B.C. Premier Christy Clark took office Monday, putting a new face on the campaign to save the harmonized sales tax.
Seeking to rebrand the BC Liberal government, Ms. Clark introduced a new, smaller cabinet that she promised will be more frugal with taxpayers’ money and better engaged citizens by bringing “government operations into the sunlight.”
Notably, she dumped Colin Hansen, who introduced the unpopular tax shortly after the 2009 spring election, from the cabinet entirely. It was a signal that Ms. Clark was embracing a different style of government from that of former premier Gordon Campbell, who announced his departure last November due to the public backlash over the tax.
“We will explain why we make the decisions that we do,” Ms. Clark said, in a veiled reference to the way the HST was imposed on an unsuspecting province. “You won’t be surprised at the course we take.”
But the absence of Mr. Hansen from the cabinet table also fuels speculation she may ask the former finance minister to step aside so that she can run in a by-election. “The only job he’s interested in is making sure this government is re-elected,” Ms. Clark said when asked about the terms of Mr. Hansen’s departure from cabinet.
Mr. Hansen, speaking to reporters, would only say that he hasn’t yet made up his mind if he will seek re-election. “I will continue to make a contribution as a member of the legislative assembly,” he said. Last week he insisted he is not stepping down to allow Ms. Clark a shot at his seat.
And, for finishing second in the BC Liberal leadership race, Kevin Falcon earned the one prize he didn’t want: He was sworn in as B.C.’s new Finance Minister. His immediate challenge is to help the government win the referendum on the tax that has been promised on June 24.
“We have to get through the HST referendum, which is obviously going to be a big battle for us,” Ms. Clark told reporters. “We want to win the HST referendum because it’s good for the economy.”
Mr. Falcon, who had just weeks ago said he was not interested in the number-crunching demands of the finance portfolio, joked that Ms. Clark and his friends in the business community were very persuasive.
But he insisted he doesn’t see himself as a salesman for the HST.
“I think it’s very important we not do a sales job on the HST, but we do an information job, that we give people information, good and bad, on the HST.” As a candidate for the leadership, Mr. Falcon said he’d like to reduce the tax rate. On Monday, he said that idea is still on the table.
Ms. Clark was sworn in at a packed reception at Government House in Victoria, filling the room with laughter when she tripped up once as she took her oath of office. A number of the MLAs who were dropped from cabinet were present.
Ms. Clark won the BC Liberal leadership on Feb. 26 as the only outsider on the ballot – the only candidate who was not a current member of the government. She promised to create a different style of government and campaigned on a “families first” agenda that will see tax cuts for low-income earners. She also said the number one priority is to help drive job creation.
On Monday, she promised a stronger focus on education, which she has been placed back in the hands of George Abbott, who had resigned from the education portfolio to run for the leadership.
But one of the toughest assignments, after finance, is likely the Health Ministry. Mike de Jong, who finished fourth in the leadership race, must now wrestle with Ms. Clark’s commitment to reduce the rate of increase in health-care spending to the rate of inflation.
It is a goal that can be realized over time, Mr. de Jong said cautiously on Monday. But he noted it is an objective that no provincial government to date has met.
Full list of B.C.'s new cabinet ministers
Premier Hon. Christy Clark
Deputy Premier and Minister of Finance Hon. Kevin Falcon
Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation Hon. Mary Polak
Minister of Advanced Education Hon. Naomi Yamamoto
Minister of Agriculture Hon. Don McRae
Attorney General Hon. Barry Penner
Minister of Children and Family Development Hon. Mary McNeil
Minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development Hon. Ida Chong
Minister of Education Hon. George Abbott
Minister of Energy and Mines (minister responsible for Housing) Hon. Rich Coleman
Minister of Environment Hon. Terry Lake
Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Hon. Steve Thomson
Minister of Health Hon. Michael de Jong
Minister of Jobs, Tourism and Innovation Hon. Pat Bell
Minister of Labour, Citizens' Services and Open Government Hon. Stephanie Cadieux
Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Hon. Shirley Bond
Minister of Social Development (minister responsible for multiculturalism) Hon. Harry Bloy
Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Hon. Blair Lekstrom