British Columbia's outgoing premier is biting back against a dissident cabinet minister who called him a bully, saying the words came from a distraught and disappointed man.

Former energy minister Bill Bennett was swiftly sacked from his provincial cabinet position Wednesday after suggesting Gordon Campbell step down immediately and let a new Liberal successor take his place.

The firing prompted Bennett to lash out against his former boss, calling Campbell an abusive, patronizing and disrespectful bully who caused "almost a battered wife syndrome" inside the Liberal caucus.

But Campbell distanced himself from these claims Thursday, dismissing the action as dramatic last-gasp from a man angry about losing his job.

"I'm sure Bill is very disappointed. He's lost the trust of virtually all of his cabinet colleagues and they told him that yesterday," he told CTV News from a homelessness event in Vancouver.

"I'm sorry that he feels that way, I'm sorry that's how he responded."

Campbell also dismissed the claim he spit in Bennett's face in anger, saying the former minister's accusation was "a reaction from someone who is very distraught."

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Bennett's dismissal prompted critics to say the BC Liberal party was coming apart at the seams, even more so than when its leader announced his decision to step down on Nov. 3.

But Campbell maintains the Liberal caucus and cabinet are united, and said his decision to put a promised 15-per-cent personal income tax cut on hold will strengthen the party in the long run.

He said icing the tax will ease the transition process until a new leader is chosen in February 2011, and allow that person to make those spending decisions.

"What we did yesterday is say the new leader has all the opportunity to make all the choices they want," he said. "Make sure the opportunities are open for the future unfettered by the decisions made today."

Taking aim

The premier wasn't the only person Bennett took aim at during his venomous departure.

He said Campbell's behaviour had forced many good people out of cabinet, including CKNW radio host and former deputy premier Christy Clark.

Speaking to CTV News Thursday, Clark said she applauded Bennett's tenacity for expressing how he felt but said her experience with Campbell was not the same.

"He was a very, very tough guy to work for, there's no question about that -- you have to have a thick skin to survive," she said. "But I wouldn't characterize him using any of the same words that Bill Bennett did, that's for sure."

Other women Bennett alluded to include Carole Taylor and Olga Ilich, both former MLAs. Neither returned calls to CTV Thursday.

More calls

But if no one in Campbell's caucus or cabinet was publicly speaking up Thursday to agree with Bennett's sentiment for him to step down, there was at least one person who is siding with him.

New Democrat Leader Carole James said Bennett's call is perfectly timed, saying the outgoing premier should step down as soon as possible for the sake of people living in B.C.

James said the needs of British Columbians are being ignored because of the internal chaos in the Liberal party.

"So it's a long time to wait until the end February to actually have a government in place that's paying attention to the things that matter to the people in this province."