Item T0244:0005-0016 - Robert Bonner interview

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Robert Bonner interview

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  • sound recording

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T0244:0005-0016

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  • 1980 (Creation)

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12 audio reels (ca. 10.5 hours) : 9.5 cm/sec, 2 track, mono ; 13 cm

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The item consists of 12 audio recordings of interviews with Robert Bonner in 1980.
T0244:0005 track 1: Robert Bonner discusses his personal and family background. Recollections of growing up and going to school in Vancouver during the 1920s and 1930s. Important influences during his early years. The effect of growing up during the Depression. Early interest in politics. Criticism of socialists. Recollection of political action during his days at UBC. Work experience during his student days. Comments on his ambition to be a lawyer from an early age. Undergraduate experience at UBC.
T0244:0005 track 2: Robert Bonner recounts his reaction to the outbreak of WWII. Training as an officer with the Seaforth Highlanders. Discussion of his service overseas. Being wounded during the invasion of Italy and convalescence in England. Return to Canada and assumption of the duties of Training Officer with the Canadian Officers' Training Corps at UBC. The importance of his military training and experiences. Entry into law school at UBC. Comments on legal training. Memories of UBC law school. Graduation from law school in 1948 and work for a legal firm in Vancouver. Interest in Conservative politics. More interested in federal than provincial politics. Along with other young Tories, advocated the break-up of Coalition in B.C. General comments on the Coalition government and its decline.

T0244:0006 track 1: Robert Bonner recalls nominating W.A.C. Bennett for provincial leadership of the Conservative Party, 1950. Reasons for supporting W.A.C. Bennett in his challenge to Herbert Anscomb's leadership of the party. Further recollections of W.A.C. Bennett: crossing the floor of the House; joining Social Credit. Recollections of the 1952 election in B.C. and reactions to its outcome. The effect of the single transferable ballot. Meeting with W.A.C. Bennett after he assumed the leadership of the Social Credit Party and being offered the position of Attorney General in his prospective administration. Considerations taken into account when making his decision to accept Bennett's offer. The possibility of Gordon Wismer becoming Attorney General. Reaction to the outcome of the 1952 election in legal circles. T0244:0006 track 2: Robert Bonner comments on W.A.C. Bennett's self-confidence. Events surrounding the Social Credit Party being called upon by the Lieutenant Governor to form a government in 1952. W.A.C. Bennett's influence on Bonner's way of approaching problems. Comments on becoming Attorney General. Anecdote about John Diefenbaker's remarks shortly after Bonner became Attorney General. Recollection of his early Socred colleagues. Relations with the civil service. The 1952 election as an experiment in democracy. Comments on Social Credit. Election to the Legislature in the Columbia by-election, 1952. Comments on the by-election campaign. The importance of the by-election to the survival of the government. General comments on the first Social Credit administration.

T0244:0007 track 1: Robert Bonner discusses aspects of the early years of the first Social Credit government in B.C. Relations between the Alberta Social Credit government and Social Credit in B.C. Meeting between members of the Alberta Social Credit government and the new B.C. government in Edmonton, 1952. Political philosophy and political action. Comments on the philosophy of the first Social Credit government. Reflections on B.C. during the 1950s. Reasons for the development of B.C. by the Social Credit government. Comments on planning. Policy development. Recollections of the legislative session of 1953 and the planned self-defeat of the government. Bonner's reply to the Speech from the Throne. The defeat of the government over the Rolston Formula. Recollections of the provincial election of 1953. Bonner's campaign in the multiple-member of Point Grey.
T0244:0007 track 2: Further comments on the Point Grey constituency and the provincial election campaign of 1953. Comments on campaigning. The role of a parliamentary opposition. Evaluation of Harold Winch as Leader of the Opposition. The defeat of Einar Gunderson in the 1953 election and its effect upon the government. Bonner, Gunderson and W.A.C. Bennett served as a kind of inner-cabinet during the early years of the Social Credit administration. General comments on the members of the first Social Credit government as a group. Personal relationship with the Premier. Comments of the interaction between Bonner and Bennett on decision-making. Example of the genesis of the Two River Policy. Travelling with the Premier. Bonner's avoidance of playing bridge with the Premier. Bonner would refer to W.A.C. Bennett as "Mr. Premier". The Social Credit caucus. The operation of the Social Credit cabinet The lack of a complicated committee system helped the government run smoothly. The operation of Treasury Board and the experience of appearing before it as a Minister.

T0244:0008 track 1: Robert Bonner discusses his duties and responsibilities as Attorney General of British Columbia. Anecdote about meeting with a deputy of a new department. Aspects of administration of the various departments within his ministry. Distinction between the formulation and execution of government policy. Relations with his administrative staff. Politics and the public service. The special characteristics of the Attorney General portfolio. Relationship between the Attorney General and his Deputy Minister. Lawyers as poor administrators. Firing of Dave Barrett, a social worker, for conducting political activity while on the public payroll, 1960. The Attorney General as chief law officer. Abolishing patronage after becoming Attorney General. Comments on the labour movement in British Columbia. Differentiation between labour leaders and the labour force.

T0244:0009 track 1: Robert Bonner discusses the mechanics of holding more than a single cabinet portfolio at a time. Comments on the Social Credit cabinet. Attitudes towards business and subsequent involvement in the world of business as opposed to pursuit of a legal career. A day in the life of the Attorney General. Comments on the style of government practiced by the Social Credit government. The legislative process. The role of House Leader. Comments on the tone of the legislature during the years he served in government. The role of Legislative Counsel. The relationship between senior civil servants and cabinet ministers and the distinction between policy formulation and execution. Filling the basic task of governmental reform.
T0244:0009 track 2: Discussion of the government's problems in dealing with the Doukhobor community. The problems were simple and related to obeying the laws of the province. The problem of school truancy among Doukhobor children. Bombings and arson. The claim of religious persecution by Freedomite Doukhobors. Coordination between the Ministry of the Attorney General and the Ministry of Education on the New Denver school project. The role of magistrate William Evans. The formation of a special police force, the D Squad, to handle Doukhobor problems. Comments on the effect of criticism and press reports on the government's handling of the Doukhobor situation.

T0244:0010 track 1: Robert Bonner discusses the background to the Sommers Affair. Personal evaluation of Robert Sommers. Reaction to Gordon Gibson's allegations of irregularities in the issuing of forest management licenses. Appointment of the Lord Commission. Charges by C.W. Eversfield and David Sturdy concerning Robert Sommers. Bonner's investigations to determine whether or not Sommers was guilty of any wrongdoing. Eversfield's subsequent disappearance and Sturdy's previous request for an appointment to the Bench. Reasons for Sommers' civil suit against Sturdy. Sommers' resignation from the cabinet; if Sommers had not resigned, Bonner would have. Comments on the Butler Report. Bonner never saw the Butler Report as recalls that it was not conclusive in its findings. Bonner's advice to Sommers and his attorney about the purpose of criminal prosecutions. Comments on police reports. The issue of delays during the course of the Sommers case. Comments on the prosecution of Robert Sommers. The 1956 provincial election and discussion of the charges against Sommers.
T0244:0010 track 2: Robert Sommers' re-election in the 1956 provincial election. The issue of proceeding with the civil suit against Sturdy or, alternately, pursuing a criminal prosecution. Sommers' self-exile in Seattle and being visited by Waldo Skillings. Sommers later meets with Skillings in Victoria and attempts to secure an agreement whereby he would be charged alone. Reasons why Sommers was not charged alone. Sommers received permission to be absent from the pre-trial hearing to take his seat in the House for the legislative session of 1958; this permission was appealed. Dissatisfaction among backbench government members with the handling of the Sommers case. Reaction to the outcome of the case. Bonner was surprised at convictions. The issue of appealing the court sentence for a harsher verdict. The question of bribery with no visible benefits of preferential treatment. Final comments and reflections on the Sommers Affair.

T0244:0011 track 1: Robert Bonner discusses government interventionism. The genesis of the B.C. Ferry system. The takeover of the B.C. Electric Company. The Social Credit government's policy of no concessions to prospective business ventures in British Columbia. The background to the Columbia River Treaty. The American demand for electrical power. The B.C. government's attitude toward the development of the Canadian portion of the Columbia River. Criticism of the Treaty. Discussion of his role in the Treaty. Coining the term "Two River Policy". Reasons for the Canadian bias against exporting power to the; United States. Features of the original treaty and the issue of power being returned to Canada. The relationship between the plans to develop the Peace River and the Columbia negotiations. Modifications and protocol to the treaty, 1964, and the issue of downstream benefits. Points of contention with the federal government. Comments on the Diefenbaker government's stance on the Columbia agreement.
T0244:0011 track 2: Bonner discusses the reasons why British Columbia was able to force both the Canadian and American governments to accept its position on the Columbia River Treaty. The contribution of technical personnel. Comments on committees and the decision-making machinery that contributed to the Columbia agreement. Comments on the relationship between the provincial and federal governments in Canada during the negotiations over the Columbia. Anti-Americanism in the Diefenbaker administration. Reasons why B.C. did not proceed unilaterally on the Columbia agreement. General McNaughton and his plan for the development of the Canadian portion of the Columbia River watershed. Comments on the Kaiser Dam proposal. The appeal and problems of private development of this proposal. Objection to the federal government's Water Rights Bill. The genesis of the Wenner-Gren plan to develop the Peace River. Reasons for the failure of the Wenner-Gren proposal and its effects on later developments.

T0244:0012 track 1: Robert Bonner discusses aspects of the Two River Policy. Reasons for the development of the Peace and Columbia Rivers simultaneously. Advantages in developing the hydro-electric power potential of the rivers publicly, rather than by privately-owned means. The Briggs affair. Reflections on the 1960 provincial election. The issue of the takeover of the B.C. Electric Company. Background to the government's decision to take over the company. The special session of 1961 which was called to pass the legislation nationalizing the B.C. Electric Company. Drafting the legislation for the special session. Reaction to the takeover. Criticism of the government action in the business community. Difference between the boardroom reaction and the public response to the takeover of the B.C. Electric Company.
T0244:0012 track 2: Robert Bonner discusses the maintenance of party discipline during the course of the takeover of the B.C. Electric Company. The formation of B.C. Hydro and Power Authority, 1962. The role and purpose of a public authority, or Crown Corporation. Aspects of financing B.C. Hydro. The question of pension fund socialism. The return of a Liberal administration in Ottawa in 1963 and its effect on the Columbia River Treaty negotiations. Davie Fulton and the 1963 provincial election. Comments on the 1963 election. Evaluation of the roles played by Bonner, Williston and the Premier in the Columbia River Treaty negotiations. Final comments on the Columbia River Treaty and responses to criticisms of it. The future of the Treaty.

T0244:0013 track 1: Robert Bonner discusses federal-provincial relations during the years he served in government. Competitive versus cooperative federalism. Problems related to the port of Vancouver. Comments on federal-provincial conferences. B.C. delegations to federal-provincial conferences were invariably smaller than other provinces. The genesis of the Roberts Bank superport. The development of Roberts Bank. The issues of equalization payments. The B.C. government's objections to federally-administered equalization payments. The question of a guaranteed annual income. The issue of B.C. separatism. Arguments in favour of B.C. remaining a partner in Canadian Confederation. T0244:0013 track 2: The genesis of the B.C. government's proposal for a Bank of British Columbia. Recollection of the Senate Bank Committee hearings which reviewed the B.C. government's bank proposal, 1964. Objections to the B.C. government proposal. The process of constitutional review and the search for an amending formula for the Canadian Constitution. Constitutional reform was not a high priority for the B.C. government. The issues of bilingualism and biculturalism. Incident when W.A.C. Bennett brought Mayor Peter Wing to a federal-provincial conference. Reasons why British Columbians were reluctant to admit voting for Social Credit. Involvement in party politics. The mechanics of running an election campaign. Annual Social Credit conventions.

T0244:0014 track 1: Robert Bonner discusses the funding of election campaigns. Comments on Social Credit national politics in Canada. Description of the 1957 federal election campaign which Bonner helped organize for the Social Credit Party. Relations between the British Columbia and Alberta wings of the Social Credit Party. British Columbia's support of Real Caouette. Comments on the possibility of W.A.C. Bennett running federally. Reasons for the failure of the Social Credit Party on a federal level in Canada. The role of an MLA. Problems in being a Vancouver-area MLA. Rural versus urban conflicts in British Columbia politics. Comments on multiple-member ridings.

T0244:0015 track 1: Robert Bonner discusses the effect of politics on his private life. Reasons why legislative reform was not a high priority during the years he served in government. Attitude toward legislative debate. Orders-in-council and the provincial government. Government by regulation. Anecdote about Motor Vehicle Branch regulations. Comments about the changes which took place in British Columbia during the years he served in government. The lack of secondary industry in British Columbia. The comparative advantages of British Columbia's economy. General comments on the financial policies of the first Social Credit government. The distinction between financing government operations and those of crown corporations. Direct versus contingent liabilities.
T0244:0015 track 2: Comments on the investment of pension funds in Hydro bonds and other provincial government accounts. W.A.C. Bennett as Minister of Finance. Parity bonds. Reduction and elimination of the public debt of the province. The Kelowna bond-fire, 1959. Comments on public relations and government. Public relations men who worked for the government. Relationship between the press and government. Reasons why Bonner was considered to be the heir-apparent to the leadership of W.A.C. Bennett's character: "the Anthony Eden complex". The 1966 provincial election. Bonner's defeat in Point Grey. Re-election in Cariboo by-election. The formation of the NDP. Comments on electioneering. Reflection on his resignation from the cabinet, 1968, and retirement from politics, 1969.

T0244:0016 track 1: Robert Bonner discusses the reasons why he resigned from politics. Reaction to general criticisms which were levelled at the first Social Credit government in British Columbia. Comments on the polarization of British Columbia politics. The representative nature of the parliamentary system. Serving as MLA for Cariboo and vice president with MacMillan Bloedel simultaneously. Comments on events leading up to the defeat of the Social Credit government, 1972. Reasons for the defeat of the government. General comments on the leadership abilities of W.A.C. Bennett. W.A.C. Bennett as an original thinker.

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Reference cassette copies available.

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No access restrictions apply. [WAS: (apparently) closed during Robert Bonner's lifetime (per Robert Bonner, 1980). Bonner died on 2005-08-12.]

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Copying Restriction: None.
Use Restriction: As determined by the BC Archives.
Copyright Status: Copyright British Columbia Archives.

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Accession number(s): T0244

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Previously described as AAAB0285.

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speaker: Robert William Bonner, interviewer: David Joseph Mitchell

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