COLUMN: Bennett’s legacy still felt throughout Surrey

Former premier help lead B.C. into the modern era, and was responsible for many significant changes in Surrey, White Rock and Delta.

Bill Bennett’s time as premier of B.C. ended almost 30 years ago, in the summer of 1986.

The era in which he governed is a distant memory to some. For others, it was long before their time.

Bennett died last week at the age of 83. He had been mostly out of the public spotlight since leaving the premier’s office. However, his 10½ years as premier led to B.C. truly entering the modern era, as B.C. turned into much more than a resource-based economy, and the province’s political apparatus also changed dramatically.

These changes had a significant effect on Surrey, White Rock and Delta. Decisions made by his government still have an effect on this region.

The biggest single change came as a result of two related decisions – the decision to host a world’s fair called Expo 86 on former rail-yard land in Vancouver, and the decision to build a rapid transit line called SkyTrain.

Expo was controversial. A number of politicians and community leaders – notably then-Vancouver mayor Mike Harcourt – said it would be a waste of funds and expressed doubt that many people would bother to come.

However, the decision to build a rapid transit line in conjunction with it changed many people’s minds.

Expo was a tremendous success from the time it was opened by Prince Charles and Princess Diana. It attracted visitors from all over the world, and almost immediately led to significant boosts in investment, housing starts and property values.

It truly put B.C. on the world map. And it was a major factor in Surrey’s dramatic growth that continues to this day.

Around the same time as the SkyTrain decision was made, the province also decided to build the Alex Fraser Bridge. This project had not been as high on the wish list, but it changed traffic, growth and development patterns in the region.

The original SkyTrain Expo line and the bridge opened in 1986, the year Bennett stepped aside. His successor, former Surrey MLA Bill Vander Zalm, and local MLAs Rita Johnston and Bill Reid, ensured that SkyTrain was extended to Surrey, as had been originally promised. It arrived at Scott Road station in 1990, and came to Whalley in 1994.

For the first time, Surrey had a decent transit system. Prior to SkyTrain, the few residents who used the transit system mainly used express buses into Vancouver from Guildford, Whalley, North Delta and South Surrey-White Rock.

The Bennett government did a great deal more. The shift to get rid of locally elected hospital boards (and centralize the health system) had its start when the province replaced the elected Surrey Memorial Hospital board with a provincial administrator.

The Bennett government also, as one of its first acts, reaffirmed the Agricultural Land Reserve which had been brought in by the previous NDP government of Dave Barrett. T here had been a furor over the ALR in the Barrett years, but the decision to keep it in place ensured that the best farm land in Surrey and Delta remained in cultivation.

Social Credit was a true coalition under one party banner in his era, and this area elected mostly Socred MLAs. Vander Zalm, who had been mayor of Surrey, was a notable recruit when the party rebuilt to challenge the incumbent NDP government in 1975. He held a number of cabinet portfolios until 1983.

In the 1983 election, Surrey proved a crucial battleground and the party used many techniques to identify and get its vote out. Johnston and Reid were elected in the two-member Surrey riding, and Bennett won his third term in office.

His legacy to this province and this region is considerable.

Frank Bucholtz writes Wednesdays for Peace Arch News.

Just Posted

Surrey RCMP searching for missing boy, 11, last seen Thursday

Dominic Mattie was last seen at 5 p.m. in the 13500-block of Gateway Drive in Surrey

South Surrey & White Chamber golf tournie in memory of Cliff Annable

Part proceeds to benefit White Rock pier reconstruction fund

Surrey Mountie won’t face charges for scooter scuffle

The Surrey-based IIO has decided not to forward the case to Crown counsel for review

High-risk sex offender released into Surrey

Earon Wayne Giles, a Newton “tag-team rapist,” was released from prison Friday and is now living in Surrey

Pedestrian seriously injured in Surrey traffic crash

A 54-year-old man was hit by a car early Thursday evening while crossing Highway 10 at 152nd Street

VIDEO: Canadian breaks women’s world record for longest plank

Dana Glowacka, of Montreal, held a plank for four hours and 20 minutes

Kamloops girl, 9, recovering from carbon monoxide poisoning now out of ICU

Her mother who was sleeping in the same tent with her did not survive

‘I think he’s still alive’: B.C. mom pleads for help finding son last seen a month ago

Family offering $5,000 reward for information leading to the safe return of Tim Delahaye

New poll suggests one-third don’t want politicians to wear religious symbols

Local politicians shouldn’t be allowed to wear hijabs, crucifixes or turbans on the job, survey suggests

Raptors fans far from home adjust plans to watch pivotal playoff game

Raptors currently lead the playoff series 3-2, and a win Saturday would vault them into NBA finals

PHOTOS: First responders in Fernie rescue baby owl who fell from nest

The baby owl’s inability to fly back to its nest prompted a rescue by first responders

Five takeaways from the Court of Appeal ruling on B.C.’s pipeline law

It’s unclear how many tools are left in B.C.’s toolbox to fight the project

Burnaby facility to dispose of 1,500 tonnes of Canada’s trash from Philippines

All 103 containers will be disposed of properly within Canada before the end of the summer

Most Read

l -->