Former B.C. premier Bill Bennett, an architect of financial restraint whose legacy includes the Expo 86 fair that put Vancouver on the world stage, has died at age 83.
Mr. Bennett, the son of long-time B.C. premier W.A.C. Bennett, was in the late stages of Alzheimer's disease. He died on Thursday in his hometown of Kelowna.
B.C.'s 27th premier dominated politics as head of the Social Credit Party for more than a decade after a landslide victory in 1975 over Dave Barrett's New Democratic Party, which had ended his father's two-decade run as the province's Social Credit premier.
Under the younger Mr. Bennett's helm, the Socreds took 34 of 55 seats in the legislature and more than 49 per cent of the popular vote.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau saluted Mr. Bennett as a "savvy politician and businessman" who did a great deal to build the province through contributions Expo 86, SkyTrain, the Coquihalla Highway and Canada Place, which were all built on his watch.
"He was a very capable and hard working British Columbian who contributed enormously to his province and to our country. He will be remembered and honoured," the prime minister said in a statement issued Friday evening.
The new premier vowed to "get B.C.'s economy moving again" and zeroed in on the pocketbooks of virtually every British Columbian with such measures as a 40-per-cent increase in the provincial sales tax, a 140-per-cent increase in premiums under the government's Autoplan insurance program and a 100-per-cent increase in B.C. ferry fares.
In the early 1980s, he gained a reputation as being hard-nosed after cutting thousands of jobs from B.C.'s public service despite massive protests from labour.
Mr. Bennett carried on with a tradition of free-enterprise politics launched by his father but has since been embraced by recent premiers including Liberals Gordon Campbell and Christy Clark.
Perhaps most notably, Mr. Bennett is credited with modernizing the province and jump-starting Vancouver by bringing in Expo 86, the SkyTrain, BC Place and Canada Place. The north shore of False Creek was transformed from barren industrial land into a popular, high-density residential community.
B.C. business mogul Jim Pattison, who ran the expo and was paid only a dollar a year, remembered Mr. Bennett as a cautious spender who was never one to blow his own horn.
"He was one of the most conscientious people – not flamboyant," Mr. Pattison said in a telephone interview. "He did a lot of good for B.C. that he never got credit for because he was not flamboyant."
The businessman said he admired the risk Mr. Bennett took developing Expo despite tough economic times, noting its success helped raise the province's profile.
Mr. Bennett's government was also responsible for starting construction on the Coquihalla Highway, connecting Kamloops and the Lower Mainland.
Ms. Clark said she was "incredibly saddened" at news of his death.
"I think the thing that people really loved about Bill Bennett is he was never a downtown Vancouver insider," Ms. Clark told reporters late Friday afternoon.
"People looked at him and knew he wasn't part of the 1 per cent. He was a guy who was going to go to bat for the little guy."
Asked about the divisive part of the Bennett record including the labour protest over his austerity program, Ms. Clark said the former premier was a "common-sense guy."
"You don't lead by doing the easy things; you lead by doing the hard things."
She added that Mr. Bennett was a "reluctant premier" initially but embraced public life eventually with profound duty. "When he went home to Kelowna, he just wanted to be with his family."
B.C. NDP Leader John Horgan said that Mr. Bennett had "dedicated his considerable talents to serving British Columbians.
"His contribution to B.C. will leave a lasting legacy," Mr. Horgan wrote in message posted to Twitter.
Mr. Bennett's family said in an obituary that he was "competitive in all aspects of his life, whether in business, politics, or the game he loved most, tennis.
"He was also known for his quick wit and great sense of humour. He loved and cherished time with his family and close friends and be greatly missed."
Mr. Bennett leaves his wife of 60 years, Audrey, his brother Russell, four sons, eight grandchildren and one great-grandchild.