Barrett’s view: “a new society, built on love, trust and understanding”

Dave Barrett

The careers of some political leaders seem to diminish with the passage of time, others grow in significance.

Former NDP Premier Dave Barrett seems to be joining the latter category, at least to judge by the tributes paid to him by a former opponent and several hundred New Democrats Saturday night. They were gathered at a Langford hotel to celebrate his 80th birthday and the crowd included most of those who had gone into political combat earlier that day at a Provincial Council meeting, as well as scores of former MLAs and constituency activists.

The evening was highlighted by astonishing archival video from Barrett’s extraordinary career in provincial and federal politics, including his declaration to a large crowd in 1970 that “we want to build a new society, built on love, trust and understanding.”

It is hard to imagine a political leader of any stripe making such a direct and emotional appeal today. Two years later, Barrett swept to power. He was 41.

His hectic three-year administration passed 357 bills, a record unsurpassed to this day. They included enduring reforms to every aspect of BC society: creation of the Agricultural Land Reserve, an end to mining in parks, a massive overhaul of energy policy, creation of ICBC, formation of a province-wide ambulance service, the launch of the province’s college system and fundamental democratic reforms of the Legislature. That’s a partial list.

It is fair to say, argued former Premier Dan Miller, that Barrett’s government brought about changes as profound as those ushered in by the Quiet Revolution of Jean Lesage’s government in Quebec.

But longtime Barrett opponent and former Social Credit cabinet minister Rafe Mair went further, although not before mocking the New Democrats as “the only party I know that elects their leaders, then has the leadership campaign.”

Turning to Barrett, whose government he had worked tirelessly to defeat, Mair said that “looking back on the accomplishments — the ALR, ICBC, the changes in the Legislature and so on — I would say they stamp you as one of the greatest premiers BC has ever had.”

With that the two old political warriors embraced and the crowd erupted in a standing ovation.

The provincial government honoured Barrett Friday with the announcement that the viewpoint below Cypress Park, which Barrett saved from the chainsaw in the 1960s, will be renamed Barrett’s View. As Carole James said at that ceremony, the name has a double meaning, reflecting both the view itself, which Barrett helped to save, and his political philosophy, which continues to have an impact on the life of the province.

It was a government that said “yes we can” — and then did.