Not To Be Trusted With Knives

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BC Premier #24: Wacky Bennett

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

File:I 61926.gif

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.



  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 []


BC Premier #20 – Simon Fraser Tolmie

The 20th Premier of the Province of British Columbia was Simon Fraser Tolmie. I have no idea if he was related to the explorer Simon Fraser after whom the University, the river and a billion other things in BC were named. He doesn’t appear to have been a direct descendant, as Simon Fraser the Explorer immigrated to Canada from Scotland, settling in Quebec, in the 1780s, while Simon Fraser Tolmie’s father was born in Scotland and immigrated to Canada, arriving at Fort Vancouver, in 1833.  I’m sure there’s a very good chance they are related, but (a) there seemed to have been tonnes of people named “Simon Fraser,” including the lion’s share of the line of “Lord Lovats.” At this point in my research1 my head hurts, so we’ll just leave this issue as “currently unresolved)).  And now, onto the useless fact-listing!

File:Simon Fraser Tolmie.png Name Simon Fraser Tolmie
Born: January 25, 1867 in Victoria, BC
Died: October 13, 1937 in Victoria, BC
Party: Conservative
Held Office: August 21, 1928 – November 15, 1933
  • he had a “pioneer lineage” on both sides of his family:
    • his father: “Dr. William Fraser Tolmie, a prominent figure in the Hudson’s Bay Company and a member of both the colonial assembly of Colony of Vancouver Island and the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia”2
    • his mother: Jane Work, “daughter of John Work, a prominent Victoria resident, Hudson’s Bay Company Chief Factor, and member of the former colony’s assembly”3
  • 1891: graduated from vet school at the Ontario Veterinary College4
  • 1917: entered federal politics as an MP for Victoria City in the Unionist Party; served in this role until 1928, although under the Conservative banner after his first Parliament
  • 1919-1921 and 1926: federal Minister of Agriculture
  • 1926: elected leader of BC Conservative Party (although stayed as a federal MP until the next provincial election in 1928)
  • 1928: elected as a provincial MLA in Saanich and, as his party won the most seats (32 of 48), he became the Premier and Minister of Railways
  • his party had a “commitment to applying “business principles to the business of government””5, which really didn’t work so well when the Great Depression hit
  • the whole Conservative Party fell into chaos after this, with a Royal Commission that Tolmie established (at the request of the business community) suggesting drastic cuts to social programs to fix the dire finances of the province – and people freaking out over this suggestion. The party was in such disarray, in fact, that they didn’t run *any* candidate in the 1933 election
  • 1933: some former Tories ran as independents or “independent Conservatives” or Unionists (if they supported Tolmie) or “Non-Partisans” (if they supported former Premier Bowser); not surprisingly, with all the vote splitting, the Liberals won a majority government and the NDP-forerunner party, the Coopeartive Commonwealth Federation, became the Official Opposition.  Tolmie lost his seat.
  • holds the dubious distinction of being the last Premier of BC for the Conservative Party6
  • 1936: won a federal by-election in his old riding of Victoria
  • 1937: died

In summary, he killed the BC Conservative Party7.

Image credits: Accessed from Wikipedia. In the public domain. w00t!

Wikipedia, the reference of champions

  1. i.e., goofing around on Wikipedia []
  2. Wikipedia []
  3. Wikipedia []
  4. which is now at the U of Guelph (go Guelph!), but at the time was at U of T []
  5. Wikipedia []
  6. there have certainly been other conservative premiers, including the current one, but they’ve used other names, like SoCreds and the current BC so-called “Liberal” party, but none using the Conservative Party name []
  7. in name anyway. Their pro-business agenda lives on in Gordon Campbell and his ilk []


BC Premier #15 – The Premier Who Liked To Party Party

Sir Richard McBride, the 15th Premier of the Province of British Columbia.

File:Richard McBride.jpg Name Sir Richard McBride, KCMG
Born: December 15, 1870 in New Westminster, BC
Died: August 6, 1917) in London, UK
Party: BC Conservative
Held Office: June 1, 1903 – December 15, 1915
  • considered the founder of the (now pretty much defunct1) BC Conservative Party
  • September 1887: went to Dalhousie Law School. While there, he did really well in the mock Parliament and, in a bit of foreshadowing that my grade 9 English teacher would have loved, he was the mock Parliament Premier in his third year
  • 1896: ran in the federal election for the oddly named Liberal-Conservative party (no idea who their opponents were), but lost
  • 1898: elected to the provincial legislature in the Westminster-Dewdney riding; given the nickname “Dewdney Dick”
  • 1900: appointed to Dunsmuir’s cabinet as the Minister of Mines, having done a bunch of legal work sorting out mining claims in the mining boom in the northwest part of the province during recess between legislative sittings;
  • fall 1900: elected president of the BC consverative organization (not Party, ‘cuz they didn’t quite have provincial parties yet)
  • September 1901: he resigned from Dunsmuir’s cabinet when Dunsmuir appointed a Joseph Martin ally to his cabinet, as Dunsmuir had said he was going to work against Martin
  • Feb 1902: chosen to be the leader of the Opposition
  • Sept 1902: not re-elected as the president of the provincial Conservative organization, but since the guy who was elected didn’t have a seat in Legislature, he remained the leader of the Opposition.  This led to…
  • June 1, 1903: appointed Premier by the Lieutanent Governor. He felt that the no-party system was lame, so he declared his administration to be a Conservative Party one (which seems slightly odd, given that he was specifically not elected as the leader of the Conservatives, but so it was) and that he’d fight the fall election as the Conservative Party
  • October 3, 1903: won the first partied2 Government with a two seat majority (22 of 42 seats).  This party tried “to stablize the economy by cutting spending and raising new taxes”5 and implemented “progressive reforms of the province’s labour law”5– you know how Conservatives love labour and higher taxes3.  Also, like many politicians of the time I’m discovering as I write this series of blog postings, he was a big fat racist who called for “a halt to Asian immigration”6

    “He shared the widespread belief in “a white B.C.,” called for “Mongolian exclusion,” and sought to shut out the “Asiatic hordes.” His particular concern was “cheap” Japanese labour competing in the fisheries and in “everything the white man has been used to call his own.” He endorsed anti-Asian measures in order to bring the “Asian problem” to the attention of eastern Canadians, and he employed the federal government’s repeated disallowance of the province’s legislation on the matter, notably the so-called Natal Acts which imposed a language test on prospective immigrants, in his “Fight Ottawa” crusade. After the Conservatives formed the federal government in 1911, he urged Borden to honour a promise to legislate against immigration from Asia. By then McBride also perceived a Japanese military threat.”6

    On the other major racial issue that seems to come up in this period of BC history:

    “McBride’s approach to Indian peoples, whom he had known from his boyhood and legal practice and with whom he could converse in Chinook Jargon, was paternalistic. As a young lawyer he got a charge of murder reduced to manslaughter because his drunken client “was an Indian.” He believed the Indians had “been treated fairly and equitably,” and thought they “should play a very important part in the material advancement and welfare of the community.””6

  • 1907: won another election, this time with 26 of the 42 seats
  • 1908: decided that the province should have its own provincial university (UBC, which opened in 1915), because Conservatives love higher education3, and promised more railway lines
  • 1909 & 1912: kicked serious ass in these elections, which 38 of 42 seats and 40 of 42 seats, respectively.
  • was BFFs with Robert Borden’s federal Tories
  • during WWI: in response to rumours of German ships in the North Pacific, he bought two submarines from Seattle and then sold them to the federal government at the same price for which he bought them. He was accused of making some coin on the transaction, but a Royal Commission “determined that the whole transaction was “of blameless character””6
  • in addition to his racism, he was also sexist and “never believed”6 in women’s suffrage
  • 1915: called an election for April 10, then three days later postponed it indefinitely under the dubious explanation of “unexpected difficulty in revising the voters’ lists and getting ballot boxes to remote areas””6
  • 1915: UBC opened
  • as seems to be the downfall of many early BC politicians, the railway did McBride in. An economic downturn along with “mounting railway debts”5 caused the people to like his government a lot less, so he resigned as Premier on December 15, 1915 and became BC’s rep in London, UK.
  • 1917: having suffered from nephritis and diabetes for several years, McBride went blind (presumably from the diabetes, not the nephritis)
  • 1917: died in London, less than three months after resigning. His body was returned to Victoria, BC for burial.
  • things that are named after him: the town of McBride, BC; the McBride River in Northern BC; Sir Richard McBride Elementary School in Vancouver4.

In summary, a racist and a sexist (though both of those seemed to be quite common at the time), McBride did very well in politics when times were good, but didn’t seem to have the skills to pay the bills when times went bad.  Also, I suppose I have him to thank for the creation of one of my alma maters, UBC.

Image credits: Accessed from Wikipedia. In the public domain. w00t!

1It’s not totally defunct, as you do see candidate running on the Conservative banner in elections, but I don’t I’ve seen a Conservative party candidate win an election in the entire time I’ve lived in BC. And really the conservatives MLAs are all hiding over in the BC so-called-Liberal Party.
2Is *too* a word.
3I wish there were an “I’m joking” font…
4This is where I’ve heard of him. I used to run a science outreach program that put volunteers into elementary schools to teach science to the kids, so I know the names of most of the schools in Vancouver.

5Wikipedia, the reference of that also likes to party party.
6Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online


BC Premier#11 – I’m back with Premier C.A.S.

Wow, I’ve been a total slacker in writing entries on my BC Premiers series lately.  I haven’t actually written one in more than a month.  I blame the economy. And the prorogation of Parliament.

Anyway, I’m back.  And I’m back with the eleventh Premier of the province of British Columbia – Charles Augustus Semlin.

Charles Semlin.png Name Charles Augustus Semlin
Born: 4 December 1836 near Barrie, Upper Canada
Died: 2 November 1927 in Cache Creek, British Columbia
Party: none
Held Office: 15 August 1898  – 27 February 1900.
  • had a lot of different types of jobs:
    • quit his job as a school teacher in Barrie, Upper Canada to try his hand a prospecting in the gold rush, but, not being very good at it, he became a packer (like, he carried other people’s stuff for them), followed by managing a roadhouse and ranch
    • I guess he liked running a roadhouse, ‘cuz then he bought one (1865)
    • But I guess he liked being a rancher more, ‘cuz then he traded the roadhouse for a ranch (1870)
    • in addition to ranching, he was the first postmaster in Cache Creek, became a school board member, became an MLA and got Cache Creek a school, which turned out to be controversial and closed in 1890; but then he became a school trustee for the school district created in the region after the school he got started was shut
  • he doesnt’ seem to have been a very good politician:
    • his entry to provincial politics in 1871 was kind of messed up: he was tied for third in a three-member riding, so the returning officer put their names in a hat, drew Semlin’s name and declared him the third MLA for the riding. Awesome.
    • he ran unsuccessfully in the next two elections (1875 and 1878), but then won his seat back in 1882 and retained it for the next four elections (1886, 1890, 1894, and 1898)
    • 1894: became leader of the opposition after the election of 1894, although he was widely recognized as being rather meh as a leader. Yes, meh is a word.
    • 1898: Premier Turner failed to win a clear majority, so Lieutenant Governor Thomas Robert McInnes kicked out Turner and asked Beaven to form a government. Sure Beaven didn’t even win his own friggin’ seat, but this didnt’ appear to matter to McInnes.  Not-so-surprisingly, Beaven couldn’t get enough support to form a government (did I mention that he didn’t even win a seat?), so McInnes asked Semlin, being the ineffectual leader of the opposition from the last government, if he could form a government.  And Semlin did, so then he was the Premier. Some other dudes were trying to put together a provincial Liberal party (remember, they still didn’t have political parties at this point), but they didn’t have it together yet and so weren’t asked to form the government.
    • Semlin was, did I mention, a pretty meh leader and that, combined with infighting within his Cabinet and Semlin’s attempts to initiate a bunch of reforms (people hate that) meant for a short lived (18 month) premiership for Semlin.
    • A speech given by his Attorney General, Joseph Martin, ended in a brawl that had to be broken up by the cops and Semlin demanded Martin’s resignation. So Martin was pissed at Semlin and joined the opposition.  This resulted in Semlin receiving a vote of non-confidence, but asked Lieutenant Governor McInnes for a some time to prove he could regain the confidence of the house, which he did by getting some opposition ministers to to join him. But the McInnes, who apparently liked doing weird things, ignored Semlin’s newfound confidence and asked Martin to form a government.  Which pissed off the MLAs, so they voted Martin out in no-confidence.  So, basically, it was a really big shit show. So they had an election in 1900 (in which Semlin didn’t run) and, when the dust cleared, Dunsmuir became the next Premier.
    • Semlin won a by-election in 1903, but then didn’t run in the 1903 general election. Then ran and lost in 1907.
  • And now a tidbit about his personal life:
    • Although he didn’t marry, he raised a daughter, ironically named Mary.  Her mother, according to the 1881 census, was a First Nations woman named Caroline Williams, who lived with Semlin and used the last name Semlin, but was not married to him.

In summary, he had a lot of jobs, he was a meh politician and his daughter was a bastard.

Image credits: Accessed from Wikipedia. In the public domain. w00t!

Wikipedia, the reference that has a grand total of seven sentences about Charles August Semlin.
Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online