MACLEAN'S REPORTS

The cunning plot that grounded Flying Phil Gaglardi

JON RUDDY May 1 1969
MACLEAN'S REPORTS

The cunning plot that grounded Flying Phil Gaglardi

JON RUDDY May 1 1969

The cunning plot that grounded Flying Phil Gaglardi

BACK IN MARCH, 1968, the career of British Columbia’s highways minister, Philip Arthur (Flying Phil) Gaglardi, was grounded along with a government Lear jet. Premier W. A. C. Bennett demoted his flamboyant political crony to minister-without-portfolio, cut his $35,500 salary in half and asked him to decamp from a lavish suite of offices. All this was the direct result of a family air excursion to Texas, an ill-timed “indiscretion” that not even Flying Phil seemed able to

explain, since he had been dodging flack from the press for weeks over land deals involving his two sons.

Circumstances are seldom simple, however, in the Machiavellian world of BC politics. Maclean’s has been informed that the Gaglardi family’s flight into danger was artfully contrived by the Social Crediters and known to W. A. C. Bennett himself. The purpose: to draw opposition fire from riper targets, and to permit Flying Phil to step down with his honor bruised but intact.

The Gaglardi affair centred on a free ride by his daughter-in-law, Karen, and her three-month-old son aboard the highway department’s Lear jet. The destination was supposed to be Wichita, Kansas, for servicing, but pilot Bert Toyes diverted 400 miles to

drop off Karen in Dallas, the home of her parents. There to meet her at the airport was a local radio reporter dispatched by the loyal opposition in Victoria. Who had tipped them off?

seven driving convictions and his abuses of the government plane: weekend hops to his home in Kamloops, trips to religious meetings as far removed as Columbus, Ohio, and Anchorage, Alaska. Even worse were opposition demands for a public inquiry into some remarkably provident speculations by his sons Bob, 27, and Bill, 24. The brothers had grossed $400,000, mostly from buying and selling moose pasture along proposed highway routes. Gaglardi defended himself emotionally in the legislature, alleging a gangster plot to ruin him and the government. Bennett wept.

Ray Perrault, now a Liberal MP from Burnaby-Seymour and then leader of the BC party, received a tipoff about the Texas flight. The word came first to Barry Clark, a member of the

Liberal caucus, by way of an anonymous tipster who said he was an employee at the Kamloops airport. Clark reported the information to Perrault who gave the go-ahead. The Liberals contacted a Dallas radio reporter, who taped evidence of the flight when Karen stepped off the plane. NDP leaders were informed. Did Perrault suspect that the information leak had originated with the government? “I just didn’t know,” he says. Dr. Pat McGeer, the current BC Liberal leader, says the tipoff was undirected “as far as I can see.” Dave Barrett, an MLA who serves as financial critic for the NDP, says any connection with Bennett is “rumor and speculation.” But a Maclean’s informant who was close to the premier’s office has a different story. “Bennett’s cabinet was

split on Gaglardi and he had to go,” he says. “Bennett didn’t want to sack Gaglardi on the basis of the land charges. The question was raised as to how Gaglardi could resign without precipitating a political brouhaha. It was suggested that some members of Gaglardi’s family be put on the government plane and sent off somewhere. Then the opposition would be tipped off through some source they could trust. They could caftch Gaglardi out and raise appropriate hell. Gaglardi himself was aware of the scheme. The tipoff was made through sources that seemed unquestionable. It was the greatest red herring in the history of Canadian politics. The opposition are still congratulating themselves on how they finally ‘got’ Gaglardi. The whole thing is hilarious.” JON RUDDY

Bennett had excellent reasons to want his old friend out of the spotlight. Bad enough were Gaglardi’s