BC Premier #24: Wacky Bennett

“The finest sound in the land is the ringing of cash registers.”
-W.A.C. Bennett


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W.A.C. Bennett and his wife, Mary, beside HRH Princess Margaret.

Name William Andrew Cecil Bennett (a.k.a., Wacky Bennett)
Born: September 6, 1900 in Hastings, NB
Died: February 23, 1979 in Kelowna, BC1
Party: BC Conservative from 1937-1951 and Social Credit from 1951-1978.
Held Office: August 1, 1952 – September 15, 1972
  • serving for 20 years and 1.5 months, Wacky stands as the longest serving premier in BC history
  • related to:
    • Canadian Prime Minister Richard Bedford Bennett (Wacky’s dad and P.M. R.B.B. were third cousins)
    • BC Premier Bill Bennett (Wacky was Bill’s dad)
  • quit school in grade 9 to take a job in a hardware store during WWI (though he would later pursue correspondence courses as an adult)
  • moved with his family from New Brunswick to Alberta
  • 1927: opened his own hardware store with a partner, but sold his interest in it just before the stock market crash of 1929, moved to Kelowna and opened another hardware store
  • 1937: unsuccessful run for the nomination for BC Conservatives in the South Okanagan
  • 1941: successful run for not just the nomination, but the seat in the South Okanagan, as a member of the Conservative party
  • 1945: re-elected as the MLA for South Okanagan as part of the Liberal-Conservative coaltion
  • 1948: vacated MLA seat to run federally for Progressive Conservatives in the Yale riding by-election, but he lost
  • 1949: regained his MLA seat in the South Okanagan
  • 1951: ran for, by failed to win, the leadership of the BC Conservative party, so he quit the party and sat as an independent.  Then he became a member of the Social Credit (or So-Cred) party
  • 1952: the provincial election used an “alternative vote” system (i.e., instead of the traditional “first past the post” system, voter ranked their 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc. choices2 which, apparently, the ruling Lib-Cons coalition thought would keep down the up-and-coming Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF – which would later become the New Democratic Party [NDP]).  Instead and unexpectedly, it resulted in the So-Creds winning the most seats in the election!  And the So-Creds didn’t even have a leader!  The So-Creds, who had won 19 or 48 seats convinced an independent MLA to join them, giving them 20 or 48, which was apparently enough to run a minority government.
  • July 15, 1952: Bennett won the party leadership 10-9, becoming premier-elect
  • 1953: Bennett engineered the defeat of his own minority government to force an election, in which he won a majority.  Then he axed the alternative vote system (you know, the one that got him the job in the first place) and went back to first-past-the-post
  • now, I’ve heard of the So-Cred party3, but I must admit that I didn’t actually know what “social credit” was.  According to the almighty Wikipedia:

“Assuming the only safe place for power is in many hands, Social Credit is a distributive philosophy, and its policy is to disperse power to individuals. Social Credit philosophy is best summed by Douglas when he said, “Systems were made for men, and not men for systems, and the interest of man which is self-development, is above all systems, whether theological, political or economic.”

According to Douglas, the true purpose of production is consumption, and production must serve the genuine, freely expressed interests of consumers. Each citizen is to have a beneficial, not direct, inheritance in the communal capital conferred by complete and dynamic access to the fruits of industry assured by the National Dividend and Compensated Price. Consumers, fully provided with adequate purchasing power, will establish the policy of production through exercise of their monetary vote. In this view, the term economic democracy does not mean worker control of industry. Removing the policy of production from banking institutions, government, and industry, Social Credit envisages an “aristocracy of producers, serving and accredited by a democracy of consumers.”

  • although the So-Cred party was intended to promote social credit theory, it can’t be implemented at the provincial level, so Bennett made the party “a mix of populism and conservatism” and focused the party on keeping out the CCF
  • Bennett also actively campaigned for the federal So-Cred Party (which I never even knew existed), presumably because social credit theory is more in the jurisdiction of the feds
  • 1972: his government was defeated by the NDPs, and he served as the Leaders of the Opposition until he resigned his seat in June 1973
  • 1979: made an Officer of the Order of Canada
  • things named after him:
    • the W.A.C. Bennett Dam near Hudson’s Hope,
    • the library at the Burnaby campus of Simon Fraser University

In summary, given that he was Premier for more than 20 years and was known as “Wacky”, I thought there would be more information on this guy.

Image credits: Accessed from Wikipedia. Copyright held by the BC Provincial Archives. But they said anyone can use for anything, as long as they get their props.

References:


Footnotes:

  1. I think.  Wikipedia doesn’t actually say where he died, but does say he was interred in Kelowna []
  2. this is interesting, as our last two BC provincial elections have included referenda on changing to a single transferable vote system instead of first-past-the-post. I had no idea that we’d used anything like it in the past! []
  3. it was pretty much dead by the time I moved to BC in 2000 []