VICTORIA – Premier Christy Clark says she’s put together an election-ready cabinet that will place an intense focus on creating jobs and helping families in the months leading up to British Columbia’s spring election.
Clark’s B.C. Liberals are trailing badly behind the Opposition New Democrats in recent public opinion polls, but she said Wednesday her renewed and stable cabinet, with its jobs and families emphasis, will rebuild a winning formula in B.C.
“I think the work this cabinet has done over the last year-and-a-half, and the work that the cabinet has yet to do is going to set the foundation for us to be re-elected, absolutely,” she said at a news conference following the introduction of her new cabinet.
Clark said the cabinet will “stay focused like a laser beam on the creation of jobs.”
Clark appointed veteran cabinet minister Mike de Jong as the new finance minister, saying the former health minister from the Fraser Valley will devote his energies to ensuring the province delivers a balanced budget next year.
“I am committed to the principle that government should not be spending anymore of the taxpayers’ money than it receives,” said de Jong. “We’ve got a new cabinet, new energy, new enthusiasm, but the challenges remain.”
De Jong also returns as Liberal house leader, a post he held previously.
Clark also promoted Mary Polak, who now takes on transportation, and Margaret MacDiarmid, a family doctor and former head of the B.C. Medical Association, who becomes the minister of health.
Don McRae was elevated from agriculture minister to education.
Rich Coleman is now Clark’s deputy premier and retains his job in energy and mines after declaring Tuesday he would stay to fight in the next election.
“We were elected to make sure we are looking after B.C. families,” Clark said. “We remain focused on that. I know that we have a lot of work ahead of us. But it’s work that is worth doing.”
Opposition New Democrat Leader Adrian Dix said appears more interested in rejuvenating her government through a cabinet shuffle than helping British Columbians through more skills training programs and improvements to health care and education.
“I don’t think the issues in B.C. are about who’s in the Liberal cabinet,” he said. “I think this particular cabinet shuffle has principally been made necessary by the political challenges of the Liberal Party.”
In the days prior to Clark’s cabinet shuffle, several high-profile Liberals announced they wouldn’t be running for re-election next May.
The political retirements included former cabinet ministers Kevin Falcon, George Abbott, Blair Lekstrom, John Les and Mary McNeil. A total of 16 Liberals have said they won’t seek re-election.
Dix also took a shot at Clark’s statement that her cabinet is an example of Liberal government stability. Instead, he said instability has resulted in five different ministers overseeing the family-oriented Community Living BC file over the past two years.
Eleven cabinet ministers have managed the Insurance Corp. of B.C. over the past three-and-a-half years, he noted.
Clark returned both Bill Bennett and Moira Stilwell to cabinet after absences. Bennett becomes minister of community, sport and cultural development while Stilwell takes over the Ministry of Social Development.
Bennett had been a minister in former premier Gordon Campbell’s government, but he was ejected from caucus after a verbal tirade against Campbell, demanding that the premier quit. He rejoined caucus after Clark became leader.
Stephanie Cadieux takes on the tough job of overseeing the Ministry of Children and Family Development, and Shirley Bond retains her job as minister of Justice and Attorney General.
Terry Lake in environment and Steve Thomson in forests retain their positions. Pat Bell stays as jobs minister, but also becomes minister of labour.
Clark said her cabinet will continue to ensure the province gets maximum benefits from its energy resources and will continue to make trade inroads in Asia.
She also promised her government will continue to make life more affordable for families.
“We will balance our budget next year,” she promised.
Kelowna-area Liberal Norm Letnick was promoted from the backbenches to make his first appearance in cabinet as minister of agriculture.
Okanagan Liberal Ben Stewart, dropped from cabinet last spring, is back as minister of citizens’ services and open government. Richmond Liberal Naomi Yamamoto lost her advanced education ministry portfolio and was named minister of state for small business.
A surprise addition to the cabinet is Ralph Sultan, 79, who was elected in 2001 and has never held a cabinet position.
Sultan is now the minister of state for seniors, prompting a cheer when he stood to accept his post.
“Yeah Ralphie,” Bond called out.
Sultan, who has three degrees from Harvard University, was also chief economist of the Royal Bank of Canada.
The cabinet shuffle was necessary after several ministers announced last week they wouldn’t be running in the 2013 election, including high-profile members Kevin Falcon and George Abbott.
The premier told her cabinet they had a lot of work to do in the coming months.
Note to readers: This is a corrected version. An earlier version misspelled Don McRae’s last name.