“He was a sensational guy, larger-than-life personality”: These were the words of the 31st premier of British Columbia from 1996 to 1999, Glen Clark, whom I spoke to over the phone on the passing of former premier Dave Barrett, due to Alzheimer’s disease.
Clark first met Barrett when he was 19, helping with his campaign on Vancouver East in 1976. Barrett left an impressionable mark with the young Clark, who would a decade later enter the political arena himself to represent the same riding.
The two would remain close friends for decades.
Clark recalls that, when he stepped down as premier, it was Barrett who came out to help and phoned Jimmy Pattison. Clark currently serves as the president of the Jim Pattison Group.
Former local MLA Dennis Streifel and Barrett were also good friends and had good working relationships.
During the three years that Barrett served as premier from 1972-75, his government passed 367 bills, which is basically unheard of today, according to Clark.
He explains that to get things passed in the legislature it sometime takes years and it can be a slow process with studies involved.
Clark appointed Barrett in the late 1990s to chair the leaky condo crisis when he was premier.
Barrett was first elected in 1960 in the Dewdney riding and became the youngest member of the BC Legislature.
He defeated labour minister Lyle Wicks, which was considered to be a major upset.
One of the first priorities Barrett set out as our local MLA was for Mission residents to get a new bridge crossing.
He said in this paper in 1960, “I was keenly aware of the fact that Dewdney was not receiving its fair share in terms of public services, maintenance and construction of roads, bridges and other public works.”
He also spoke about expanding the Lougheed Highway to four lanes to Mission, which many former MLAs have promised and never delivered.
It would be 1973 when the newly elected Premier Barrett would open the Mission Bridge and keep his promise to the residents of Mission, some 13 years before.
He said at the opening, “This bridge is for people, not for automobiles.” He went on to say it was “to serve and to strengthen communities on both sides of the river.”
He added that he hoped that citizens would get together and use the bridge with a sense of purpose.
I spoke with Barrett in 2003 about Naranjan Grewall, who was the first South Asian elected to public office in Canada in 1950.
When Grewall was nominated as a candidate for the CCF party in the Dewdney riding in 1956, this drew excitement. But according to Barrett, Grewall faced open discrimination on the campaign trail.
Barrett said during the interview: “He was an icon. I didn’t think I had a chance of getting elected in his riding. He lost the election, but won the hearts of many.”
When Barrett became premier in 1972, he was invited to the Sikh Temple in Vancouver and was presented with a ceremonial sword.
As he received the sword, he told the audience: “This isn’t for me, this is for Naranjan Grewall. He is our true hero.
“The former Mission mayor knew the risk he was taking and many people were surprised he took this risk to enter the race,” Barrett said.
Barrett said Grewall overcame many racial insults along the way.
“Every kid in the North Fraser who thinks he or she is being discriminated against should read the Grewall story and the challenges he faced.”
Grewall was later found dead in a Seattle motel room with a gunshot wound to the head in July of 1957. He was 47 years of age.