His government passed 357 bills in three short years. Including the Agricultural Land Reserve a bill to preserve farmland that the rest of the world is still struggling to catch do. To honour his passing and his extraordinary legacy I’ve updated a piece I wrote about him.
When I was a young activist eager to take on every dragon including the dragons who were resisting the closure of institutions for people with disabilities in British Columbia, I got the ‘bright’ idea to intervene in a provinical by-election. I had studied the tactics of the civil rights movement
and thought it was possible to influence the election result in Kamloops, the city where Tranquille, one of three big BC institutions for people with intellectual disabilities was located. I also wanted the government candidate to lose.
With nothing more than that inkling, our team headed to Kamloops to venture into election politics. Did I mention I had just moved to British Columbia and knew next to nothing about how politics operates here? Or that I was decked out in knight’s armour?
Since I headed up the largest disability group in the province we got a smidgin of media interest. Which emboldened us to become even more forceful with our strategy. Perhaps that’s why out of the blue, I was invited to a meeting with Dave Barrett, the former Premier of British Columbia who was once again Leader of the Opposition. I was thrilled. I had heard him speak when I was a social work student in Halifax and saw myself as following in his footsteps. He was after all a former social worker. Dave Barrett and me. Imagine that. Perhaps he wanted to talk strategy?
We met in a small hotel room, the kind that is just big enough for two twin-sized beds. We each took a bed facing each other, our knees inches apart.
“ So Al, tell me what you are doing here?” he asked.
He looked at me with what I was sure was an admiring eye as I huffed and puffed. He soon interrupted leaving me with a lesson in how politics works that I have never forgotten.
“Listen, young man I loved being Premier. I want my old job back so much that I can taste it. And I agree that winning this by-election is important. But what you are doing is not helping.
“Your job is to make the snowballs. My job is to throw them.
“Leave the partisanship to me.
“And please, please get out of my way.”
It’s a trap to blend political action with partisanship. Unless you are running for political office. Or want to be identified with a political party.
On the other hand, if you want to reach the broadest number of people including supporters of all political parties. And to give everyone’s potential to change the benefit of the doubt then stick:
- To substantive critiques of government decisions.
- To proposing solutions.
- To building popular support for your ideas.
Those are big enough jobs.
Leave the rest to the politicians.
NOTE: Check out the story behind the most progressive, transformative government in Canadian history in Rod Mickleburgh and Geoff Meggs’ book, The Art of the Impossible: Dave Barrett and the NDP in Power 1972-75
Are we here for a good time or a long time? ~ Dave Barrett, spoken at his first Cabinet meeting while standing on the boardroom table with his socks off. Or so legend has it.
Musical selection this post is Heart of Gold sung by Serena Ryder. Neil Young topped the charts with it in 1972.