Backbenchers restless
as premier keeps make-do cabinet

Vaughn Palmer, Vancouver Sun, Sept. 15, 2011


Premier Christy Clark talked with the media in Vancouver
on August 22, 2011. Photo: Wayne Leidenfrost, PNG.


VICTORIA — When Premier Christy Clark named a new cabinet six months ago, it was generally recognized as a short-term makeover for an election expected sooner rather than later.

Clark dumped nine ministers from the lineup she inherited, reassigned most of the survivors to new portfolios, and reduced the overall ranks a quarter, leaving only a handful of new openings for cabinet wannabes.

Still, everyone understood that the intention was to clear the decks for an election expected in late summer or early fall. Those who were discarded or passed over consoled themselves that they might make the cut next time.

But the wait-and-see rationale was already wearing thin when Clark made it official, two weeks ago, that the early election was off and she would instead stick with the written-into-legislation preference for May 14, 2013.

Straightaway the electoral horizon was extended from a matter of weeks to a year and a half. Too long to put off the pressures for change in the cabinet lineup, particularly given the way those were compounded by recent developments.

Barry Penner quit as attorney-general late last month, a departure prompted by family considerations and pressure from B.C. Liberal headquarters to say whether he was running in an election then expected to be called in a month or so.

The premier responded with a stopgap appointment, elevating Solicitor-General Shirley Bond to a dual portfolio as attorney-general. But Bond has let everyone know that she would happily surrender the A-G’s title as soon as the premier is ready to fill it with somebody — anybody — else.

Then there’s the case of Harry Bloy. Famously the only Liberal MLA to support Clark for the leadership, he was rewarded with the ministry of social development. Third largest in government and one of the most challenging, given responsibilities for income assistance and other programs for the most needy citizens.

Bloy stumbled out of the gate and, despite an extraordinary application of time and effort by government staff to bring him up to speed, he has been stumbling ever since.

Take what happened Wednesday when the Liberals injected a long overdue $8.9 million into the ministry’s program for adults with developmental disabilities.

First came a press release, with canned quotes attributed to Bloy. Then a “technical briefing” by two senior officials from Community Living B.C., the overseer agency for the program, with Bloy nowhere in sight.

Only after all that did reporters get access to the minister himself, on a limited basis. Meaning telephone interviews, with Bloy on a speaker phone and his deputy minister Mark Sieben alongside ready to correct the record.

Sad really. Clark did her supporter no favours by promoting him beyond his abilities. But not surprisingly, such an undeserving spectacle has multiplied the restlessness in the backbench.

One caught a glimpse of it last month when Iain Black, dumped from cabinet by Clark in March, announced he would resign his seat to head up the Vancouver Board of Trade, a better paying position where his skills would likewise be more appreciated.

Black intends to leave toward the end of the month, thereby starting the clock on a byelection that will have to be called within six months, held within seven.

Watching him go, one had to think of some of the other capable hands in the backbench, Moira Stilwell foremost among them.

A physician trained in nuclear medicine, Stilwell was recruited by then premier Gordon Campbell and given a senior portfolio. She also mounted a thoughtful, outspoken campaign for the party leadership. Still, Clark dumped her from the lineup. Hard to think that Stilwell will be all that content in the backbench for the next 18 months.

There’s lately been some speculation that the premier, having decided to put off the election, might shuffle the cabinet instead.

Restore Mike de Jong, idling as minister of health, to the attorney-general’s ministry. Demote Bloy to a ministry more suited to his abilities, presuming such a barrel-bottom-scraping posting could be found.

Elevate Stilwell, and another backbencher or two (Margaret MacDiarmid? Bill Bennett?) to an expanded lineup. Maybe bring back Penner, a keener if ever there was one, to finish out his term at the cabinet table.

But as of this week, word was being passed that the premier is preoccupied with other priorities.

Next week is the big rollout of her promised jobs agenda. Then comes a week of schmoozing with local government leaders at the annual convention of the Union of B.C. Municipalities. The house itself convenes after that, starting with an Oct. 3 throne speech and wrapping, as is common with fall sessions if they are called, the last Thursday in November.

Consequently, and barring a surprise appointment as attorney-general, the current cabinet is the one the premier will take into the fall session. That probably means a rough ride for a less-than-optimum lineup, starting with Bloy who may as well add the word “hapless” to his business cards.

Harry Bloy is very stupid, very dishonest and very typical of the MLAs
who serve B.C.’s police status quo. To read more about hapless Harry Bloy’s
blundering and the unelected sociopath who controls him, click here.
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