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The political cycle in B.C


The NDP has only been elected to govern British Columbia three times - with five premiers - in the province's history. And while the popularity of the last NDP government is reflected in the number of MLAs the party has in the current legislature (two), some significant legacies remain from NDP initiatives.

The first NDP government, led by Dave Barrett, lasted only from 1972 to 1975, when B.C. voters went back to the tried and true and elected a populist centre-right government under the leadership of Bill Bennett. But among the surviving legacies of the Barrett government are ICBC, the agricultural land reserve and Whistler.

Everyone knows by now how Whistler Mountain was started as a ski area as part of the effort to bring the 1968 Winter Olympics to this valley. While that and several other Olympic bids failed, Whistler grew as a popular weekend destination for Lower Mainland skiers. In fact, the number of cabins had grown so large by 1972 that the lakes were becoming polluted, because there was no sewer system and all the cabins were on septic fields, or something less sanitary.

It was the NDP that recognized the situation and commissioned a study that led to the incorporation of the Resort Municipality of Whistler. Among the study's recommendations was that a town centre be located where the present village is and that Blackcomb held considerable potential for development as a ski area.

James Gilmour, a member of the Ministry of Municipal Affairs planning services department, did the study, and also recommended a new type of municipal government for Whistler. ".normal forms of municipal organization may not be appropriate for a resort town such as Whistler, which is proposed to function as a resource for all British Columbians." Gilmour wrote.

The Resort Municipality of Whistler was incorporated in September of 1975. Two months later the NDP was defeated in a provincial election.

Bill Bennett's Social Credit government didn't know what to do with Whistler for the first few months it was in office. Being an NDP creation Whistler was generally suspect, but eventually the Socreds saw the merits in the plan for Whistler. Their support was particularly critical during the recession of 1982.

We jump ahead to the second NDP era under premiers Mike Harcourt, Glen Clark, Dan Miller and Ujjal Dosanjh, 1991-2001. The legacies and repercussions of this decade - in particular the Glen Clark period - are still fresh in most people's minds. But what's often forgotten is that it was under Glen Clark that the bid for the 2010 Winter Olympics got started. The NDP may not have initiated the bid, but without the support of the provincial government it would have died very quickly.

The NDP were punished at the polls two years ago and Liberals elected in all but two of the 79 ridings. Two weeks ago the IOC voted to award the 2010 Games to Vancouver and Whistler. So it is another populist, centre-right government that has an opportunity to make the most of an initiative that began under an NDP government - just as the Socreds did with Whistler nearly 30 years ago.

This is not to say that the Liberals came by the Olympics reluctantly; they supported the bid when they were in opposition. But they are the likely beneficiaries of the successful bid when British Columbians go to the polls in two years time. An opposition party with no leader and only one of its two MLAs seeking re-election doesn't hurt the Liberals' odds either.

Whether the Liberals can hold on to power through the 2010 Games remains to be seen. But there's a cyclical nature to B.C. politics, not just in the parties elected but the issues that come around every few years, regardless of what party is forming the government.

The Olympics have been such a cyclical issue and, as Gilmour wrote about Whistler in his 1972 report, are "proposed to function as a resource for all British Columbians." Voters will be the judges.