Last week, Kootenay East MLA Bill Bennett announced he would not be seeking re-election in the upcoming provincial election. This will be the first time his name is not on the ballot since 2001.
Bennett says there is no other reason for wanting to leave public office other than wanting to spend more time with his family.
“I’ll be 67 next spring. I have put my wife through this regime for almost 16 years and it is just time to spend more time with her,” he said. “It’s all about wanting to relax more and not work so hard and spend time with family – nothing really too complicated. I like the premier, I like my colleagues, I like my job, but I think, it’s a little bit like being an athlete, you have to know when to call it a day.”
Bennett served as a Liberal MLA and held many cabinet positions over his political career, including Minister of Energy and Mines, which he currently holds. Other positions he has held include Minister of Community and Rural Development, Minister of Tourism, Culture and Arts and Minister of Community Sport and Cultural Development. According to Bennett, he is proud of a number of things he has accomplished during his time as MLA for this riding.
“I know the regional hospital doesn’t happen to be located in the Elk Valley, but talk to Mayor McKerracher from Elkford, the hospital saved his life. Anybody who is really hurt or really sick today can get stabilized in a community hospital and then go to the EKRH where you’ve got four or five specialists in each category, you’ve got all of the diagnostics,” he said. “We have spent over $60 million there. I’m really proud of how we have managed to provide health care services for everybody in the region.”
Bennett spoke about his first visit to Sparwood as an MLA and the state of the high school a decade and a half ago.
“The principal and some students walked me down the main hallway of that high school and it happened to be raining that day. They had pails in the hallway collecting the rain coming from that roof. We replaced that school. I’m proud of the fact that we were able to do that,” said Bennett.
Even though Bennett is not known for his environmental philosophy, he is proud of some of the green initiatives he has helped to implement in the area, including the Flathead Valley.
“I don’t have the reputation of necessarily being an environmentalist or green, but I was the one who got the Southern Rocky Mountain Management Plan put together,” he said. “It took two years and it is one of the best plans in all of B.C.”
“I got oil and gas and mining taken out of the Flathead Valley,” he continued. “I went to the premier at the time, Gordon Campbell, and it was my idea to take oil and gas and mining out of the valley and I did it because it was the right thing to do. There are lots of things like that I’m proud of. It’s not just about building things; it’s about helping people.”
Bennett says he has learned “a ton” of lessons during his time as MLA, including people’s reasons for being frustrated with politicians.
“I think people are generally frustrated with government, at whatever level it is – federal, provincial, local. They don’t often feel like they are being listened to or that they are being noticed,” he said. “When you respond, when you try to resolve somebody’s problems, when you try to help them, it’s actually quite remarkable. The vast majority of people are at first surprised and secondly really grateful and that extends to people to whom you can’t solve their problems because you can’t solve every problem.”
“If you treat people with respect, if you listen and actually try to help them and they see that you’re trying to help them, and you provide service, as you should, people are really grateful for that. I didn’t realize the extent to which people are so frustrated with government,” he added.
According to Bennett, there is no magic formula or rocket science to being a good politician. He says it’s about hard work and being committed to serving the constituents. He believes his approach of putting service ahead of all other priorities has been the right approach for him to take in office.
“I do see politicians that don’t really understand the job. They think it is a position, that it’s about the prestige or the status and they don’t know that what they are really there for is to help people or to serve people,” he said. “I enjoy doing that. I enjoy helping people get things done and I’m sure that’s why my voters have rewarded me with four consecutive election victories.”