Ex-MLA who gave Premier Christy Clark his seat gets plum post in Asia

A former MLA who gave up his Kelowna riding for Premier Christy Clark has been appointed B.C.’s new Asia trade commissioner.

Clark named Ben Stewart to the post Monday, which is based in Beijing and comes with a $150,000 annual salary.

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The premier said it’s vitally important for B.C. to raise its profile in Asia. The region accounts for 40 per cent of the province’s total trade, said Clark.

Stewart is uniquely qualified for the job, having been a former B.C. cabinet minister who built his family-owned Quail’s Gate Winery into a successful business with overseas markets, she said.

“We need a representative in Asia who is known to have access to power and government here in British Columbia,” said Clark. “That is a critical part of doing successful business in Asia.”

Stewart was re-elected MLA for Westside-Kelowna in the May provincial election. The premier lost her Vancouver-area seat to an NDP challenger. Stewart resigned his riding to allow Clark to run in a by-election, which she won. Stewart has since become an unofficial adviser to Clark.

“He’s closely connected to every cabinet minister, including myself,” Clark said.

“When he meets with government officials in China they’ll have absolute confidence that he can pick up the phone and have a call returned to any member of the government here in British Columbia.”

The Opposition NDP pounced on the move, calling it a patronage appointment. “There isn’t a provincial senate so this is the next best thing, I suppose,” said critic Bruce Ralston.

The premier had a “political obligation” to appoint Stewart after he gave up his seat for her, said Ralston. But the move bypasses existing staff with trade experience in Beijing, he said.

Two other former MLAs were also recently appointed to new jobs.

Former Chilliwack-Hope NDP MLA Gwen O’Mahony, who spent only a year as a politician before losing in the May election, was named to the board of the University of the Fraser Valley. The position is unpaid.

Ralston cautiously praised the bipartisan appointment. “If this is meant to take the sting out of the appointment of Mr. Stewart, I think it hardly does that,” he said.

Former Liberal cabinet minister John Les was named chairman of the B.C. Farm Industry Review Board for a three-year term. The position has a maximum per diem of $60,000 annually.

Gordon Wilson, the former B.C. Liberal leader who endorsed Clark during the election, was named the new liquefied natural gas “buy B.C. advocate” with a $50,000 annual salary.

Those appointments are in addition to several others since the election.

Ida Chong, who lost her MLA seat in Oak Bay-Gordon Head, was named to the board of the University of Victoria in August, and failed Surrey-Newton Liberal candidate Sukhminder Virk was appointed to the board of the Justice Institute of B.C.

rshaw@timescolonist.com

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