Island MLA named B.C. ag minister in shuffle

Another rookie MLA will become British Columbia’s second agriculture minister in less than five months, as interim Premier Christy Clark moves to shrink the size of her cabinet.

Clark on Monday named Comox Valley MLA Don McRae as her minister of agriculture in a shuffle that cuts the size of cabinet to 17 ministers, down from 24 in then-premier Gordon Campbell’s last shuffle in October.

McRae worked as a high school teacher at Courtenay in Vancouver Island’s Comox Valley for 14 years and served as a Courtenay city councillor for seven years before entering provincial politics in the May 2009 election.

In the year before McRae was elected, Campbell had named him as one of 11 members of the Citizens’ Conservation Council for the Vancouver Island-Coast region.

The province’s seven councils were tasked with advising government on “the best ways to encourage individuals, groups and communities in their regions to learn more about climate change, participate in climate action initiatives and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

As ag minister, McRae will now also serve on two of the provincial cabinet committees,  the Environment and Land Use committee and the committee on Open Government and Engagement.

In the ag portfolio, McRae replaces Westside-Kelowna MLA Ben Stewart, who was named Monday as Clark’s new government whip.

Stewart is one of the co-founders of the Quails’ Gate winery and had served as a chairman of VQA Canada and the B.C. Grape Marketing Board before he entered politics in 2009 and became ag minister last October.

Former B.C. ag ministers also remaining in the Clark cabinet include Steve Thomson, another Kelowna-area MLA who was shuffled last fall to the ministry of natural resources operations, and will now head the newly-combined ministry of forests, lands and natural resource operations.

Also, Prince George MLA Pat Bell, a former ag minister who was named minister of forests, mines and lands last fall, will now be minister of jobs, tourism and innovation. Responsibility for mining in B.C. now returns to the provincial energy ministry.

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