In a reversal, Premier Christy Clark has split the offices of the Attorney General and Solicitor General into separate ministries as her government struggles to get a handle on gang violence.
Clark announced Friday that she is promoting ex-RCMP Supt. Mike Morris from the backbench to solicitor general and minister of public safety.
He takes over those duties from Suzanne Anton, who remains as attorney general and justice minister. She previously handled all the portfolios within a single ministry that was created by Clark less than four years ago.
“It’s really all hands on deck at the moment,” Anton said in a telephone interview Friday.
“Public safety, anti-gang work is so critical to government that it was thought it would be helpful to have another person on the file. That’s why the premier has done it.”
Anton said her team has accomplished a lot since she joined the cabinet in June 2013. “But there’s no question that my time was very full. I’m now going to be the point person on the federal inquiry for missing and murdered aboriginal women, so it is very helpful to have another person involved on the public safety side.”
Mike Farnworth, the NDP’s spokesman on justice issues, said the merger of the two ministries has been a “dismal failure,” as shown by the government’s ineffective response to gang violence in Surrey.
“The premier is feeling the pressure and so she’s putting in Mike Morris, who’s a former RCMP officer,” he said. “I guess she’s hoping that he can do what the attorney general has been unable to do.”
Morris told reporters at a press conference in Surrey that his top priority is reducing low-level drug activity in the province.
“It impacts everything,” he said. “We have a lot of vulnerable people in this province that are addicted. They suffer from mental illness as a result of that addiction, and I think we’ve got to try and put a stop to that, to the extent that we can.”
He initially said police have the gang shootings in Surrey “well in hand,” but he backed away from that statement when pressed about frequent shootings in the city.
“We’re going to make sure that we do everything we can to bring these people to justice and put them in jail,” he said.
“There’s a multitude of things we can do out there in helping the police and I’m going to make sure they’ve got the tools to do the job.”
Clark merged the solicitor general and attorney general roles into a single ministry in 2012 after an internal audit concluded the separate ministries were poorly integrated and lacked an overarching plan for the justice system.
Anton said Friday that she couldn’t comment on the problems that existed prior to her arrival.
“What I can say, though, is that Mike and I will be joined at the hip,” she said. “The two ministries, our two deputies are on the same floor of the same office. They work extremely closely together.”
Morris, who represents Prince George-Mackenzie, served 32 years in the RCMP and is a former superintendent for the North District.
He was sworn in at a ceremony in Vancouver Friday.