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.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Sources volunteers face off at the organization’s ‘Enchanted’ gala – one as a fairy and the other as her magic-mirror reflection – held in 2019. (Tiffany Kwong photo)
‘Rising infections’ prompts move to virtual Sources gala

Silent auction, raffle opens to public at 9 a.m. Oct. 30

This year’s annual Lighted Boat Parade has been cancelled. (File photo)
White Rock’s annual Lighted Boat Parade cancelled

COVID-19 cited as main reason for cancellation of popular winter tradition

Strawberry Hill Hall is being renovated and moved to another location on its existing corner lot in Newton. (Photo: Tom Zillich)
Surrey’s historic Strawberry Hill Hall being moved a few metres in $1.2M reno project

Childcare spaces coming to corner lot where hall has stood for 111 years

A surveillance camera in a photo posted to the Project Iris page on surrey.rcmp-grc.gc.ca.
Quality surveillance video helps catch crooks, Surrey Mounties say

Charges laid in connection to break-and-enter in Guildford area

Signage outside of Mount Olive Lutheran Church in South Surrey advises of the drive-thru schedule. (Contributed photo)
Cold-weather clothing donations sought at South Surrey drive-thru effort

Weekly collection continues in Mount Olive Lutheran Church parking lot

Burnaby RCMP responded to a dine-and-dash suspect who fell through a ceiling in March 2020. (RCMP handout)
VIDEO: Suspected dine-and-dasher falls through ceiling of Burnaby restaurant

A woman believed to be dashing on her restaurant bill fell through the kitchen ceiling

A deer was spotted in October 2020 in Prince Rupert, B.C., with a bright pink yoga ball stuck in its antlers. (Kayla Vickers/Chronicles Of Hammy The Deer Official Page)
Hammy 2.0? Prince Rupert deer spotted with bright pink yoga ball stuck in antlers

The BC Conservation Officer Service is aware of the deer roaming around the city

RCMP. (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
Kelowna Mountie hit with 2nd lawsuit in 2 months for alleged assault

Const. Julius Prommer is accused of breaking a woman’s knee during while responding to a noise complaint

Hirdeypal Batth, 24, has been charged with sexual assault and forcible confinement in relation to an incident in August 2020. (VPD handout)
Man, 24, charged with sex assault after allegedly posing as Uber driver in Vancouver

Investigators believe there could be more victims outside of the Vancouver area

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

B.C. Premier John Horgan and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee arrive for annual Cascadia conference in Vancouver, Oct. 10, 2018. They have agreed to coordinate the permanent switch to daylight saving time. (B.C. government)
B.C. still awaiting U.S. approval to eliminate daylight saving time

Clocks going back one hour Nov. 1 in Washington too

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shakes hands with US Vice-President Joe Biden on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Friday, December 9, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Patrick Doyle
A Biden presidency could mean good news for Canadian environment policy: observers

Experts and observers say even a U.S. outside the Paris agreement may ultimately end up in the same place

People take a photo together during the opening night of Christmas Lights Across Canada, in Ottawa, on Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019. The likelihood that most Canadians will enjoy a holly jolly Christmas season of gatherings, caroling and travel is unlikely, say public health experts who encourage those who revel in holiday traditions to accept more sacrifices ahead. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Ho, ho, no: Experts advise preparing for a scaled-back COVID holiday season

Many of the holiday season’s highlights have already been scrapped or are unlikely to take place

Most Read