Kootenay East MLA Bill Bennett has made a return to the cabinet as B.C. Minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development.
Premier Christy Clark announced a cabinet shuffle Wednesday, September 5 at a swearing in ceremony at Government House in Victoria.
“It’s very gratifying on a personal level for the premier of the province to call (me) up and say she really wants me to be in her cabinet and that she has a lot of faith in me,” Bennett told The Townsman.
Bennett is one of five MLAs who did not have a cabinet seat before Wednesday’s shuffle.
The member for Kootenay East has been on the backbench since April 2011, when he returned to the Liberal caucus after a four-month hiatus.
In November 2010, he was booted from cabinet after criticizing then-Premier Gordon Campbell over the harmonized sales tax and calling for Campbell to step down.
Prior to his ousting, Bennett was Minister of Energy from June to October 2010. He was Minister of Community and Rural Development from June 2009 to June 2010; and Minister of Tourism, Culture and the Arts from June 2008 to June 2009. Bennett also had a two-year stint from 2005 to 2007 as Minister of State for Mining.
This latest posting will combine two of those former positions: community affairs, and arts and culture.
“For me, it’s a bit like coming home. I’m very comfortable and I’ll be able to get into the job quite quickly with very little transition,” said Bennett.
The Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development is responsible for local government, sports and recreation, property assessment, arts and culture programs, and community gaming grant eligibility.
Some of its major agencies include the B.C. Assessment Authority, the B.C. Arts Council and the Provincial Capital Commission.
“It’s also an opportunity for me to serve the people of my riding as a minister,” said Bennett. “When you are at the cabinet table you get a chance to voice your concerns and represent the perspective of your constituents. These issues that come up are everything from health care to education to social services to land use to grizzly bear hunting – all of the issues that people in the region care about.”
In his new role, Bennett will give a keynote speech at the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention later this month, where elected officials from local governments gather to discuss provincial matters.
Bennett is preparing to spend much of the coming eight months on the road, visiting B.C. communities.
“Premier Clark has specifically asked me to work with rural B.C. as much as I possibly can,” he said.
On Wednesday, the premier also pledged to make life more affordable for families and formed a cabinet working group focused on family affordability. Bennett was appointed vice chair of the group.
“There has been a lot of pressure over the past few years on the middle class. Real estate prices are high, taxes are high, the cost of living has gone up. Especially if you are raising younger children, it’s a real challenge. So our committee is going to be tasked with finding ways to make life more affordable,” said Bennett.
The new cabinet makes up Clark’s team leading up to the May 2013 provincial election. The shuffle became necessary after several high-profile ministers announced in the past week they will not seek re-election. Among those MLAs were former finance minister Kevin Falcon, education minister George Abbott and transportation minister Blair Lekstrom.
“All this talk about the exodus of B.C. Liberals is nonsense,” said Bennett. “There are no more people retiring now than is normal. In fact, there are fewer cabinet ministers retiring now than is normal going into an election.”
Long-time B.C. cabinet minister Mike de Jong has been given the finance portfolio.
Premier Clark has also given promotions to 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.
Both Bennett and Moira Stilwell will return to cabinet after absences since Clark took over as Liberal 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.
With files from Canadian Press