Ministers snipe at each other over B.C. cabinet shuffle
Another British Columbia cabinet minister has been dragged into a public spat between the province's energy minister and the premier.
Energy Minister Bill Bennett made headlines earlier this week when he publicly critized Premier Gordon Campbell's decision to reorganize his cabinet portfolio, removing mining from his areas of responsibility.
Bennett complained he wasn't consulted, although the premier declined to punish the minister for airing his concerns in the media.
On Wednesday, one of Bennett's cabinet colleagues weighed in with some critical words of his own.
"Bill has behaved in a typical Bill way and I don't think anybody appreciates it, because he's more petulant about -- he wanted more power personally than he has," Social Development Minister Kevin Krueger told radio station CHNL.
"This is not the first outburst in Bill Bennett, we all know that. It's one the premier has obviously decided he can live with, but it's irritating, because it deflects energy from the things that we're doing together."
Krueger said everyone in cabinet knew the premier intended to reorganize some of the province's ministries, and said Bennett has damaged his ability to have influence in the government.
There are several incidents Krueger may have been referring to when he cited Bennett's past outbursts.
In February 2007, the Cranbrook-area minister resigned from cabinet after sending a rude email to a constituent and spent a year on the back benches before returning to the cabinet. He later had to apologize for an email criticizing environmentalists who want to turn the Kootenay area Flathead Valley wilderness area into a national park as "eco-fascists."
And during last year's provincial election, some aboriginal groups were upset over an ad campaign that showed Bennett with local residents, saying he pays taxes just like us. Bennett's New Democrat opponent was a well-known local aboriginal leader, and some suggested the ads had racial overtones, which Bennett strongly denied.
Responding to Krueger's criticism, Bennett said Wednesday that the affair was embarrassing, and he noted the premier appeared ready to move on.
"It's unfortunate that Kevin wants to keep this pot stirring," Bennett told CHNL.
"I think that we should now try to make this thing work and see what we can do for the taxpayers, the electors of the province. ... I think telling the truth is something that elected people should do, something we're obligated to do. What I'm hearing from people around the province, most people respect that."
The back-and-forth comes as Campbell attempts to salvage the Liberal government's reputation, which has been battered by public anger over the harmonized sales tax.
Campbell was scheduled to make a televised address on Wednesday evening, explaining why the HST was the best policy for the province and explain his plans to continue to guide the province through the ongoing economic uncertainty.
Bennett was named minister of energy, mines and petroleum resources last June after former energy minister Blair Lekstrom quit cabinet and the Liberal caucus over the harmonized sales tax. Lekstrom now sits in the legislature as an Independent.
The premier's decision to keep Bennett in cabinet stands in contrast to how Opposition NDP Leader Carole James responded to a similar outburst within her own party last month.
New Democrat Bob Simpson was ejected from caucus after posting an online column criticizing James's speech at the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention.