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

test tube with the blood test is on the table next to the documents. Positive test for coronavirus covid-19. The concept of fighting a dangerous Chinese disease.
Interior Health records third COVID-19 death

A new community outbreak was reported at Okanagan Men’s Centre in Lake Country

The site plan for the Stoked Living development on Hay Rd. (Stoked Living)
Rental housing agreement approved for Hay Rd. project

Stoked Living development guarantees 10 rental units for 12 years

Revelstoke Fire Rescue Services. (File)
UPDATE: RCMP say fire at Rivers Edge suspicious

Second fire in less than a week in Revelstoke contained to one unit

Remembrance Day in Revelstoke, Nov. 11, 2019. (Jocelyn Doll/Revelstoke Review)
Revelstoke Remembrance Day celebrations different during pandemic

The Legion is asking you to stay home as a limit of 100 people are allowed at the ceremony

A municipal election is likely coming up in January. (Jocelyn Doll/Revelstoke Review)
City takes steps to host byelection by end of January

A ministerial order is required to temporarily change the Election Bylaw

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates the COVID-19 situation, B.C. legislature, Oct. 26, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 case count jumps by 287, another senior home outbreak

Two more deaths recorded, community outbreak in Okanagan

An untitled Emily Carr painting of Finlayson Point was donated to the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria by brothers Ian and Andrew Burchett. The painting had been in their family for several decades. (Courtesy of the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria)
Never before seen painting by famed B.C. artist Emily Carr gifted to Victoria gallery

Painting among several donated to Art Gallery of Greater Victoria

The B.C. Centre for Disease control is telling people to keep an eye out for the poisonous death cap mushroom, which thrives in fall weather conditions. (Paul Kroeger/BCCDC)
Highly poisonous death cap mushroom discovered in Comox

This marks first discovery on Vancouver Island outside Greater Victoria area

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)
Rescued bald eagle that came to life in B.C. man’s car had lead poisoning

Bird is on medication and recovering in rehab centre

In May 2019, Brennan Joel Metlewsky and Jordan Robert Kupser were charged with attempted murder, robbery and aggravated assault stemming from an incident that took place in Vernon in 2017. (Facebook photo)
Attempted murder charges dropped for pair accused in Vernon stabbing

Brennan Metlewsky and Jordan Kupser will appear in Supreme Court to set a new trial date

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

A boat moored at Turtle Bay Marina was reported stolen Oct. 1 and remains under investigation. (Contributed)
North Okanagan crimes remain unsolved

Boat stolen from marina, theft of siding and vehicle break and enter

Janet Austin, lieutenant governor of B.C., was presented with the first poppy of the Royal Canadian Legion’s 2020 Poppy Campaign on Wednesday. (Kendra Crighton/News Staff)
PHOTOS: B.C. Lieutenant Governor receives first poppy to kick off 2020 campaign

Janet Austin ‘honour and a privileged’ to receive the poppy

An air tanker drops fire retardant on the Christie Mountain wildfire along Skaha Lake in Penticton, B.C. Thursday, August 20, 2020. (Jonathan Hayward - The Canadian Press file)
North Okanagan firefighters thanked for help in Christie Mountain wildfire

Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen send thank-you note to Vernon firefighters

Most Read