Politics, The Art of the Impossible Dave Barrett and the NDP in Power 1972-1975 by Rod Mickleburgh and Geoff Meggs (Harbour Publishing) is a great read and a significant contribution to political science. It might not be Plutarch’s Lives but it captures the personalities and excitement of BC`s fling with the Socialist government that briefly controlled British Columbia from 1972 to 1975.
The authors treat Barrett with affection but do not spare him or his government from a meticulous analysis of the weaknesses that lead to the NDP’s collapse. Among the NDP's many political errors, they sometimes forgot their major constituency. A labor party cannot expect to survive when they order striking unions back to work.
The NDP cabinet tried to do everything at once. They did not expect to last. Had they tried to bring the public along they might have accomplished even more. As it was, they did an unbelievable amount. The sincerest form of flattery is when the next government does not repeal legislation. Much of their legacy remains.
It is tempting to draw comparisons between the radicals of the NDP under Barrett and the later NDP governments of Harcourt and Glen Clark. They were very different. Harcourt never claimed to be a socialist. He would have fit in well with the US liberal democrats. So would Glen Clark who easily made the transition from government fast ferries to private enterprise and neon signs.
Through a series of interviews with the participants, the authors convey the flavour of a government that considered itself so socialistic that they worried that the US might do to them what it did to Allende in Chile. Barrett spoke to his cabinet on occasion of the risk of assassination.
My favorite cabinet minister was Gary Lauk. He might not have been in his best form when he was interviewed by the authors, but he was certainly one of the funniest and nicest guys I ever met.
I met Lauk, not to long after he had been made Minister of Trade and Commerce. He had just suggested that the government would nationalize the telephone company. I tactfully volunteered that his remarks had tanked the price of BC TELS's stock. Since a lot of the union pension funds were invested in the BC Tel, I asked him what he would do to his enemies if this was how he treated his friends.
He replied, “You have got to realize that we are a socialist government. We are not a bunch of U.S. Democrats. We are socialists, and yes, we will nationalize the phone company. The banks are next.”
Lauk remained in opposition after the NDP’s loss in 1975. He ultimately gave up his seat to Mike Harcourt. I got to know him well after that. He was a terrific litigator. We would frequently meet for lunch with the same group of lawyers.
Fast forward to the Glen Clark administration
Young Premier Glen Clark had just announced his intention to levy a significant tax on houses. The real estate industry writhed and gagged. The housing market was finished – forever. As I reflected on galaxies in collision, I saw Lauk coming out of a Court Room. I walked over to him and said, “Well my socialist friend. What do you think of your Premier's new tax?”
Lauk, who owned a nice place in West Vancouver, glared and said, “Those F***ing Communists!”