Cabinet rookies handed hot files

Newcomers have some of the thorniest assignments in the B.C. government, and this is the time for unpopular moves

Transportation Minister Todd Stone takes oath of office from Lieutenant-Governor Judith Guichon.

Transportation Minister Todd Stone takes oath of office from Lieutenant-Governor Judith Guichon.

VICTORIA – There are nine new faces in Premier Christy Clark’s cabinet, seven of them elected to the B.C. legislature for the first time on May 14.

They have been handed some of the hottest problems, and Clark’s marching orders in “mandate letters” for each ministry. And this is the start of a four-year term, when unpopular reforms are attempted.

Take Amrik Virk, the former RCMP inspector from Surrey who’s suddenly in charge of advanced education. His mandate includes: “Review the student loan program to make recommendations for improvement to ensure the loan program is meeting the needs of today’s students.”

Virk must also set targets to “match the skills we need with the skills we are graduating” and require post-secondary schools to “ensure student seats are being filled.”

B.C. can’t afford to keep cranking out university grads with $50,000 in debt and no job prospects in a system that’s subsidized 65 per cent.

Virk will be working closely with Education Minister Peter Fassbender, who must “ensure seamless transitions” from high school to the workforce for post-secondary trades and apprenticeships.

In his spare time, Fassbender is to overhaul the school district bargaining agency and achieve a 10-year peace with the teachers’ union.

Justice Minister Suzanne Anton has worked as a Crown prosecutor, so she’ll have some insight into the system that still grapples with Stanley Cup rioters from two summers ago.

Her orders are to get traffic tickets and other administrative penalties out of the courts, keep working on integrating police fiefdoms and generally treat the constipation that afflicts law enforcement today.

Oh, and get that new Okanagan prison built, to relieve a system that has inmates living in tents. And examine whether to spin off the Liquor Distribution Branch into a Crown corporation, a possible prelude to selling it.

Transportation Minister Todd Stone’s first test was a grilling by the Vancouver media. Yup, this Kamloops hayseed has been to the Big Smoke a few times, ridden that fancy SkyTrain and taken the odd ferry, too.

Now he has to impose the ferry route reductions that have been worked on by two previous ministers, and push Metro Vancouver through a referendum on ways to fund its own transit. If more tolls or taxes are going to be implemented, now is the time.

Coralee Oakes has made a political leap from Quesnel city hall to the Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development. One of her key tasks is to invent a framework for a “rural dividend” from liquefied natural gas development in northwestern B.C.

Oakes has to figure out how to “better provide provincial support” to sport and cultural organizations, but do it with no new money. All ministers have strict instructions to balance their lean budgets and take part in the latest “core review” to identify government functions that can be sold, delegated or shut down.

New Minister of International Trade Richmond’s Teresa Wat has to find a way to continue the growth of lumber and other exports to China, India and elsewhere on the Pacific Rim.

On top of that, the always-delicate softwood lumber agreement with the U.S. expires in three years. The last major eruption on that front was in 2009, when B.C. cut stumpage rates for remote coastal areas to give communities much-needed employment. The Americans were livid, just as they were with our beetle-kill harvesting efforts. And of course, the U.S.-directed environmental movement continues to target Canadian industries.

Third-term MLA John Rustad gets aboriginal relations, with specific instructions to deal with gas and perhaps oil pipelines through his Nechako Lakes constituency.

Tom Fletcher is legislative reporter and columnist for Black Press and BCLocalnews.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Coaches with the Juan de Fuca Minor Hockey association have had to get creative during their weekly practices to keep players interested and improving their skills without physical contact. (Damian Kowalewich photo)
West Shore minor hockey coach shares what it’s like on the ice without parents, fans

Most practices consist of relay races, goalie shots and passing drills

The Songhees Wellness Centre is a symbol of First Nations strength in the region. Representatives of local First Nations will soon play a greater role in decision making and governance relating to the Capital Regional District. (Courtesy Royal Roads University)
Capital Regional District to add First Nations representatives to advisory committees

Board approves bylaw, looks forward to Indigenous input on future decisions

Central Saanich will investigate ways in which the municipality along with funding partners Sidney and North Saanich can financially support the Panorama Recreation Centre. (Black Press Media File)
Central Saanich to spell out options for financially supporting Panorama Recreation Centre

Municipality looks for best use of COVID-19 restart grant worth some $3.5 million

Cindy Foggit plays the lead role of Eliza in Passion and Performance’s film production Eliza: An Adaption of a Christmas Carol. (Courtesy of Rachel Paish)
Victoria adult dance studio releases modern adaption of A Christmas Carol

Instead of usual stage performance, dance studio turns to film

Willow, a kitten belonging to a Victoria family, was rescued by firefighters on Thursday after she got stuck in a basement drain pipe. (City of Victoria/Twitter)
Victoria kitten stuck in basement drain pipe rescued by firefighters

Willow the cat on the mend, owner feeling ‘enormous gratitude’

Justin Kripps of Summerland and his team have competed in Olympic action and World Cup competitions in bobsleigh. (Jason Ransom-Canadian Olympic Comittee).
QUIZ: Are you ready for some winter sports?

It’s cold outside, but there are plenty of recreation opportunities in the winter months

(Phil McLachlan - Capital News)
‘Targeted’ shooting in Coquitlam leaves woman in hospital

The woman suffered non-life threatening injuries in what police believe to be a targeted shooting Saturday morning

JaHyung Lee, “Canada’s oldest senior” at 110 years old, received his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. He lives at Amenida Seniors Community in Newton. (Submitted photo: Amenida Seniors Community)
A unique-looking deer has been visiting a Nanoose Bay property with its mother. (Frieda Van der Ree photo)
A deer with 3 ears? Unique animal routinely visits B.C. property

Experts say interesting look may be result of an injury rather than an odd birth defect

Terry David Mulligan. (Submitted photo)
Podcast: Interview with longtime actor/broadcaster and B.C. resident Terry David Mulligan

Podcast: Talk includes TDM’s RCMP career, radio, TV, wine, Janis Joplin and much more

Chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam provides an update on the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa on Friday, Jan. 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada’s top doctor says to avoid non-essential travel as B.C. explores legal options

Premier John Horgan says he is seeking legal advice on whether it can limit interprovincial travel

Seasonal influenza vaccine is administered starting each fall in B.C. and around the world. (Langley Advance Times)
After 30,000 tests, influenza virtually nowhere to be found in B.C.

COVID-19 precautions have eliminated seasonal infection

Lilly and Poppy, two cats owned by Kalmar Cat Hotel ownder Donna Goodenough, both have cerebellAr hypoplasia, a genetic neurological condition that affects their ability to control their muscles and bones. Photo by Alistair Taylor – Campbell River Mirror
VIDEO: Wobbly Cats a riot of flailing legs and paws but bundles of love and joy to their owner

Woman urges others to not fear adopting cats with disabilities

Martin Luther King Jr. addresses the crowd during the march on Washington, D.C., in August of 1963. Courtesy photo
Government reinforces importance of anti-racism act on Black Shirt Day

B.C. Ministers say education “a powerful tool” in the fight for equity and equality

Most Read