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B.C. Premier Gordon Cambell announces a cabinet shuffle on Oct. 25, 2010. (Deddeda Stemler/The Canadian Press/Deddeda Stemler/The Canadian Press)
B.C. Premier Gordon Cambell announces a cabinet shuffle on Oct. 25, 2010. (Deddeda Stemler/The Canadian Press/Deddeda Stemler/The Canadian Press)

Gordon Campbell shuffles deck to put focus on economy Add to ...

Premier Gordon Campbell set out to refurbish his economic credentials on Monday with a cabinet restructuring plus the appointment of a new top mandarin with a strong fiscal background.

Former finance deputy Paul Taylor replaces Martyn Brown as chief of staff, sidelining the Premier's senior strategist of 13 years. Mr. Brown is now deputy minister for a new trade and tourism portfolio, one of three ministries realigned to attend to the needs of the province's slow economic recovery.

The cabinet shuffle sets the stage for Mr. Campbell's televised speech on Wednesday night that aims to address his sagging political fortunes. The Premier indicated he will play to his strength - the economy - in a bid to defuse voter anger over the introduction of the harmonized sales tax.

Mr. Campbell told reporters he owes voters a better explanation for why he introduced the tax. But he added: "We went through an election just a few months ago and people said they wanted us to work hard to keep our economy strong and encourage investment, and that's exactly what we are doing."

The cabinet shuffle was not about new faces - just one MLA was elevated from the backbench - and Mr. Campbell didn't even share the stage with his cabinet for the announcement. Instead Stephanie Cadieux was sworn into cabinet privately before Mr. Campbell stepped out of his office to speak briefly with the media.

Mr. Campbell said he asked Mr. Brown to leave the Premier's office because he is the best person in the bureaucracy to develop the province's important Asia Pacific connections.

"It's a personal loss for me, but it's a major item on our agenda. to move forward with that Asia Pacific initiative," Mr. Campbell said. "He understands what we are trying to accomplish, he understands what British Columbia can offer the world."

Veteran political scientist Norman Ruff said Mr. Brown's move is significant. The intensely loyal Mr. Brown has been the Premier's chief spin doctor, whip and gatekeeper since Mr. Campbell's days in opposition.

"One gets the sense these are the closing days of the Campbell administration, that the glory days are over," Prof. Ruff said.

Mr. Campbell overhauled 16 of 24 ministries but left key ministers in place, including Kevin Falcon in Health and Colin Hansen, who has absorbed much of the heat over the HST for the past 15 months, in Finance.

Mr. Hansen will have help defending the HST in next year's referendum - John Les is the new parliamentary secretary for HST information - but sounded eager to have a different issue to talk about.

"It's around the economic ministries, I think there will be a lot more drive to get things happening even faster. It's no secret we have had some frustrations with the time it takes to get projects approved in British Columbia," he said.

To that end, Steve Thomson will head up the new Natural Resource Operations Ministry that aims to streamline land-use decisions, from forestry and mine permits to wildlife habitat management and independent power production. The Ministry of Regional Economic and Skills Development, under Moira Stilwell, will merge labour market policy with colleges and trades education, while Margaret MacDiarmid will head the new Tourism, Trade and Investment Ministry.

The Premier did signal a new direction in education. George Abbott, who has earned a reputation as a diligent minister who can work with - even disarm - some of the government's toughest adversaries, takes on the education portfolio just as contract talks ramp up with the B.C. Teachers' Federation.

A former schoolteacher, Mr. Abbott held out an olive branch to the teachers' union.

"To extract reforms or transformation that will really serve us well and serve our students well in the future, it's really important for me that an education minister build a relationship with the B.C. Teachers' Federation and their leadership," he said.

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