COLUMN: Bill Bennett helped shape Surrey

Decisions made by his government had a significant effect on Surrey, Delta and White Rock.

Bill Bennett

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 eye since leaving the premier’s office. However, his 10-and-a-half years as premier led to B.C. entering the modern era that we are part of today. They turned B.C. 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, Delta and White Rock. Decisions made by his government still have a direct effect.

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 downtown Vancouver, and the decision to build a rapid transit line called SkyTrain.

Expo was controversial. A number of politicians and community leaders 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 maFrank Bucholtzny 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.

Around the same time as the SkyTrain decision was made, the province also decided to build the Alex Fraser Bridge. It significantly changed traffic, growth and development patterns, particularly in North Delta and North Surrey.

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 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 the opening of SkyTrain, the few local residents who used the transit system mainly used a number of 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, after a standoff on abortion services.

Delta Hospital first opened in his time as premier, in 1977. This offered convenient acute health care to South Delta residents, who previously had to travel to Richmond or Whalley.

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

Social Credit was a true coalition under one party banner in Bennett’s 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 the 1975 election. He held a number of important cabinet portfolios until 1983.

In the hard-fought 1983 election, Surrey proved a crucial battleground and the party used many sophisticated 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 weekly for The Leader.

 

Surrey North Delta Leader

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

Just Posted

‘A bag full of garbage every 15 metres’: Surrey industrial area filled with trash

Local workers looking to recruit business, raise funds to help dispose of litter

Survey suggests 83 per cent of Surreyites ‘favour a referendum’ on policing transition

Survey was conducted by Pollara Strategic Insights on behalf of the National Police Federation

Racist graffiti sparks Cloverdale man to renew calls for City to clean up street

Hate message the latest garbage dumped at the end of 176th Street

Brand new Tesla crashes into Surrey store front, mounts gas line

Driver was heading to the Autoplan store, straight off the lot

Surrey RCMP looking for missing 21-year-old

Police say Kenny Tran was last seen at around 1:30 p.m. on Feb. 19

VIDEO: B.C. senior recalls ‘crazy’ wartime decision to grab bear cub from den

Henry Martens – now 96 – says he was lucky to be alive after youthful decision to enter a bear’s den

New Alberta forward joins Vancouver Giants’ ranks

new left-handed 18-year-old is a familiar face to Giants head coach Michael Dyck

Cheapest in B.C.: Penticton gas prices dip below $1 per litre

Two stores in Penticton have gas below a dollar.

Loans or gifts? Judge rules woman must pay B.C. man back $7K

B.C. judge rules that woman must pay back more than $7,000 in advanced funds to man

VIDEO: Outpouring of worldwide support for bullied Australian boy

Australian actor Hugh Jackman said ‘you are stronger than you know, mate’

Mugging with airsoft gun results in Langley school lockdown

Police found the weapon and a stolen phone later

‘A horror show:’ Ex-employee shares experience at problematic Chilliwack seniors’ home

Workers are paid below industry standard at all Retirement Concepts facilities

Forest industry protests northern B.C. caribou protection deal

B.C. Mining Association supports federal-Indigenous plan

Chilliwack physiotherapist charged with sexual assault

Mounties urging other potential victims to make contact

Most Read