Before becoming premier, Vander Zalm served 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).
He was first elected MLA in 1975, and joined the cabinet of William R. Bennett as Minister of Human Resources from (1975 - 1978), where he continued his crusade against welfare "fraud". He also served as Minister of Municipal Affairs (1978 - 1981). His short tenture 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. Instantly, Vander Zalm was thrust into the spotlight, as he waffled on whether he would run for the leadership of the Social Credit Party of British Columbia. He generated more press out of the race than the other candidates did in it.
At a conference centre in Whistler, British Columbia, he won the leadership easily.
From around just after he became premier, to about one month into the 1986 election campaign, "Vandermania" swept BC. Bill and his wife, Lillian Vander Zalm attracted public adoration with their high-voltage smiles and charisma.
The party or even 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 langushed 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 right-wing views on subjects such as abortion and homosexuality. Furthermore, his government had a confrontational relationship with union labour.
Vander Zalm became embroiled in a conflict of interest controversy over the sale of his Fantasy Gardens flower garden and theme park. The confict of interest arose because the Taiwanese buyer, Tan Yu was provided with VIP treatment and lunch with the Lieutenant-Governor prior to the sale, as well, 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 implication was that Vander Zalm used his position as Premier to gain access to cabinet ministers for Tan Yu and himself, to promote his own business transactions. Vander Zalm was forced to resign over the scandal.
William R. Bennett
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