Kamloops MLA Terry Lake will remain a key minister in Christy Clark’s government and has joined what one political scientist called cabinet’s “inner circle.”
Premier Christy Clark said Wednesday she’s put together an election-ready cabinet that will place an intense focus on creating jobs and helping families in the months leading up to British Columbia’s spring election.
Clark appointed veteran cabinet minister Mike de Jong as the new finance minister, saying the former health minister from the Fraser Valley will devote his energies to ensuring the province delivers a balanced budget next year.
“I am committed to the principle that government should not be spending any more of the taxpayers’ money than it receives,” said de Jong. “We’ve got a new cabinet, new energy, new enthusiasm, but the challenges remain.”
Reached Wednesday, Lake said he’s “very happy” to retain the environment portfolio.
“It’s a passion of mine and so important in this stage of our development,” he said.
Lake will also hold onto his position as deputy house leader and has been added to cabinet’s planning and priorities committee.
“It shows the environment ministry is important with decisions that need to be made,” he said.
Norman Ruff, an emeritus political scientist with University of Victoria, called the committee the most important one in cabinet.
“The environment portfolio is certainly important in B.C. But at this time with the issue of Northern Gateway and others looming large, it will spill over into the election. The portfolio has jumped several notches.”
Ruff said the addition of Lake to the committee is recognition by Clark that the pipeline debate remains a large political issue and that Lake is comfortable and competent in the job.
Clark also promoted Mary Polak, who now takes on transportation, and Margaret MacDiarmid, a family doctor and former head of the B.C. Medical Association, who becomes the minister of health.
Don McRae was elevated from agriculture minister to education.
Rich Coleman is now Clark’s deputy premier and retains his job in energy and mines after declaring Tuesday he would stay to fight in the next election.
Opposition New Democrat Leader Adrian Dix said Clark appears more interested in rejuvenating her government through a cabinet shuffle than helping British Columbians through more skills training programs and improvements to health care and education.
“I don’t think the issues in B.C. are about who’s in the Liberal cabinet,” he said. “I think this particular cabinet shuffle has principally been made necessary by the political challenges of the Liberal Party.”
In the days prior to Clark’s cabinet shuffle, several high-profile Liberals announced they wouldn’t be running for re-election next May.
The political retirements included former cabinet ministers Kevin Falcon, George Abbott, Blair Lekstrom, John Les and Mary McNeil. A total of 16 Liberals have said they won’t seek re-election.
Clark returned both Bill Bennett and Moira Stilwell to cabinet after absences. Bennett becomes minister of community, sport and cultural development while Stilwell takes over the Ministry of Social Development.
Bennett had been a minister in former premier Gordon Campbell’s government, but he was ejected from caucus after a verbal tirade against Campbell, demanding that the premier quit. He rejoined caucus after Clark became leader.
Stephanie Cadieux takes on the tough job of overseeing the Ministry of Children and Family Development, and Shirley Bond retains her job as minister of Justice and Attorney General.
Steve Thomson in forests retains his position and Pat Bell stays on as jobs minister, but also becomes minister of labour.
Clark said her cabinet will continue to ensure the province gets maximum benefits from its energy resources and make trade inroads in Asia.
She also promised her government will continue to make life more affordable for families.
“We will balance our budget next year,” she promised.
Kelowna-area Liberal Norm Letnick was promoted from the backbenches to make his first appearance in cabinet as minister of agriculture.
Okanagan Liberal Ben Stewart, dropped from cabinet last spring, is back as minister of citizens’ services and open government. Richmond Liberal Naomi Yamamoto lost her advanced education ministry portfolio and was named minister of state for small business.
A surprise addition is Ralph Sultan, 79, who was elected in 2001 and has never held a cabinet position.
Sultan is now the minister of state for seniors, prompting a cheer when he stood to accept his post.
“Yeah, Ralphie,” Bond called out.
Sultan, who has three degrees from Harvard University, was also chief economist of the Royal Bank of Canada.
THE DAILY NEWS/THE CANADIAN PRESS