SPECIAL REPORT

THE DEPARTURE OF ‘AMAZING GRACE’

MARY JANIGAN July 18 1988
SPECIAL REPORT

THE DEPARTURE OF ‘AMAZING GRACE’

MARY JANIGAN July 18 1988

THE DEPARTURE OF ‘AMAZING GRACE’

SPECIAL REPORT

She is known as “Amazing Grace,” a tireless miracle worker who helped rebuild the Social Credit party during the dark days of the early 1970s. Grace McCarthy, now 60, has always seemed ready to shake a hand and eager to boost free enterprise. But when she resigned as British Columbia’s economic development minister last week, charging that nonelected officials wielded too much executive power, Premier William Vander Zalm lost his best salesman —and gained a daunting enemy. Said one senior B.C. political consultant: “Her personal instincts will be to get revenge. Her political instincts will be to preserve Social Credit. If she believes that preserving Social Credit means getting Vander Zalm, then Vander Zalm had better watch out.”

Presence: In business or politics, McCarthy has always been a formidable presence. Born in Vancouver, she was 17—and a Grade 12 graduate —when she borrowed a $50 bond from her father and started a florist business, Grayce Florists Ltd. (she thought the name looked better with a Y). As the business expanded to five shops,

McCarthy became Canada’s first woman president of a chamber of commerce. She was a commissioner on the Vancouver parks board from 1961 to 1966, then vicechairman. Married in 1948 to real estate developer Raymond McCarthy, she has two children, Mary and Calvin. The dual pressures of family and politics, uncommon for women in the 1960s, did not deter McCarthy. As she once declared, “I really do believe that you can accomplish anything that you put your mind to.”

Armed with that power of positive thinking, she turned her sights on the provincial legislature in the September, 1966, election. Victorious, she and two other women were promptly promoted into W. A. C. Bennett’s cabinet, but with limited responsibilities as

ministers without portfolio. At the time, Bennett said, “They were three married women, and we don’t want to interfere with their home lives.” Undeterred, McCarthy championed social causes, from the construction of lowincome housing to the building of a training centre for retarded children in northern British Columbia.

Party: McCarthy’s political strengths became evident when her beloved Social Credit party lost the 1972 election. During the next three years, when she was a caucus assistant and party president, she tirelessly crisscrossed the province and increased party membership to 70,000 from 5,000. She even sold a membership to a

policeman who had ticketed her for an illegal turn.

When the Socreds returned to power in 1975, Premier William Bennett demonstrated his gratitude. Appointed travel minister and deputy premier, McCarthy relentlessly promoted both the province and herself. Named to the human resources portfolio in 1978, her popularity waned as the twin forces of restraint and recession sliced into welfare payments. In 1986, after an unsuccessful run for the party leadership, she received the economic development portfolio.

Power: Although McCarthy’s resignation from the cabinet is a severe blow to the party, it is consistent with her lifelong enmity toward the backroom power of nonelected bagmen and bureaucrats. During the 1986 leadership race she flatly refused to appear before the party’s elite “Top 20” club of influential party supporters. She added, “Elected people, not a layer of backroom boys, should take care of the policy z of our party.”

3 That streak of outspo| ken populism has often 8 eclipsed the fascinating 1 contrasts in McCarthy’s g career. An ambitious £ self-promoter, she I worked vigorously for the Salvation Army and the Canadian Association of Christians and Jews. A ferocious political enemy, she was a charming and thoughtful friend in the trenches. Indeed, she was perhaps the most popular minister in the Vander Zalm government. Last week, Vancouver entrepreneur James Pattison, a longtime friend, praised her boundless enthusiasm for her cause. “She went everywhere,” he said, “Jewish dinners and church openings, sod-turning ceremonies and mine openings. I have never met anyone who worked harder.” When McCarthy resigned, Vander Zalm lost an institution—one which may return one day to haunt him.

-MARY JANIGAN