Christy Clark has been premier for more than two years, but says her first term has really just begun with the appointment of a cabinet after a come-from-behind election win last month.
On Friday, Ms. Clark announced a 19-member cabinet that mixes rookie MLAs in high-profile posts with Gordon Campbell-era stalwarts who stood by her over the difficult years since she became leader of the B.C. Liberals in March, 2011.
Throughout, Ms. Clark was sometimes compared unfavorably to Mr. Campbell by those who said she was operating under his shadow, but she genially made it clear Friday that this was her government, secured through a tough campaign against the B.C. NDP.
The NDP entered the race with a lead of up to 20 points over the Liberals, who were seeking a fourth term, but ended up with 34 seats in the 85-seat legislature compared to 49 for the Liberals. There’s an independent and one Green member.
“In terms of the direction of the government, we were elected on the mandate I set out in the election,” Ms. Clark told reporters, citing a jobs plan, a balanced budget and growth in the liquefied natural gas sector. “That’s what we ran on and that’s what we’re going to deliver.”
During a ceremony overlooking the harbour at the Canada Place complex in downtown Vancouver, Ms. Clark said her new team is based on experience and “fresh eyes.”
“For me this is a first term, and it is the first time I have been elected as premier in the province,” said Ms. Clark, who was defeated in her own Vancouver-Point Grey riding. She is looking at a by-election in the Kelowna region after an MLA there agreed to give up his seat.
Ms. Clark said she wanted to keep the cabinet to a pre-election size – there were 18 key ministers plus Ms. Clark. But she also wanted to balance an interest among voters in bringing new perspectives to government decisions.
To that end, the outgoing mayor of the City of Langley – Peter Fassbender – becomes the new education minister charged with negotiating a 10-year contract with teachers over the objections of their unions.
Ms. Clark said Mr. Fassbender has a knack for finding agreement among parties a long way apart, and she considers the re-election of the Liberals a mandate to forge on with the contract. Of the assignment, Mr. Fassbender gamely said, “I love challenges.”
Suzanne Anton, a former Vancouver city councillor defeated in a bid to become mayor in 2011 and then in a bid to win her first Liberal nomination, becomes the new justice minister and attorney-general. Ms. Anton was once a Crown attorney. Amrik Virk, an RCMP inspector entering provincial politics for the first time through a Surrey-area riding, is the new advanced-education minister.
Todd Stone, CEO of a Kamloops-area software company, inherits the challenging transportation ministry with the responsibility for figuring out how to raise funds for billions of dollars in Lower Mainland mass-transit projects and enacting Ms. Clark’s election-campaign commitment to hold a referendum on such revenue options.
Asked about the risk of relying on rookies, Ms. Clark said that if she never appointed anyone new to cabinet, the status quo would endure. “British Columbians voted for change,” she said. “To me, part of what British Columbians said to us is we want to make sure there are some fresh faces and some fresh perspectives at the table.”
Still, Ms. Clark kept such veterans as Rich Coleman, Shirley Bond and Terry Lake in key roles. After an election in which the economy was key for the Liberals, she is also keeping Finance Minister Mike de Jong.
On the contentious Gateway file, Ms. Clark named former transportation minister Mary Polak as environment minister, placing her at the forefront of government negotiation on the issue. Ms. Polak replaces Terry Lake, who takes on the demanding job of health minister. “He did a fantastic job on the environment,” Ms. Clark said.
In a break with tradition, Friday’s announcement only named the cabinet members. They will be sworn in on Monday in Victoria before their first cabinet meeting.
B.C. cabinet as announced by Premier Christy Clark Friday:
- Rich Coleman: Deputy Premier, Natural Gas Development, Housing
- Mike de Jong: Finance, Government House Leader
- Steve Thompson: Forests
- Terry Lake: Health
- John Rustad: Aboriginal Relations
- Peter Fassbender: Education
- Amrik Virk: Advanced Education
- Todd Stone: Transportation and Infrastructure, Deputy House Leader
- Don McRae: Social Development
- Andrew Wilkinson: Technology, Innovation and Citizen Services
- Stephanie Cadieux: Children and Family Development
- Bill Bennett: Energy and Mines
- Coralee Oakes: Community Sport and Cultural Development
- Teresa Wat: International Trade, Multiculturalism
- Suzanne Anton: Justice, Attorney-General
- Shirley Bond: Jobs, Labour
- Mary Polak: Environment
- Pat Pimm: Agriculture
- Naomi Yamamoto: Tourism and Small Business