Premier Christy Clark overhauled her cabinet on Wednesday and immediately challenged the 19-member team to cut costs for B.C. families.
Clark, who appointed cabinet veteran Mike de Jong as finance minister, indicated her government would consider creating tax breaks or reducing household expenses, such as insurance or electricity rates, before the provincial election on May 14, 2013.
"There is a whole range of things that government can do outside of tax policy that can make life more affordable," Clark said as she announced a new cabinet working group on family affordability.
NDP leader Adrian Dix applauded Clark's appointments, but said creating another committee was not the way to reduce people's financial burdens. "Surely, that should be a priority all the time," he said. "That type of move just shows that a government has been in power too long."
Forming a cabinet without experienced ministers such as Kevin Falcon, Blair Lekstrom and George Abbott, would be no easy task, said veteran political scientist Norman Ruff. All three have left the cabinet after saying they would not be running for re-election.
Ruff said de Jong, who takes over from Falcon, was the obvious choice for finance minister, considering his experience as minister in several departments, including attorney general, aboriginal affairs, health and forests. "He's very experienced and is now one of the key three people she's relying on," Ruff said.
But he also suggested Clark may have botched the public relations component of the cabinet shuffle by letting MLAs announce their political retirements before declaring her changes. "She should have got ahead of the game by announcing the shuffle first," he said.
Clark said she was "challenged" to put together a balanced cabinet after the recent retirement announcements. Sixteen of 46 Liberal MLAs have said they will not seek re-election.
"I wanted to make sure that I had a core of experienced people who have been in the realm of government for some time," she said. "But I also wanted to make sure that I was bringing a balance of people into cabinet who were relatively fresh to government."
Margaret MacDiarmid will use her experience as a physician - and breast cancer survivor - as she takes over de Jong's health portfolio, leaving her post as labour minister.
Comox Valley MLA Don McRae will also be looking to his past profession as he takes up his new role. The former teacher leaves his agriculture position and takes over as education minister.
And Ralph Sultan, who was first elected in 2001, said being a senior - he turns 80 next month - would be an asset in his role as minister for seniors.
Five cabinet ministers retain their positions, including Justice Minister and Attorney General Shirley Bond. Rich Coleman stays on in the slightly revised energy and mines position, which now includes natural gas in its title.
Terry Lake remains environment minister; Steve Thomson stays on in forests, lands and natural resource operations; and Pat Bell remains the minister of jobs, tourism and skills training and minister responsible for labour.
Oak Bay-Gordon Head MLA Ida Chong moves from the Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development to the Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation. email@example.com
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