Remembering Dave Barrett, BC’s first NDP Premier — by John Horgan

On Friday afternoon, we learned the sad news that Dave Barrett, BC’s first NDP Premier, passed away after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease.

On Saturday, Premier John Horgan shared his memories of Premier Dave Barrett and his legacy at a meeting of BC NDP members. We're pleased to share his remarks below.

"I hadn’t anticipated having to speak to this today, so I hope you’ll forgive me if I do the unusual and not refer to notes as I talk about the impact that Dave Barrett had, not only on the people in this room and our great party, but on the people of British Columbia.

As Chief Rhonda Larrabee said earlier — and I love the expression, — “Dave was the guy next door. He was a regular guy, not better than anyone. He worked tirelessly for everyone — regardless of the colourof their underwear.

It’s a real honour to follow in his footsteps as leader of this great party, and great movement, that has had a profound impact on the lives of people in British Columbia.

I was reviewing some of the media coverage yesterday and it was astounding to think that Dave passed three bills a week.

387 bills in 39 weeks.

He didn’t do that with the aid of the lawyers and the ministry of the Attorney General as we are obliged to do. They would cut and paste pieces of paper together, bring them into the legislature and passed them and made BC better.

Dave focused every single day of his time as Premier, and as leader of the NDP, shining a light on the underdog, on those that did not have a voice.

And boy, did he have a voice.

I remember the first time I was captivated by his oratory. It was at the Legislature with a few friends, I think there were about 30,000 of us. It was the solidarity movement in 1983 and Dave was leading the crusade against the draconian practices of the then Social Credit government.

I was just out of university, waiting on tables. I remember very well that I had $10 in my pocket, and a friend convinced me to go down to the legislature and see what was up.

Out came Dave Barrett, on the steps of the legislature.

He had the Barrett jiggle, I’m trying to not get to that point, but you’ll all remember the Barrett jiggle, when he started going it was a whole-body experience for Dave. Well before pilates and hot yoga, Dave was moving and he moved the crowd with his words and with his actions.

I remember saying to a friend at the time, “I bet if that guy says ‘I want you all to pick up this building and throw it in the Inner Harbour, we would have tried to do it”.

That was the power of his oratory.

The rally ended, and I felt this emptiness. I wanted to stay and listen to him all day, and to the next day and the next day. So I walked into the NDP office on Blanshard Street and I said that I was really excited about what I’d just seen and asked what could I do to help. I remember reaching into my pocket and pulling out my last $10 and said “I only have…” and before I could complete the sentence it was gone and I was a member of the NDP.

That was my introduction to the NDP and I’ve been a passionate New Democrat ever since. That one day captured me.

Dave's legacy is well-known in terms of its agenda and its influence. From public auto insurance to the agricultural land reserve to the ambulance service to Hansard and Question Period.

I have to confess, I’m pretty happy about that last one these days.

You see, when I was considering running for the leadership of the NDP, I asked Shirley Barrett what advice Dave would give me.

She didn’t hesitate for a minute. Her smile was as large as Dave’s.

“He would tell you, Horgan, to just keep smiling at the bastards, because it drives them crazy.”

That’s what he did, and it’s how I’ll always remember him - with a big smile on his face. And now, thanks to Chief Larrabee, I’ll also remember him as the guy next door, the guy you wanted to have as a good neighbour.

Thank you."