Veteran politician Eileen Dailly remembered

Veteran Burnaby politician Eileen Dailly died Jan. 17 at the age of 84. A memorial is being planned for late April. - Contributed photo
Veteran Burnaby politician Eileen Dailly died Jan. 17 at the age of 84. A memorial is being planned for late April.
— image credit: Contributed photo

It was during the 1966 provincial election campaign when former Burnaby councillor Celeste Redman first met Eileen Dailly.

Redman and her husband had just moved into their house in north Burnaby.

“We had torn out a couple of walls and there was lumber all over the big old porch and down in the yard,” she recalled.

“Eileen was out door-knocking and she tripped up over it and came up to knock on the door and my husband was so impressed. We didn’t have a lot of money but he made her wait while he went and got $5 and made a $5 donation to the campaign.”

Dailly, a former B.C. education minister and deputy premier, passed away Jan. 17 at age 84 on Salt Spring Island.

Her political resume included five terms as a Burnaby school trustee, and five terms as MLA for Burnaby North.

She retired in 1987 and was named Burnaby’s first woman Freeman, the city’s highest honour.

Before entering politics, she was a school teacher. As her recently published obituary said, “Diminutive Eileen’s views on corporal punishment changed forever when she faced the folly of trying to strap a sturdy 17-year-old Grade 8 student for running her purse up the flagpole.”

Redman recalled that, as education minister during the Dave Barrett NDP government of the 1970s, Dailly “ran into horror stories where teachers were overdoing it.”

There was no way to fix corporal punishment, and it “wasn’t that useful anyway,” so she banned the strap in schools.

It was a bold move that came with considerable controversy. Indeed, B.C. became the first province in Canada to ban corporal punishment in schools, in 1973.

It wasn’t until 1989 that the next province, Nova Scotia, followed suit. In fact, it wasn’t outlawed across the country until 2004, forcing Ontario, Alberta and Saskatchewan to join all the other provinces.

But in 1973, “there were some people that thought it was the absolute end of the world,” Redman said, noting Dailly even received death threats as a result.

That didn’t stop Dailly from moving ahead with other significant changes while minister, including introducing sex education to schools, removing financial barriers for student field trips and increasing fairness in how funding was distributed to school districts, so smaller and rural districts were no longer always at a disadvantage.

She also introduced mandatory kindergarten and established B.C.’s first aboriginal school district.

After that first meeting, it wasn’t long before Redman and Dailly became friends, with Redman working actively on the MLA’s campaigns.

That’s also where she saw first-hand Dailly’s proactive form of compassion.

During the 1983 campaign, Redman’s grandmother ended up in hospital for months during which doctors couldn’t figure out what was ailing her. When Dailly heard of it, she called the hospital herself.

“So she got on the phone, gave the doctor a blast, described how strong my grandmother was and so forth and he said, ‘well, we’ll do a couple more tests.’ Well then, they found out what was wrong.”

Redman was most impressed by the fact Dailly was in the middle of a campaign but took the time to do that.

Similarly, during the 1972 campaign, back before the province funded extended care, Redman was door-knocking on Dailly’s behalf when she met an elderly woman from Alberta who was so cash-strapped by the fees to keep her husband in Fellburn Care Centre that she walked there every day from the Heights to save on bus fare.

“And furthermore, she informed me she was Social Credit and was going to vote for W.A.C. Bennett,” she recalled with a laugh.

When she told Dailly about it that night, she looked into it and made a few calls.

“I’m walking down the street about a week later ... this woman comes out, kisses me, hugs me, ‘I’m voting for your lady, she got us some help, and she didn’t need to do that!’”

That’s just the kind of person Dailly was, she said.

“She was a very decent person, a very kind, very caring person but a very, very strong woman. She was never unladylike but always very strong.”

A memorial to be held at the end of April will be announced at a later date.

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