William Nick Vander Zalm, commonly known as Bill Vander Zalm (born 1934) became British Columbia's 28th Premier in 1986. He was succeeded as Premier of B.C. by Rita Johnston in 1991.
Before becoming premier, Vander Zalm served as mayor of Surrey, British Columbia from 1969 to 1975. His tenture there was marked by his crackdown on welfare "deadbeats" (at the time, welfare in BC was a municipal responsibility).
He was first elected MLA in 1975, and joined the cabinet of William R. Bennett as Minister of Human Resources from (1975 - 1978), where he continued his crusade against welfare "fraud". He also served as Minister of Municipal Affairs (1978 - 1981). His short tenture as Minister of Education (1981 - 1983) resulted in him forced from cabinet after he called Bennett and his ministers "gutless".
In 1984, he bought Fantasy Garden World. That same year, he ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Vancouver, as the candidate for the Non-Partisan Association.
In 1986, premier William R. Bennett announced he was retiring. Instantly, Vander Zalm was thrust into the spotlight, as he waffled on whether he would run for the leadership of the Social Credit Party of British Columbia. He generated more press out of the race than the other candidates did in it.
At a conference centre in Whistler, British Columbia, he won the leadership easily.
From around just after he became premier, to about one month into the 1986 election campaign, "Vandermania" swept BC. Bill and his wife, Lillian Vander Zalm attracted public adoration with their high-voltage smiles and charisma.
The party or even its leader had no public plan for when they were elected for the long term. However, the main clear goal was to have a "fresh start" after the confrontational Bennett years.
Once elected with a majority, Vander Zalm selected his cabinet, mostly backbenchers who had languished under Bill Bennett. Oddly, Vander Zalm decided to release the normally secret list of cabinet appointments to two Vancouver Sun reporters hours before the official announcement was to be made.
He held conservative views on subjects such as abortion and homosexuality. In fact, his government once tried to cut public funding for abortions that were not medically necessary, prompting a public uproar and resulting in the plan being dropped. Furthermore, his government had a confrontational relationship with union labour.
As well, he appointed a close friend by the name of David Poole to be his "Principal Secretary". Before resigning in 1989, Poole amassed a good amount of power, and became the second most powerful person in the province - despite never having been elected. This naturally attracted the anger of numerous cabinet ministers, such as Grace McCarthy.
He was also accused of influence peddling with his close friend Peter Toigo in the sale of the Expo 86 site.
Vander Zalm became embroiled in a conflict of interest controversy over the sale of his Fantasy Gardens flower garden and theme park. The confict of interest arose because the Taiwanese buyer, Tan Yu was provided with VIP treatment and lunch with the Lieutenant-Governor prior to the sale, as well, Vander Zalm claimed that control over the theme park was his wife's responsibility.
It was proven in BC Supreme Court that he was in fact intimately involved in the sale. The implication was that Vander Zalm used his position as Premier to gain access to cabinet ministers for Tan Yu and himself, to promote his own business transactions. Vander Zalm was forced to resign over the scandal.