Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Bill Vander Zalm
Wilhelmus Nicholaas Theodore Marie Vander Zalm, commonly known as Bill Vander Zalm (born 1934) became 28th premier of British Columbia, Canada in 1986. He was succeeded as Premier of B.C. by Rita Johnston in 1991. He was born and raised in the Netherlands and immigrated to Canada after World War II settling in the Fraser Valley in 1947. After leaving high school, he sold tulip bulbs and ultimately established himself in the nursery and gardening business and also invested in real estate.
Vander Zalm was elected alderman in 1965, before serving as mayor of Surrey, British Columbia from 1969 to 1975. His tenture there was marked by his crackdown on welfare "deadbeats" (at the time, welfare in BC was a municipal responsibility).
Vander Zalm was orginally a supporter of both the Liberal Party of Canada and the British Columbia Liberal Party. He sought election to the Canadian House of Commons in Surrey for the federal Liberals in the 1968 federal election. He lost by 5,000 votes. He was also candidate at the 1972 provincial Liberal leadership convention, where he lost to David Anderson. After his defeat, he joined the British Columbia Social Credit Party in 1974.
He was first elected to the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia in the 1975 election. He served in the cabinet of William R. Bennett as Minister of Human Resources from 1975 to 1978, where he continued his crusade against welfare "fraud". He also served as Minister of Municipal Affairs from 1978 to 1981. His short tenure as Minister of Education (1981-1983) resulted in him forced from cabinet after he called Bennett and his ministers "gutless".
In 1986, premier William R. Bennett announced he was retiring. Vander Zalm attracted considerable attention as he waffled on whether he would run for the leadership of the Social Credit Party. He generated more press out of the race than the other candidates did in it. At the party's convention in Whistler, British Columbia, he won the leadership easily.
After he became premier, to about one month into the 1986 election campaign, "Vandermania" swept BC, defeating the opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) soundly. Bill and his wife, Lillian Vander Zalm, attracted public adoration with their high-voltage smiles and charisma.
The party and its leader had no public plan for when they were elected for the long term. However, the main clear goal was to have a "fresh start" after the confrontational Bennett years.
Once elected with a majority, Vander Zalm selected his cabinet, mostly backbenchers who had languished under Bill Bennett. Oddly, Vander Zalm decided to release the normally secret list of cabinet appointments to two Vancouver Sun reporters hours before the official announcement was to be made.
He held conservative views on subjects such as abortion and homosexuality. In fact, his government once tried to cut public funding for abortions that were not medically necessary, prompting a public uproar and resulting in the plan being dropped. Furthermore, his government had a confrontational relationship with union labour.
As well, he appointed a close friend by the name of David Poole to be his "Principal Secretary". Before resigning in 1989, Poole had become the second most powerful person in the province - despite never having been elected. This naturally attracted the anger of numerous cabinet ministers, such as Grace McCarthy.
He was also accused of influence peddling with his close friend Peter Toigo in the sale of the Expo 86 site.
Vander Zalm became embroiled in a conflict of interest controversy over the sale of his Fantasy Gardens flower garden and theme park. The conflict of interest arose because the Taiwanese buyer, Tan Yu , was provided VIP treatment and lunch with the Lieutenant-Governor prior to the sale. Vander Zalm claimed that control over the theme park was his wife's responsibility.
It was proven in BC Supreme Court that he was, in fact, intimately involved in the sale. The court case implied that that Vander Zalm used his position as premier to promote his own business transactions by gaining access to cabinet ministers for Tan Yu and himself. Vander Zalm was forced to resign over the scandal.
After many years out of the spotlight, Vander Zalm again took a stab at office by running in Delta-South in a by-election in 1999 for the British Columbia Reform Party, which had been formed after the Social Credit Party had collapsed. This by-election was notable for many reasons, including the incredibly low support the governing NDP received (coming in fourth), and marking the absolute low point for the NDP's electoral support. NDP candidate Richard Tones received just 2.44% of the vote. Vander Zalm finished second with 32.91% of the vote to Liberal Val Roddick who received 59.63%.
- Fantasyland: Inside the reign of Bill Vander Zalm, Gary Mason (ISBN 0-0754-9868-5)
William R. Bennett
| Premier of British Columbia
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