B.C. Premier Christy Clark will revamp her cabinet in coming days, after the sudden resignation of finance minister Kevin Falcon and an expected announcement from Education Minister George Abbott that he too will not seek re-election next year.
Late Wednesday, The Canadian Press reported that Children and Family Development Minister Mary McNeil and John Les, parliamentary secretary to the premier, will also announce on Thursday they won’t seek re-election in the May provincial election.
But although Ms. Clark billed the pending overhaul as a “renewal” and said it had been planned for some time, the shuffle and Mr. Falcon’s departure were taken as evidence of a party in disarray and a boost for the B.C. Conservative Party.
“It represents a major loss, and a loss to the right wing of the party, where there’s leakage into the B.C. Conservatives,” veteran political observer Norman Ruff said on Wednesday. “It’s a major blow and gives the appearance that they [the Liberals] are a fragile house of cards.”
Mr. Falcon, whose spiky hairstyle and matching political approach have been a fixture on the B.C. scene since he was elected as MLA for Surrey-Cloverdale in 2001, on Wednesday resigned as finance minister and said he would not run in next year’s election.
He remains an MLA.
Mr. Falcon said he was leaving politics for personal reasons – he and his wife are expecting a second child – and tried to play down the notion that he was leaving as a result of the party’s current slump, saying that he supports Ms. Clark and the Liberal Party.
“A year before an election, or almost a year before an election, we rarely are leading in the polls,” Mr. Falcon said at a news conference in Vancouver. “The fact that we’re behind in the polls is not surprising at all.”
Recent polls have the Liberals badly trailing the NDP. The next provincial election is in May, 2013.
Mr. Falcon’s departure comes after announcements by several other Liberal MLAs, including Speaker Bill Barisoff, that they would not seek re-election. Mr. Abbott, the Education Minister, is expected to announce as early as Thursday that he will not seek re-election.
Both Mr. Falcon and Mr. Abbott held cabinet posts under former B.C. premier Gordon Campbell and both took a run at leading the party after he retired, losing to Ms. Clark in last year’s leadership vote.
Ms. Clark, who took a break from politics before a comeback last year, said she respected Mr. Falcon’s decision.
“This was a family decision for Kevin and it’s very similar, in some ways, to the one that I made a number of years ago when I decided to leave government in 2005,” Ms. Clark said at a press conference in Vancouver.
“It’s a tough calling in politics when you are trying to think about how you are going to look after your family.”
Mr. Falcon held challenging portfolios, including health, but failed to persuade a skeptical public about the benefits of a harmonized sales tax.
Mr. Campbell introduced the HST in 2009 but angry voters turfed it in a referendum last year.
“He’s had some very tough files to deal with,” said Jock Finlayson, executive vice-president of the Business Council of British Columbia. “One, is going through the referendum process on HST, and then having to do all the work associated with phasing out HST and bringing back the provincial sales tax. … It’s a terrible mess that’s been created, but I think he’s handled it about as well as you could expect.”
Mr. Falcon’s biggest impact may have been as transportation minister, when he championed big projects, including the new Port Mann Bridge and the remodelled Sea to Sky Highway, said Ryan Beedie, who has supported Mr. Falcon politically and is president of the Vancouver-based Beedie Group.
“These were substantial, massive projects, sometimes in the face of opposition and political challenges,“ said Mr. Beedie, who also praised Mr. Falcon’s performance as finance minister. saying Mr. Falcon’s emphasis on balancing the budget has benefited the province.
“This is a place where there is confidence to invest – B.C., relative to provinces in Canada and other places in the world, has done very well,” Mr. Beedie said.