Published in The Tyee | June 7, 2013 | Circulation: 340,000
With the industrial clatter and rumble of Port Metro Vancouver as a backdrop, Premier Christy Clark sent a strong pro-business message with the announcement of a cabinet which includes new ministries for natural gas, international trade, technology and innovation.
“British Columbians sent us the most talented group of MLAs that I think have ever sat in the legislature,” she told a large crowd gathered at the port, at an event that, unusually, was paid for by the private sector. As many as 20 groups donated for the event, including the BC Trucking Association ($2,500), BC Restaurant and Foodservices Association.
“Together, we have the opportunity and obligation to grow the economy, control spending, and put B.C. firmly on track to a debt-free future,” Clark said. “To remain strong in the face of global economic uncertainty, we will accelerate our jobs plan and run a tight ship.”
Occasionally interrupted by the sound of shipping and giant rattling boat chains, Clark appointed a mix of newcomer “fresh perspectives” alongside stalwarts such as Mike de Jong as finance minister and Rich Coleman as her deputy premier.
In a nod to one of the BC Liberals’ key election planks to bolster natural gas, Clark added a new job to Coleman’s existing housing portfolio: minister of natural gas development.
The new department would seize the “economic opportunity of a lifetime,” the premier said, creating thousands of jobs and working with “investors and companies” to develop energy projects. It would also established a “Prosperity Fund” to pay off the province’s debt-load, a government statement added.
“It sends a really strong message to the investment community with regards to these multi-billion dollar projects,” Coleman told The Tyee as the ceremony ended. “We’re going after this opportunity for British Columbians; it’s what’s going to get us to be a debt-free B.C.
“It’s going to take a lot of work, but I think the commitment’s important.”
New jobs-focused ministries
Following the announcement of her executive, which will be formally sworn in on June 10, The Tyee asked Clark how much input the private sector had on the decision to create new ministries focused on industry and trade. She appointed newly elected MLA Andrew Wilkinson to head the new department, Technology, Innovation and Citizens’ Services, which will push for growth in the province’s tech sector, as well as increase citizens’ access to information online.
“We consulted the business community on creating the jobs plan before we introduced it,” Clark replied, adding that technology in particular was a sector identified as a major future job creator, estimating it would add up to 100,000 new positions in the Lower Mainland and southern Vancouver Island. But unlike forestry or mining, the sector lacked a dedicated ministry. “I felt that was something we needed to address,” she said.
A noteworthy announcement is the appointment of first-time MLA Suzanne Anton as minister of justice and attorney general. Anton was a Crown prosecutor until 1999, but told The Tyee she would have to consult others before pledging to reform any aspects of the justice system.
Anton replaced Shirley Bond in that position, who was moved to become minister of labour and jobs. Other appointments include Terry Lake moving from the environment to the health ministry; Mary Polak as environment minister; Bill Bennett to the energy and mines portfolio; and John Rustad as aboriginal relations.
Clark made Bennett responsible for a core review aimed at identifying places to save money and find efficiencies in the government. The BC Liberals had a previous core review starting in 2001 when they first won power.
Rookie MLA Peter Fassbender, who will step down as Langley mayor in July, is the new education minister. Outgoing BC Teachers’ Federation President Susan Lambert called Fassbender’s appointment an opportunity for relations between teachers and government to “move forward.”
“What Minister Fassbender has to do now is bridge the gap between the bargaining table and cabinet and ensure that sufficient resources are brought to the bargaining table, to alleviate the deteriorating conditions in schools and to reduce class sizes, bring in more supports for students with special needs, and respect the profession of teaching so that it can be a competitive one,” she said.
Large number of appointments, notes Dix
“We want to congratulate all 34 ministers and parliamentary secretaries who received positions today,” said Adrian Dix, leader of the New Democratic Party. The Opposition is looking forward to working with them in the legislature, he said.
The Opposition intends to hold the government to its commitments, including balancing the budget, reducing the province’s debt and protecting health care and education, he said.
Given the commitment to balancing the budget and reducing the debt, the number of appointments was surprising, said Dix. “I think 34 ministers and parliamentary secretaries is a lot.”
There are still appointments for a speaker, deputy speaker, government whip and caucus chair to come, so that nearly every Liberal MLA will have an added role and the income that comes with it.
The government’s message of control does not seem to extend to political positions, said Dix.
He also noted that launching a “core review” after being in power for 12 years suggests the government is not confident that the budget is balanced.
Clark said she is committed to balancing the budget for the next four years and that restraint will be key. “There will be those asking us to spend money, those asking us to grow government,” she said, adding those discussions will have to happen in a respectful way, but with respect for taxpayers.
Clark demoted Norm Letnick and Moira Stilwell, returning MLAs who had been ministers before the election.
The cabinet includes just two representatives from Vancouver and one from Vancouver Island. Noting that Margaret MacDiarmid and Christy Clark lost in Vancouver ridings, and Ida Chong in the Capital Region, Dix said, “The voters reduced the government’s representation in Vancouver and Victoria.”