British Columbia Premier to Step Down : Canada: Vander Zalm, his government afflicted by conflict-of-interest charges, will resign once a successor is found.


The embattled premier of British Columbia, his government nearly paralyzed in recent weeks by conflict-of-interest charges stemming from the sale of a biblical theme park, announced Friday that he would step down as soon as a new leader is found.

Premier Wilhelmus (Bill) Vander Zalm, in a brief news conference in Vancouver, told reporters he would call a leadership convention of his governing Social Credit Party as soon as possible.

“I am not conceding anything at all,” said the charismatic premier, who had long promised to instill “true Christian principles” into British Columbia’s public life. He declined to discuss any of the four investigations of his business dealings that are now in progress.


Vander Zalm’s decision to step aside adds turbulence to an already cloudy political picture in Canada’s westernmost province. His government was scheduled to call an election by October, when its five-year term of office is due to run out. There are just two main political parties in British Columbia: the populist, conservative Socreds, as they are called, and the socialist New Democrats.

Since the Socreds will have a hard time repairing damage from the Vander Zalm scandal by the fall, it now seems likely that British Columbia’s voters will elect a socialist government. That would give two of the 10 Canadian provinces socialist governments; Ontario, Canada’s industrial heartland, elected one last year.

Vander Zalm’s government has been plagued by scandals and controversy almost from the time he took office in 1986. In a little more than four years, 11 of his Cabinet ministers have resigned, seven because they themselves were embroiled in charges of impropriety.

The premier, a devout Roman Catholic, also angered feminists with his anti-abortion crusading; environmentalists by reneging on a pledge to curtail toxic pulp-mill emissions; the poor with his insistence that welfare recipients “pick up a shovel”; and native peoples by saying that unemployed Indians in Vancouver should “go back to the reservation.”

Still, Vander Zalm was charming and telegenic and he managed to foster a healthy business climate, weathering every political storm until last September. That was when he sold his family business, a biblical theme park in the Vancouver suburbs, to wealthy Taiwanese businessman Tan Yu. Tan reportedly paid $14.5 million for the park, called Fantasy Gardens.

The scandal soon erupted because Vander Zalm had been claiming, before the sale, that to avoid any conflict of interest, he had transferred the ownership of Fantasy Gardens to his wife. Not long after the sale was announced, though, it emerged that in fact Vander Zalm still held title to 83% of the park’s parent company and had been intimately involved in its business operations.


The premier had no satisfactory explanation for what he called his “mistake.” And to make matters worse, it was revealed that at the time Vander Zalm was selling the theme park to Tan, he was also arranging luncheons and meetings for representatives of Tan’s company, which wanted to open a bank in British Columbia, with top British Columbia financial officials empowered to license a bank.

The revelation left the clear impression with the public that Vander Zalm had let Tan think there might be some connection between getting his bank and paying the premier a handsome price for the theme park.

Vander Zalm denied repeatedly that he had engaged in any misconduct. One of the four separate inquiries into his business dealings, a key one by the provincial conflict-of-interest commissioner, is due to report its findings Tuesday.