‘A big loss for Canada’: Former MP and MLA Ian Waddell dies at age 78

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The first words that came to mind to describe Ian Waddell were “energizer bunny,” according to longtime friend Vance Campbell. 

“The guy just never stopped, he was energy in a body, he never stopped going,” said Campbell. “Wherever he went, a whirlwind followed him — and nothing but friends wherever he went.” 

The two became fast friends when Waddell, a former NDP MP and MLA, helped Campbell get started with his first business in Vancouver. That was 50 years ago. 

“He was very good to his friends. He was a constant part of my life,” Campbell said in an interview.

He recalls receiving a photo from Waddell just two weeks ago. It was of him on the slopes and a message that read: ‘I skied Whistler Peak-to-Peak today!’ “And I thought, how amazing for a guy in his late seventies to be doing that.” 

Waddell died at his home Monday night at the age of 78. The cause of death has not been announced.

Believed to be the last photo of Ian Waddell, taken last week, he’s pictured here on a bench he had dedicated to his mother and father in his Kitsilano neighborhood. (Submitted by Vance Campbell)

Waddell was born in Glasgow, Scotland, and immigrated to Canada at the age of five. He would become a lawyer, then a politician and eventually an author and commentator.

Waddell had a front-row seat to decades of political history in Canada. He began his political career in 1979, winning a seat for the federal NDP and becoming a point-person on Indigenous issues. 

He spent 14 years in Ottawa, often-times tumultuous, fighting the Free Trade Agreement and the Meech Lake Accord. He eventually lost his seat, pivoting then to provincial politics. 

In 1996, Waddell was elected to the B.C. Legislature as NDP MLA for Vancouver-Fraserview. He served as minister of tourism, arts and culture under then-premier Glen Clark, and also had a cabinet post as environment minister in Ujjal Dosanjh’s government. He lost his seat in 2001.

“There’s not a soul in Victoria who ever met him that’s got a dry eye today,” said Campbell. “It’s a big loss to Canada.”

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British Columbia MPs Ian Waddell (left) and Jim Fulton (right) prepare to demonstrate how security guards prevented them from crashing the Senate on Dec. 5, 1979. They wanted to question Sen. Robert de Cotret, minister for trade and economic development. (The Canadian Press)

“When I think of Ian, I really think of him with a smile — he had an energy for life,” reflected B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix, who called Waddell his boss, colleague and friend. 

“He was a terrific guy and a great mentor to many of us,” Dix said, describing the close relationship Waddell had with many in the current NDP government, including Solicitor General Mike Farnworth and Premier John Horgan, who tweeted condolences. 

“Mike Farnworth told me he spoke with [Waddell] last Thursday; he was full of plans and ideas and interests and things he wanted to see us to do and things he wanted to do here in the legislature,” said Dix, noting he was president of the Association of Former MLAs.

Waddell is remembered for his community involvement in a number of projects. One of his most prominent successes was landing Vancouver the Winter Games as B.C.’s tourism minister at the time.

“He led our efforts to win the Canadian bid for the 2010 Olympics and deserves a lot of credit, as much as any individual person, for the Games coming here,” Dix said. 

Many will remember him for his legacy as a pioneer in the LGBTQ community, his efforts on Indigenous rights and expertise on energy issues.

“Ian spoke regularly, and with pride, about his role in the inclusion of the rights of Indigenous peoples in our constitution and its repatriation,” said Dix, recalling Waddell’s work on the inquiry into the McKenzie Valley pipeline in the 1970s.

He is also credited with luring Hollywood productions north to B.C. and growing the province’s film sector into a billion-dollar industry. 

Over the years, Waddell taught at Simon Fraser University and the University of British Columbia and published two books. He also produced a documentary called Why Young People Don’t Vote and was a frequent TV and radio commentator. 

Waddell sent out his last tweet on Sunday. He posted a photo of the cherry blossoms off his balcony and called it ‘paradise’. 

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