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.

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

Just Posted

What’s Up: Things to see and do on Family Day

There’s plenty of fun to be had across the West Kootenay this coming long weekend!

Province announces $23 million for upgrades at Kootenay Boundary Regional Hospital

West Kootenay-Boundary Regional Hospital District Board has yet to review the provincial proposal

Call a foul on cancer with the Pink Whistle Campaign

Local basketball referees are raising money for cancer research

UPDATE: Two-car accident closes Highway 3A at Thrums

Road expected to open for single-lane alternating traffic at 2 p.m.

Trail Curling Club set for BC senior championships

Volunteers step up for BC Senior Curling championships at Trail Curling Club

B.C. students win Great Waters Challenge video contest

Video, mural and song about saving the salmon claims the top prize

Ammonia leak shuts down curling club in Nelson

It’s not yet clear when the leak was detected

Pavelski’s 31st goal helps Sharks top Canucks 3-2

Vancouver one point out of second NHL wild-card spot

East Kootenay illicit drug overdose deaths lowest in B.C.

Local expert credits harm reduction efforts; declares support for legalization of opioids

Eight cases of measles confirmed in Vancouver outbreak

Coastal Health official say the cases stem from the French-language Ecole Jules Verne Secondary

Ontario police field complaints over Amber Alert for missing girl, 11, found dead

Some said the Amber Alert issued late Thursday for Riya Rajkumar disrupted their sleep

Former B.C. premier Gordon Campbell accused of sexual touching

Accuser went to police, interviewed by Britian’s Daily Telegraph

B.C. couple attacked with acid, slashed with knife in Vietnam

Warning, graphic images: Man has burns on 80 per cent of his body, slashed with knife

Northern B.C. First Nation clan says ancient tools found at pipeline work site

Archeologists from the Smithsonian Institute estimate one of the stones found dates back up to 3500 years

Most Read