My good friend Ray Hall gave me an autographed copy of Bill Vanderzalm's autobiography and I could not wait to get at it.
Bill starts right at the beginning and chronicles his life as a boy growing up in Holland. It moves rapidly at first and I enjoyed hearing about his exploits in my home town after he and his family moved to BC.
It is interesting throughout and for different reasons. How does a young man with just a basic education establish what becomes a thriving business and eventually leads to the world of politics? His good looks, sunny personality, and optimistic attitude were definite assets, but his work ethic, creativity, and honesty were keys to his brilliant future.
He leads us through the days of municipal politics and his being wooed (and lied to) by Prime Minister Trudeau to run for the federal Liberals after being such a popular mayor of Surrey. It seems that he was successful at almost everything he put his hand to but he gives ample credit to both his wife Lillian and to God.
The book gets really fascinating when he recounts the Social Credit party's leadership convention in Whistler in 1986. I remember it well as it was the time in my life when I was starting to get really keen on the political scene both federally and provincially. He tells of the handshakes and deals, the jealousy and backbiting, the subversive pranks and manipulations of the power brokers and the media.
Bill, at all times, was honest, above board and was what is known as a populist, an advocate for the rights of the common man. He was not manipulative, wishy-washy, or duplicitous, but was honest and forthright, and you always knew where he stood. He was not afraid to make a stand based on his moral convictions even if it was not popular with the media or his enemies. It was refreshing and he was enormously popular. BC had some of it very best years under his premiership.
But for this very reason, he was made an enemy of the establishment and the media was on the side of the establishment, or at best on the side of left leaning policies, something Bill would not tolerate. The book becomes a diatribe against the media who eventually destroyed him.
As I observed the Victoria actions and reactions, I sometimes thought that Bill had a sour grapes attitude toward the media but after having read his book and the record of how he was hypocritically treated by print media, TV and radio, I must agree with him. The attacks were at first subtle, but became blatant, biased and fabricated as time went on. There was almost a race to the bottom to see which reporter could dig up the worst dirt and lie to spew in order to drag Bill's name through the mud.
It all reached a climax during the Fantasy Gardens affair when Lillian sold the gardens when it became too stressful for her to see protesters day after day plugging up her parking lot and driving business away. The Vanderzalms were treated horribly and the media were having a heyday.
It did not stop there but continued until his resignation and even into his later years. There is no shadow of doubt that the media were very biased against him, labelling him with negative epithets at every turn.
Bill's very strength became is downfall. He was too trusting and took advice from people who were out to get him. He thought everyone was honest like he was and he thought that all politicians had the good of their constituents at heart, when it seemed at times that all there was, was a struggle for power and influence.
If ever I was disillusioned about politics, I am even more so now. That which I always suspected has been confirmed by this revealing book. But unlike Bill, I have a difficult time putting a happy face on in spite of it.
When one clearly spells out where he stands on every conceivable issue, he will make wonderful friends but will also make bitter enemies. This is the story of Bill Vanderzalm in a nutshell. I suppose it is why one encounters so few principled people in these days, especially politicians. When you try to be all things to all people, for the purpose of pleasing all people at all times, you become like jello and keep sliding off the plate. Soon you do not even know where you stand and everything you say and do is irrelevant because it does not come from firm convictions.
Late in the book, Bill gets into his own personal convictions and beliefs on a variety of issues. He leaves no stone unturned and there is nothing ambiguous in what he says, but the reader knows exactly where this man stands, whether you agree with him or not.
I find this an admirable characteristic and one lacking in our leadership today.
4 1/2 stars