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

Drive up voting is popular with Victoria-Swan Lake voters at the Craigflower elementary polling station. (Don Descoteau/News Staff)
Drive up voting popular at Craigflower polling station in Victoria-Swan Lake

Nearly 13,000 mail-in ballots were requested in the Victoria-Swan Lake riding

Polls close at 8 p.m. in the Esquimalt-Metchosin riding. (Katherine Engqvist/News Staff)
VIDEO: Esquimalt-Metchosin candidates reflect on campaign as polls close

An estimated 12,000 mail-in ballots were requested in the Esquimalt-Metchosin riding

Oak Bay High voting station was slow and steady for the provincial election day, Oct. 24, 2020. (Travis Paterson/News Staff)
Early voting reduces election day turnout in Oak Bay-Gordon Head

An estimated 15,918 mail-in ballots requested in Oak Bay-Gordon Head

This was the line-up outside Sidney’s Mary Winspear Centre at around 2:30 p.m. Saturday. The short-up line speaks to the high number of votes, which have already been cast against the backdrop of COVID-19 by mail or in advanced voting. Voters, however, unanimously praised the safety measures in place, as well the convenience of the polling stations. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
‘Slow’ turnout at polls across Saanich North and the Islands

Peter Mason, district electoral officer, expects about 10,000 ballots to be cast

Barb Wright and Cynthia Vance at the District Electoral Office for the Langford-Juan de Fuca (Kendra Crighton/News Staff)
Polls now closed in Langford-Juan de Fuca

An estimated 12,120 mail-in ballots were requested in the Langford-Juan de Fuca riding

B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry gives a daily briefing on COVID-19 cases at an almost empty B.C. Legislature press theatre in Victoria, B.C., on March 25, 2020. (Don Craig/B.C. government)
B.C. sees 223 new COVID-19 cases, now 2,009 active

Two new care home outbreaks in Surrey, Burnaby

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam responds to a question during a news conference Friday October 23, 2020 in Ottawa. Canada’s top physician says she fears the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths may increase in the coming weeks as the second wave continues to drive the death toll toward 10,000. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s top doctor warns severe illness likely to rise, trailing spike in COVID-19 cases

Average daily deaths from virus reached 23 over the past seven days, up from six deaths six weeks ago

100 Mile Conservation officer Joel Kline gingerly holds an injured but very much alive bald eagle after extracting him from a motorist’s minivan. (Photo submitted)
B.C. driver thought he retrieved a dead bald eagle – until it came to life in his backseat

The driver believed the bird to be dead and not unconscious as it turned out to be

White Rock RCMP Staff Sgt. Kale Pauls has released a report on mental health and policing in the city. (File photos)
White Rock’s top cop wants to bill local health authority for lengthy mental-health calls

‘Suggestion’ included in nine-page review calling for ‘robust’ support for healthcare-led response

A Le Chateau retail store is shown in Montreal on Wednesday July 13, 2016. Le Chateau Inc. says it is seeking court protection from creditors under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act to allow it to liquidate its assets and wind down its operations.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Clothing retailer Le Chateau plans to close its doors, files for CCAA protection

Le Chateau said it intends to remain fully operational as it liquidates its 123 stores

Green party Leader Sonia Furstenau arrives to announce her party’s election platform in New Westminster, B.C., on October 14, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. Green party says it’s raised nearly $835,000 in 38 days

NDP Leader John Horgan is holding his final virtual campaign event

U.S. border officers at the Peace Arch crossing arrested two men on California warrants this week. (File photo)
Ottawa predicts system delays, backlogs unless court extends life of refugee pact

Canada and the United States recognize each other as safe places to seek protection

The possibility of the Canadian Premier League expanding to the Fraser Valley has been floated online. (Facebook photo)
Canadian Premier League possibly eyeing Fraser Valley expansion

Soccer league looking to add ninth team to the mix, B.C. markets potentially rumoured

Most Read