PHOTO: Dave Barrett and the author in February 2008.
The death yesterday at 87 of Dave Barrett, premier of British Columbia from 1972 to 1975, is a huge loss to all Canadians. While Mr. Barrett’s government served for a short time, it left Canada and British Columbia with a huge legacy that lives on nearly half a century later. Mr. Barrett’s NDP Government brought in public auto insurance, the agricultural land reserve, a provincial ambulance service, and a provincial Pharmacare system among many other life-improving ideas that can and should be imitated by other provinces. At his first cabinet meeting, he is said to have asked his ministers: “Are you here for a good time or a long time?” He meant that they should focus on accomplishing things that would prove their worth by becoming so popular they defied their opponents and survived to improve the lives of citizens, not merely on re-election. I vividly and fondly remember the night Mr. Barrett’s government was elected. I still feel the astonishment I experienced that night that a person could actually get paid for reporting something as fascinating and important as democratic politics. Mr. Barrett was one of the political heroes of my youth and remains one of my heroes to this day. I am grateful and proud to have had the opportunity to write about him, to vote for his government, and to meet him, both as a young person and, as the picture above shows, a not-so-young person. “Rest in Peace” does not seem like the right sentiment for such a vibrant, vigorous and visionary man. I’m sure Mr. Barrett is already shaking things up and making them better wherever he is now.