Guichon, Clark and Reid, eminent women at centre of BC’s political crisis, play a striking role at Grace McCarthy’s funeral

Grace McCarthy

With her sudden gasp, her struggle for composure and her faltering opening , BC Lieutenant Governor Judith Guichon made it clear today that her contribution at Grace McCarthy’s state funeral was deeply personal.

McCarthy, who died May 24 at 89, was one of the most important politicians of her generation, a life long Social Credit activist who left a dramatic mark on the province. In the critical years after Expo 86, she triggered the construction of the first convention centre, drove the sale of the Expo lands to Li-Ka Shing and created the Supernatural BC campaign that drove a boom in tourism.

Guichon left no doubt about her own feelings at today’s requiem eucharist.

Hailing McCarthy as “the first lady of Social Credit, the Amazing Grace,” Guichon recalled McCarthy’s famous membership drive in 1973 and 1974 that brought the shattered Social Credit party back from the dead after its historic 1972 defeat at the hands of Dave Bennett’s NDP.

It was a striking choice of memories for a woman charged with helping the Legislature navigate through unprecedented partisan challenges to establish a new government.

When the huge congregation had settled into the pews at Christ Church Cathedral, it was clear the service would be a unique gathering of many of the personalities who had effectively governed BC for half a century.

Three eminent women of BC politics  — Guichon, BC Liberal leader Christy Clark and current house speaker Linda Reid — were in the front row, across the aisle from McCarthy’s family.

Thanks to Clark’s decision to deny a speaker to the New Democrats and the Greens, longtime speaker Linda Reid is out of a job and Guichon is soon to confront unique constitutional dilemmas.

You could almost hear the pages of history turning, with leading players in today’s political crisis on one side of the cathedral, while surviving veterans of McCarthy’s era, including one-time Socred cabinet minister Pat McGeer and businessman Jimmy Pattison, sat on the other.

Scattered among them were several of Clark’s recently fallen cabinet ministers — Suzanne Anton, Peter Fassbender — and lucky survivors like Mike De Jong and Sam Sullivan, as well as Carole Taylor, former finance minister for Gordon Campbell.

Clark spoke briefly, declaring McCarthy one of the women leaders who inspired her with the knowledge that “women cannot only lead but can help bring change.”

In a morning of effusive tributes — Rabbi Josef Wosk called McCarthy, once a florist, an angel and “God’s own flower girl” — there was ample evidence that times have changed for women.

McCarthy was a loyal soldier for W.A.C. Bennett. She revived Social Credit and loyally served his son, Bill Bennett, when he reunited the party and routed the NDP. But when Bill Bennett retired, Social Credit picked Bill Vander Zalm, not McCarthy, to lead the party.

When Vander Zalm was forced to resign, McCarthy again sought the leadership and was again defeated. In 1993, after Social Credit’s collapse in the face of Mike Harcourt’s NDP victory two years earlier, she made a third run. This time she won the leadership, but lost a by-election that would have returned her to the Legislature. It was the end of her political career.

Despite her undoubted talent and incredible political skills, she was fated to spend her life doing the heavy lifting for men without the reward of top leadership. Now women are leading.

For the moment, Christy Clark remains in charge of BC Liberals and the provincial government. With Reid unwilling to resume her role as speaker, Guichon may face decisions more fateful than any previous Lieutenant Governor. Today, at least, they were all sitting together.