A Tale of Two Colours, Red and Green: Is a libel suit the answer?

Your blogger is shown yukking it up about old times with former B.C. premier Dave Barrett. Alas, there is no photo of me with W.A.C. Bennett, whose drugs I used to deliver. Lest St. Albert MP Brent Rathgeber get his knickers in a twist and demand a mandatory prison term, the drugs in question were a completely legal, a rather vile pink stomach remedy prepared by Tucker’s Pharmacy, which I had the honour to serve as bicycle delivery boy. Let the record show, Mr. Bennett was a lousy tipper.

Does anyone other than me remember Dave Barrett suing W.A.C. Bennett for libel in 1972?

For that matter, does anyone other than me remember Dave Barrett and W.A.C. Bennett?

Messrs. Bennett and Barrett – both persons of my acquaintance, as it happens – were each premier of British Columbia for a time in 1972. The latter, a New Democrat, replaced the former, a Social Creditor, that year, to most everyone’s astonishment. And while Mr. Barrett’s time in power was short, it was fun while it lasted. But, never mind, I digress.

It’s just that I could have sworn that on the way to that fateful election in 1972, Mr. Barrett went to the Supreme Court of British Columbia seeking a libel writ, which he proceeded to drop upon then-Premier Bennett (at right), who had been smearing him as a Red.

This tactic had worked very nicely for Mr. Bennett against the NDP in 1969, but Mr. Barrett’s action put a stop to that, thank you very much! (Or so I do recall. Mr. Google is uncharacteristically silent on this topic. He has more to say about the Cathars and the Illuminati, for heaven’s sake!)

At any rate, with Mr. Barrett’s defamation action pending, Mr. Bennett had nothing more to say about Mr. Barrett’s supposed Red tendencies, and the election campaign culminated in that unexpected NDP majority.

These events came to my mind today when I read about NDP Leader Brian Mason’s attempts in the Alberta Legislature Tuesday to stop Premier Ed Stelmach from telling fibs about him by smearing him as a Green.

Mr. Stelmach keeps insisting that Mr. Mason and the New Democrats would like to close down the Alberta tarsands. This might get the Green set’s hearts beating faster, if only it were true. Alas, the facts are otherwise – as Mr. Mason insisted in the House that Mr. Stelmach knows well.

What Mr. Mason (at left) actually said – back in the bad old days of the Second Great Boom, before we pissed it all away again – was that there should be a moratorium on new tarsands development until such time as the Alberta economy had had a chance to catch its breath. That would be like now.

Now, you may question the wisdom of making such a comment in the run-up to a provincial general election fuelled on petro-bucks. Mr. Mason, no doubt, felt safe enough saying it, because one Peter Lougheed, a former Conservative premier of Alberta, had said much the same thing just days before. Nevertheless, it is pretty obviously not what Mr. Stelmach says that Mr. Mason said.

Mr. Mason called Mr. Stelmach a liar, which in a Canadian Legislature is a parliamentary no-no. Mr. Speaker (who in his private life is known as Mr. Kowalski, but never mind) begged Mr. Mason five times to stop.

Mr. Mason eventually relented and mumbled a withdrawal – not so much to mollify the Speaker, one suspects, as to appease his colleague Rachel Notley, who must have been sorely displeased at the thought of having to do the work of the entire Alberta Opposition for two weeks, rather than just half of it.

The Premier, we can assume, will now go back to regularly and happily smearing Mr. Mason as a Green.

If this continues come the next election campaign, however, I suggest that Mr. Mason take a page from Mr. Barrett’s successful playbook and visit the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench to sue Mr. Stelmach for defamation. Leastways, he should if he can goad Mr. Stelmach into uttering this comment outside the House.

He would have to prove, of course, that it was as much of a defamation to call someone a Green in Alberta in the 21st century as it was to call someone a Red in British Columbia in the 20th. But surely that is not too much of a stretch!

And who can imagine what interesting effect this might have on the next provincial election? An NDP majority, perhaps? Well, whatever. It beats letting them just go on about you!

3 Comments on "A Tale of Two Colours, Red and Green: Is a libel suit the answer?"

  1. janfromthebruce says:

    good post

  2. Anonymous says:


    I found your blog while searching (so far, unsuccessfully) for September 1972 background on the election of British Columbia's first NDP government.

    Some of us were reminiscing — after hearing that Nova Scotia had their first NDP government — about how it felt in B.C., the night Dave Barrett became premier. Really, really good, I recall.

    Nice to see that recent photo of Dave, with you.

    But for a slightly different angle on your journalism studies, how about looking into the weeding which seems to be going on, with regard to anything published on the left-of-centre parties or events.

    You can't find anything about Barrett suing Bennett for Libel, just prior to 1972.

    I can't find ANYthing describing the emotional events of Dave Barrett's swearing-in, either.

    Plus there's a lot of missing stuff about the BC Rail trial.

    Which, if you put that fact together with the massive Public Affairs Bureau being run 24/7 by the Campbell government at taxpayers' expense, you begin to wonder why we bother having elections in B.C..

    I'd certainly be interested to know your views on this. Best wishes,

    BC Mary
    The Legislature Raids


  3. David J. Climenhaga says:


    I don't think the premier's public affairs bureau is that much of a problem in either British Columbia or Alberta. They are just timid fartcatchers, after all, and, judging from the ones we have in this province, mostly incompetent. The problem is that all commercial broadcasters and the CanWest Newspapers (and presumably other newspaper chains as well) act as auxiliary public affairs bureaus for both premiers. They quite openly cut deals, deprive readers and viewers of information and write outright propaganda for right-wing parties. They are so over-the-top in these activities nowadays that they have forfeited any claim to any role in democracy or a contribution to civil life. They deserve to be allowed a quick death – no heroic measures, please! As for the night Mr. Barrett was elected, I was there, phoning in poll results to the Canadian Press from a United Church hall in Oak Bay. I recall my utter astonishment at the turn of events, and the tears of joy I shed. I was also there for the next election, gloomily consuming copious amounts of beer in the Beaver pub (in glasses considerately marked with a plimsol line, thanks to Mr. Barrett's government) and singing:

    We are little lost sheep
    Who have gone astray
    Baaa baaa baaa…

    … Gentlemen socialists gone on a spree,
    Hanging round bars with Graham Lea,
    God have mercy on the NDP
    Baaa baaa baaa…


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