Coralee Oakes, who was responsible for overseeing provincial involvement in Greater Victoria amalgamation talks, was moved out of her ministry Thursday as part of a cabinet shuffle announced by Premier Christy Clark.
She was named to a new Ministry of Small Business and Red-Tape Reduction, responsible for the liquor distribution branch.
Peter Fassbender was also moved, from the Education Ministry to Oakes’ former portfolio of Community, Sport and Cultural Development, with new responsibility for Translink, the Metro Vancouver public transit system. Peace River South MLA Mike Bernier becomes education minister.
Oakes began talking to local mayors this month about amalgamation after varying questions on ballots during last November’s municipal elections indicated support for studying some form of amalgamation of the region’s 13 local governing bodies.
Amalgamation Yes spokesman John Vickers doesn’t anticipate the cabinet shuffle will change the situation. He said the province made a commitment to move forward with studies and consultation and it was only in the last two weeks that Oakes began direct engagement with some local mayors.
“It was at a very preliminary stage and we expect it to proceed.”
Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps met with Oakes on the topic two weeks ago. Helps said Thursday the minister and five officials were on hand and they had a very productive meeting, laying the groundwork for a good process. She said the momentum was just beginning to build and she hopes Fassbender, the new minister, gets all the information. “If he could pick up the ball and run with it, that would be fantastic.”
Fassbender was mayor of the city of Langley prior to becoming an MLA and in 2012 faced down a petition from 5,000 residents calling for a study on the amalgamation of the city and the township of Langley.
He said studies showed that, most often, the bad outweighs the good. A similar move three years earlier was rebuffed.
Media reported him as saying the issue wasn’t on people’s minds and didn’t warrant spending more money to study.
Also announced Thursday were the retirements of two key deputy ministers who brought the B.C. Liberals’ liquefied natural gas vision to the brink of reality — Peter Milburn is retiring from the Finance Ministry, to be replaced by Kim Henderson, and Steve Carr is leaving Natural Gas Development, replaced by Dave Nikolesjin.
There’s also a new deputy in the Energy Ministry, which has responsibility for the core review: Elaine McKnight. Lori Hall was named deputy of the Public Service Agency and Bobbi Plecas moves from Advanced Education to the Office of the Premier.
Other elements of the shuffle involve MLA Naomi Yamamoto, a junior minister of state for tourism, becoming minister of state for emergency preparedness, which is moving from the Justice Ministry to the Transportation and Infrastructure Ministry.
Justice Minister Suzanne Anton saw her ministry lose both the liquor distribution and emergency preparedness responsibilities in the shake-up, both of which have been high profile issues.