Kootenay East’s newly re-elected MLA Bill Bennett has been given dual responsibilities in the new cabinet of Premier Christy Clark, announced on Friday, June 7.
After winning the May 14 provincial election, the B.C. Liberals will return to the legislature with a majority government this summer. When they do, Bill Bennett will be there as the head of the new Ministry of Energy and Mines, as well as being the chair of a new Core Review committee.
“I will be busy, but it gives my constituents a tremendous opportunity for influence in government,” MLA Bennett told the Townsman on Friday. “It’s really good for the people that I represent to have me in a position where I have that kind of influence within government. And it shows the Premier has confidence in me.”
As Minister of Energy and Mines, Bennett will be in familiar territory. Since he was first elected to represent Kootenay East in 2001, Bennett has served as Minister of Energy from June to October 2010, and Minister of State for Mining from 2005 to 2007.
Before last month’s election, Bennett was Minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development, a position he had held since September 2012. 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.
Now, Bennett will be responsible for a significant portfolio. The Ministry of Energy and Mines oversees several important agencies, including BC Hydro, Clean Energy B.C. and the Columbia Power Corporation, as well as B.C.’s prosperous mining industry, including Teck’s Elk Valley operations.
“It’s a big file and it’s a very important part of the opportunity that our government sees to grow the economy. Mining has the potential to really grow the economy. It has the potential to create high paying jobs, it has the potential to generate economic activity in parts of the province where things are a bit slow,” said Bennett.
In this role, he will work closely with the Minister of Environment to help Teck resolve the selenium issues in the Elk River watershed.
On Friday, it was also announced that MLA Bennett will lead a core review process for the B.C. government, which will see him at the head of a committee that will analyze every aspect of government.
“The purpose of this is to examine what we do and how we spend tax dollars and determine whether all of our priorities are what they should be. Maybe we are spending money on things we don’t need to. Maybe there are other priorities that are higher where should be directing money that’s currently being spent on one thing to another thing. It’s an across-government exercise and it’s going to be a huge job,” said Bennett.
A core review was last done in 2001 when Bennett was first elected, he said.
“There is never enough money for everything, so as government we make decisions every day that we are going to spend money on this but not on that. So this is an opportunity for ministries and Crown corporations to come forward and tell us what they do and show us the numbers,” Bennett explained. “Then my committee will determine whether in fact we are going to tell the minister or the Crown corporation that in fact you are actually going to stop spending money on some things and we are going to take that money and spend it someplace else.”
The cabinet includes a mixture of seasoned ministers and new face.
Rich Coleman returns as deputy premier and is the minister in charge of the new portfolio of natural gas development.
Suzanne Anton, best known as a former Vancouver city councillor who was also once a Crown prosecutor, becomes the province’s new attorney general.
Mike de Jong returns as finance minister and Terry Lake, the former environment minister, now takes on the health portfolio.
Other new faces include Amrik Virk, a longtime senior Mountie who has sat on the board of Kwantlen College and now becomes minister of advanced education, and former Langley mayor Peter Fassbender, a former school trustee who is now the minister of education.
“My new team has the experience and the fresh perspectives that
government needs, representing all regions of the province and united
by a common commitment to work on behalf of every British Columbian,”
said Premier Clark.
The new cabinet will be formally sworn in on Monday, June 10.
With files from Canadian Press