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Long-serving MLA Nielsen leaves lasting legacy

Don Fennell   Apr-06-2018

Jim Nielsen passed away unexpectedly on April 4, 2018.

Photo courtesy CBC

One of the most prominent B.C. politicians during the Socred reign of the 1970s and 1980s has died.

Jim Nielsen, who was Richmond’s Member of the Legislative Assembly from December 1975 to October 1986, passed away suddenly Wednesday (April 4) at New Westminster’s Royal Columbian Hospital. He was 79.



Affectionately referred to by then-Premier Bill Bennett as “The Fonz” (a reference to the character on the popular TV sitcom at the time, Happy Days) because of his hairdo and sideburns, Nielsen was considered tough, but fair by supporters and critics alike. Bennett had great faith in Nielsen, appointing him to several cabinet posts including the province’s first environment minister in 1975 and later finance minister.

Ted Townsend, now the spokesperson for the City of Richmond, was editor at The Richmond Review during some of the period Nielsen was an MLA. He remembers Nielsen as someone who spoke bluntly and directly, perhaps a holdover from his days as a radio talk show host.

“He didn’t mince words,” Townsend said. “But he was seen as being a good representative for Richmond. He was a strong advocate for pushing things forward.”

Townsend said Nielsen was a leading advocate for the opening of on and off ramps on the Arthur Laing Bridge, connecting Richmond and Vancouver with the airport.

“If you didn’t live in Richmond back in those days, you might not realize they weren’t always there. Before they were put in, it was a convoluted way to get in and out of Richmond via that route. There was a lot of frustration for commuters for many, many years. Vancouver wasn’t really supportive of opening the ramps, so it took a lot of work and years to get those open.”

Born in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, Nielsen attended high school in Richmond before entering the world of broadcasting. He first worked at CJVI in Victoria in 1959 before moving to Vancouver’s CJOR in 1960. He joined CFUN in 1962 as new director, and hosted a talk show with Roy Jacques.

Nielsen entered the political ring in the 1970s, defeating incumbent Harold Steves as Richmond MLA in the 1975 provincial election. He remained Richmond’s MLA until 1986 when he left cabinet.

After politics, which he re-entered as a councillor in Peachland from 1999 to 2002, and again for a three-year term in 2005 after a three-year hiatus, Nielsen chaired the Workers Compensation Board of B.C. from 1987 to 1989. He also wrote a political column for The Richmond Review before moving to the Okanagan in 1996. He spent his final years in Langley.

A devoted family man, he is survived by his wife, nine children, and 23 grandchildren.

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