On Jan. 30 I had the honour of speaking at the celebration of former Premier Bill Bennett’s life. I’d like to share with you my thoughts on one of Kelowna’s – and British Columbia’s – greatest sons.
Saint Augustine said “No eulogy is due to him who has done his duty and nothing more.”
I occupy the office he once held, but I can’t claim unique personal knowledge of him. I was 10 years old when Bill Bennett became premier, almost 21 when he exited public life – but I knew him.
Premier Bennett loomed large over the years in which my political imagination was taking shape. The lessons I absorbed left an indelible mark on what leadership looked like to me.
Consider the endowment of infrastructure and cultural legacies he left us: the Alex Fraser Bridge, Coquihalla Highway, BC Place, SkyTrain, Expo 86, and of course the initial work on Site C. Everyone who knew him was both proud and thankful to have been associated with a man who possessed such singular vision, and a capacity to make those ideas real.
Jane Addams once said that when we think of great men, it’s easy to think only of their great deeds and not think enough about their spirit. So, I’d like to reflect on his character and the lessons he taught to those of us who didn’t know him personally, but nonetheless grew up with him.
The first is loyalty. While in office, almost none of his colleagues were publicly at odds with him. His colleagues weren’t just loyal; they loved him. They had resolute unity because he let them do their jobs, and take credit for their victories. He commanded respect because he gave it.
The second is values. We all saw the fierce strength of his beliefs and refusal to waver from the core principles that guided his government. He stood up to make a smaller government that spent less because he believed that government shouldn’t do everything, and there was a proper time and place for government to make a difference.
The third is courage. When Canada was hurting and it became clear that government was just too big and the economy just too small, Premier Bennett took it on. He tabled 26 Bills in the Legislature in one day, and then went outside to meet the largest labour disruption in BC history. He won.
No one remembers a leader because they did the easy things. It’s doing the hard things that distinguish us.
For me, the fourth lesson is the best one: he took on these formidable tasks because he believed it was his duty to improve this province, and prepare the way for the future generations.
He left us bridges, highways, and a world fair. But even more significant were his examples of courage, principles, duty, and love for British Columbia. Those qualities of character are the legacies I will remember. Those are the things that have etched him indelibly in our collective memory and into the history, present, and future of our magnificent province.
He didn’t just make our province better. He made us better.
Premier Christy Clark is the Liberal MLA for Kelowna-Westside.