Thirty years ago, Whistler was at the centre of the BC political universe. During the week culminating in July 30th 1986, the provincial Social Credit Party held their leadership convention here, as they sought to find a replacement for outgoing party leader Bill Bennett.
The Whistler Driving Range was transformed into a political fair grounds, where leadership hopefuls could promote their political brand.
The Socreds, as the party was commonly known, had a close connection to the nascent resort. Although the initial decisions to create the RMOW, develop skiing on Blackcomb, and build a tourism-specific village at the base of the mountains had been made during the 1972-1975 reign of the NDP, the Socred’s ideological opposites and bitter rivals, the Socreds (to many people’s surprise) continued to support Whistler Village when they regained power in 1975.
Most notably, this included assuming provincial control of a heavily indebted Whistler Village Land Company in 1983. Without that decision, Whistler Village would be a very different place than it is today. At major political risk, the Socreds had hitched their wagon to Whistler Village.
The buzz in Village Square was inescapable.
In 1986, with Whistler Village construction completed and the resort experiencing rapid growth and approaching economic stability, it was the perfect venue to highlight one of the Socred’s major successes in governance.
The carnivalesque atmosphere on the Whistler Village driving range during the 1986 SoCred Leadership convention. Photo by Dave Steers.
In typical fashion, Whistler locals made sure to apply their own interpretation of the term “political party.” As local photographer Dave Steers recalls:
What became evident rather quickly to Whistlerites was that the convention offered interesting eating and drinking opportunities. Many of the would-be leaders didn’t seem to mind wining and dining the locals in town and, not surprisingly, full advantage was taken.
Tapley’s regulars could be found schmoozing with delegates over bar-b-q’d bison burgers. Citta’s patio-dwellers migrated to the driving range to trade political views and and down beers with the movers and shakers of the Social Credit party. It made for some interesting exchanges.
A kind of poster war developed in the village. Rumour had it that local eateries were selling walls and pillars to candidates who would then paste their campaign posters onto them. A pillar in the right location was rumoured to be worth over a thousand dollars.
Village Square was turned into a central convention space and outdoor billboard for all of the contenders (at least those that could afford the temporary real estate for their signs).
In the end, Bill Vander Zalm won the convention and assumed leadership of the party, overcoming rivals Grace McCarthy and Brian Smith, among others. Notably, the 12th and last place finisher was none other than future Prime Minister of Canada Kim Campbell.
The 1986 convention was widely regarded as a successful and energizing political event, and Vander Zalm initially enjoyed high approval ratings as BC Premier. Thankfully, however, Whistler’s fortunes weren’t tied to the Socred brand, as Vander Zalm was forced to resign due to a controversial conflict-of-interest case in 1991, and the ultimate decline of the Social Credit Party followed soon after.
Here in Whistler, meanwhile, the party never stopped.