A memorial for the late Bill Bennett, former premier of B.C. was held in Kelowna Sunday.
The gathering, which attracted about 600 people, including current Premier Christy Clark, provincial and federal politicians both past and present and former prime minister Kim Campbell, paid tribute to a man described as a visionary when it came to the development f British Columbia.
Speakers included Clark and Campbell, as well as Bud Smith and Norman Spector, both of whom served as deputy minsters to Bennett during his 11 years as premier, as well as friends and his grandson Michael, who flew in from London for the memorial and to speak on half of the family.
“He was granite,” said Premier Christy Clark, who called Bennett “her premier” as he was in office when she was growing up.
She thanked Bennett’s widow, Audrey, and their four sons for sharing Bennett with the rest of the province.
Described as a caring, competitive, frugal and humorous man, who enjoyed time with his family and friends more than the political spotlight, as loved a good game of tennis, Bennett’s tough public image belied a compassionate nature that put family and public service above all else said those who knew him.
Bennett was celebrated for having a vision to build B.C. through many mega projects such as the Coquihalla Highway, Expo 86, the development of Tumblr Ridge and north-east coal and the Skytrain in Vancouver to name just a view. His famous, and controversial, “restraint” budget helped pull the province out of the a recession in the early 1980s, that was, at the time, the worst since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
He was also premier at the time Canada’s constitution was repatriated and was front and centre at meetings of Canada’s premiers and then-prime minster Pierre Trudeau that lead to that historic act.
“He often said public service is its own reward,” said master of ceremonies Bob Plecas, who worked as a bureaucrat in Bennett’s government and went on to write a book about the Bennett, son of another former long-time B.C. premier who hailed from Kelowna, the late WAC Bennett.
Among the many tributes paid Bill Bennett at Sunday’s memorial were letters, read by Plecas, from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, as well as four other former prime ministers, Brian Mulroney, Jean Chretien, Paul Martin and Stephen Harper.
Bill Bennett, who served as Social Credit premier from 1975 to 1886, died in December at the age of 83.