The Central Okanagan’s representation in the B.C. cabinet has been cut in half.
While Kelowna-Mission MLA Steve Thomson was re-appointed to an enlarged ministry that now includes forests and lands, as well as his former natural resources operations portfolio, Westside-Kelowna MLA Ben Stewart, the former agriculture minister, was dropped from the cabinet by incoming premier Christy Clark.
But Stewart did not come away empty handed. He was named the Liberal Party whip and given a seat on the powerful planning and policy cabinet committee.
He was also named to the cabinet’s legislative review committee, as was this area’s third Liberal MLA, Norm Letnick.
Thomson, in addition to returning to cabinet, will also chair the environment and land use cabinet committee.
“I’m pretty excited,” said Thomson, shortly after being sworn in along with his cabinet colleagues by Lt.-Gov. Stephen Point at Government House in Victoria Monday afternoon. “I think (combining forests, lands and natural resources management) is a natural fit.”
The former forests minister, Pat Bell, was reassigned to the energy and mines portfolio, a ministry Thomson was asked to oversee during the recent Liberal leadership campaign.
Thomson said having Bell remain in cabinet, in a ministry that will likely be closely associated with the one he now manages, will be helpful.
Describing forestry in B.C. as currently being in a period of recovery, he said expanding markets for B.C. wood in Asia are helping bring the industry back in this province.
Thomson was one of 17 cabinet ministers named by Clark Monday, a smaller cabinet than the previous one under former premier Gordon Campbell. It had 23 ministers.
In her remarks after being sworn in as B.C.’s 35th premier, Clark said the reduced size of the cabinet was a sign of her government’s commitment to be frugal with the public’s money.
“Today we are charting a new course for B.C.,” said Clark. And, continuing on her promise to focus on families, she said her government will “put families at the centre of all (government) decisions.”
One of the most viable faces not included in the new cabinet was former finance minister Colin Hansen.
Seen by many as the public face of the controversial HST, Hansen’s job as finance minister was handed to Kevin Falcon, who came second to Clark in the leadership race. He was also named deputy premier.
Addressing what she believes is the biggest problem the public has with the HST, the way it was introduced, Clark said from now on the government will be more open about its plans.
“Our government will be open to the people of British Columbia. We will talk about our problems, we will set our priorities openly and we will work with citizens to find solutions,” Clark said.
“And we will explain why we make the decisions that we do. You may not always agree with us and all the decisions that we make but to the greatest degree possible, you won’t be surprised at the course that we take…”
During her leadership campaign, Clark said she wants the HST referendum moved forward to June 24 from September.
As for a new budget, that will likely not be tabled until after the result of the referendum is known.
The next scheduled provincial election is for May 2013, but Clark has said she may call one sooner, once she has a seat in the legislature.
Former premier Gordon Campbell resigned his Vancouver area seat Tuesday, one expected to be contested by Clark.