The former MLA who quit his Okanagan riding so Premier Christy Clark could run in a by-election there has been appointed to a $150,000-a-year job as B.C.’s new investment and trade commissioner to Asia.
Ms. Clark announced Ben Stewart’s appointment Monday, presenting the former agriculture minister at a news conference in downtown Vancouver.
Also Monday came word that former B.C. Liberal leader Gordon Wilson, who gave Ms. Clark a key election endorsement, had received an appointment as “LNG – Buy B.C. advocate,” while former solicitor-general John Les has been appointed to the Farm Industry Review Board. Also, former NDP MLA Gwen O’Mahony was appointed to the board of the University of the Fraser Valley.
Based in Beijing, Mr. Stewart will have a particular focus on China, South Korea and Japan as he promotes B.C. trade and economic interests in Asia and works to strengthen ties with foreign governments.
“It’s not a job where you get to sit back and host dinners. It’s a job where you’re selling British Columbia every single day in the capitals all across the vast continent of Asia,” Ms. Clark told a news conference. “It’s going to be hard work.”
But the NDP opposition said the appointment came off as patronage.
“This is the equivalent of a Senate appointment for Mr. Stewart,” said Bruce Ralston, NDP critic for international trade and Asia Pacific strategy. “Let’s just hope he’s better than some of the senators in the news lately.”
Mr. Stewart’s assignment comes just weeks before Ms. Clark heads to Asia for a 13-day trade mission. She said she thought about “upping our game” in Asia during the summer, and called Mr. Stewart in September.
“We need a representative in Asia who is known to have access to power and government here in British Columbia,” she said. “Ben is also a man whose counsel I value very highly and someone in whom I have absolute trust.”
Before being elected in 2009, Mr. Stewart founded and built Quail’s Gate winery in the Okanagan – a mix of government and business experience Ms. Clark said made Mr. Stewart well-suited for the job.
“I don’t know if you looked around the province of British Columbia if you could find anybody who could do this job better,” she said.
Mr. Ralston said it isn’t clear that the government hired the best person for the job because there was no competitive process to vet candidates.
Ms. Clark was defeated in the May general election in her Vancouver-Point Grey riding. Mr. Stewart stepped down from his Westside-Kelowna riding so Ms. Clark could run in a by-election. Ms. Clark subsequently won the by-election.
Some in the business community welcomed the appointment.
Greg D’Avignon, president of the Business Council of B.C., said Mr. Stewart will do well given his understanding of how government works and persistence he showed in various files as a minister.
Rick Jeffery, CEO of Coast Forest Products, said Mr. Stewart will be an improvement on the status quo of trade staff and occasional visiting ministers. “Having government there in a manner that allows you to speak, government to government, is invaluable,” he said.
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