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30 men, 1 woman - THE COMMENTARY

By Joseph Planta

VANCOUVER -- Ian Mulgrew, the oft-missing columnist for The Vancouver Sun, calls them “regional contemporary history books.” I guess that would be accurate. As a fan of politics I’ve relished in the political nature of these parts -- British Columbia.

On the Canadian political scene, there is no shortage of course; but BC with its interesting political nature, has very few political books written. There were a few in the mid ’80s about Bill Bennett’s legacy and a few more in the early ‘90s with the fall of Bill Vander Zalm. There are all but a few of the NDP years and not many on the contemporary political landscape of BC in the late 1990s. There’s Mark Milke’s Barbarians In The Garden City: The BC NDP In Power, but I have yet to read it. I guess growing up in and being made more politically aware in the latter part of the NDPs “experiment,” I’m looking for that definitive book on the last 2 years.

William Rayner’s British Columbia’s Premiers in Profile, tries to do so. William Rayner, a journalist, chronicles all BC Premiers since BC entered Confederation in 1871. From McCreight to Bennett; Bennett to Dosanjh, the book is a great source for those looking for the basic level of biography of the 30 men and 1 woman who have held, as his first chapter states, the Corner Office of the Legislature -- the Premier’s office.

Rayner’s bio on the dust jacket states he has written and edited the Globe and Mail, the Montreal Star and the Vancouver Sun. He was the Sun’s Legislative Bureau chief in the ‘70s, thus speaks with authority on those times, especially the reigns of Dave Barrett and Bill Bennett. I call the book basic, as it provides the junior high schooler a good source should they be composing a report on any of the former Premiers. It’s an ambitious book, and I think it bites off more than it can chew. A man of his stature would have been practical to focus on one or two periods of time, per book, rather than cast the whole 130 years of BC political history in the confines of 286 pages.

Including biographies of the 31 Premiers, including Dan Miller and Ujjal Dosanjh (rather short as the book was published shortly after Dosanjh became Premier,) there is a full appendix with sections including ratings of the Premiers that rank them. The basis of classification is rather subjective, meaning the author’s own standards. W.A.C. Bennett ranks first, followed by John Hart. The bottom rungs of 30 and 31 are held by Bill Vander Zalm and Glen Clark, respectively.

In a chapter entitulated The Final Word, Rayner spews on about electoral reform and how “archaic” our plurality system is. He suggests a mixture of the single transferable ballot system, as well as Proportional Representation. He speaks almost urgently for the need of change, leaving out that people like Rafe Mair, Nick Loenen and Gordon Gibson have been speaking of reforms for years, nay decades.

Rayner calls it Plurality Plus and I believe would warrant it’s own book. He chronicles history as the book’s main purpose, and then in this particular section calls into disrepute the results of past elections by proposing a new system; that if in place, would have changed the history he is trying to document in this volume.

The inherent bias is prevalent in the text, as apparent in the gladhandling of the Premier’s Socred and the unfair shit-job on the socialist, NDPers. A more damning example of bias is the section titled, A Premier In Waiting in the appendix. Appendix D, in between charts of voting patterns since 1871 and trivia on the Premiers, there is a biography, much like those of those who were Premiers, on Gordon Muir Campbell. Dubbed ‘A Premier In Waiting’, the author’s dislike of the NDP is inherent in its inclusion. He chronicles the Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition through his career as an Art Phillips lackey and mayor of Vancouver to the assumption of the leadership of the Liberal party. He rightfully can do so, but really if this book were written in 1986, would Rayner have included a bio on Bob Skelly? Come on.

British Columbia’s Premiers in Profile by William Rayner is published by Heritage House and sells for $29.95.

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