MITCHELL, David




Author Tags: Biography, Essentials 2010, Politics

QUICK REFERENCE ENTRY:

Once featured on the cover of Time magazine, W.A.C. “Wacky” Bennett cast an overbearing shadow on British Columbia for 20 years during an era of robust expansion. Like his notorious Highways Minister Phil Gaglardi, who famously remarked that “pollution is the smell of money,” Bennett was a talker, not a literary man—although the Simon Fraser University Library bears Bennett’s name. His only credited publication was A Personal Report from the Premier: 20 Years of Achievement—and Now, the Kelowna Charter (1972). Regardless of whether New Brunswick–born Bennett is venerated or despised, his stature as the province’s most influential politician will likely never be erased.

The most useful synopsis of the life and times of the province’s longest-in-power premier is David Mitchell’s W.A.C. Bennett and the Rise of British Columbia (1983). It arose from 30 hours of interviews with Bennett, as well as many hours spent interviewing members of the Bennett family. “The distance between biographer and subject is exceedingly small,” wrote John English in BC Studies, “and the tone is excessively chatty and sententious. By the end of the book, the reader knows that the subject has captured the biographer, and the mediation which the skilled biographer offers both to subject and reader thoroughly breaks down.” But the Mitchell biography remains the best reference volume available on its subject.

Two sycophantic books on Bennett are Paddy Sherman’s Bennett (1966) and Ronald Worley’s The Wonderful World of W.A.C. Bennett (1971). In contrast, Martin Robin’s Pillars of Profit: The Company Province 1934–1972 (1973) describes early Socreds under Bennett as a “drab collection of monetary fetishists, British Israelites, naturopaths, chiropractors, preachers, pleaders and anti-semites.”


FULL ENTRY:

A self-described 'political junkie', David J. Mitchell was elected as a Liberal MLA for West Vancouver-Garibaldi in the 1991 provincial election and represented the area for almost five years. As a maverick MLA, he defected from the caucus of Liberal leader Gordon Wilson in 1992. He had previously worked for Westar Group and Westar Timber Ltd. He is a former B.C. archivist with the Sound Heritage series, a political commentator and columnist, and author of W.A.C. Bennett and the Rise of British Columbia, one the most important volumes of B.C. history, although the book has been criticized for its overly respectful treatment of its subject. The biography arose from 30 hours of interviews with Bennett, as well as many hours spent interviewing members of the Bennett family. It provides a very useful synopsis of Bennett's 20 years of premiership. "The biography relies mainly upon the interviews with Bennett and his colleagues," wrote John English [BC STUDIES, Autumn, 1984]. "The distance between biographer and subject is exceedingly small, and the tone is excessively chatty and sententious. By the end of the book, the reader knows that the subject has captured the biographer, and the mediation which the skilled biographer offers both to subject and reader thoroughly breaks down."

Mitchell's follow-up book on the reshaping of the Social Credit Party was Succession in 1987. He was born in Montreal and educated at SFU with a BA in history and political science in 1975 and an MA in history in 1976. Mitchell was appointed Vice-President of Simon Fraser University in 1998, responsible for fundraising and alumni programs. He helped acquire $4 million from the federal government for SFU's Centre for Dialogue opposite Harbour Centre in downtown Vancouver.

Review of the author's work by BC Studies:
Succession: The Political Reshaping of British Columbia
W.A.C. Bennett and the Rise of British Columbia

Selected Books:

British Columbia's Business Leaders of the Century (Business in Vancouver, 2000)
All Aboard (D&M)
Succession: The Political Reshaping of British Columbia (D&M, 1987)
W.A.C. Bennett and the Rise of British Columbia (D&M, 1983)
Bright Sunshine and a Brand New Country: Recollections of the Okanagan Valley, 1890-1914, by David Mitchell and Dennis Duffy (Victoria: Sound Heritage, Provinical Archives Aural History Program, 1979).

[BCBW 2010]