North Shore MLAs say lots can be done before 2013 election
Eight months is all the time they have before the 2013 election, but the North Shore's two newly appointed cabinet ministers and one parliamentary secretary say that's plenty of time to make a splash in their previously non-existent posts.
First elected MLA for West Vancouver-Capliano in 2001, newly announced Minister of State for Seniors Ralph Sultan is no stranger to the BC Liberal government. And, at 79, he's no stranger to seniors' issues either.
"Just watch me," Sultan said, quoting the late prime minister Pierre Trudeau, when asked by The Outlook what he could get done in eight months' time in office. It was mere hours after Sultan got the call from Premier Christy Clark asking him to join her cabinet and he had yet to be briefed on the ins-and-outs of the position.
"I've entered a whole new world of government here," he said with a jokingly down-the-rabbit-hole tone on the phone from Victoria following the announcement on Wednesday.
Yamamoto was formerly the Minister for Advanced Education but will now serve as the Minister of State for Small Business, while Thornthwaite, a former school board chair before getting elected to the legislature in 2009, now has the lengthy title of Parliamentary Secretary for Student Support and Parent Engagement to the Minister of Education.
All three new roles roles are part of what the Premier called her plan for stability and renewal in the province.
"[The Premier] was terribly concerned that, in fact, seniors are approaching almost one quarter of the total population and, by my own private estimation, account for perhaps one quarter of the total spending of governments," Sultan said. "And we weren't focused on them accordingly."
While ministers of state are considered junior ministers within a broader ministry — in Sultan's case, the Ministry of Health Services and its new minister, Dr. Margaret MacDiarmid — Sultan said he's confident he can make real headway in the new job.
"[MacDiarmid]'s quite happy to turn over that portion of that vast [health ministry] domain dealing with seniors to me," he said. "At least that's what she tells me."
Like Sultan, MLA Yamamoto said she too has big plans for her own ministry-within-a-ministry. Representing small businesses within the broader jobs and tourism portfolio, Yamamoto's big plans are for smaller government.
"For me, it's [about] getting British Columbians to realize that small business people are not just business owners; they're moms and dads, they're coaches, they're volunteers," the North Vancouver-Lonsdale MLA said. "From my recent dealings with small business people and from what I know from when I was a small business owner is that we want government to stay out of the way and governments to let us do our work."
Yamamoto's small business credentials include chairing the B.C. Chamber of Commerce, managing the North Van chamber, and operating her own North Van graphic-design business for 22 years.
"I'm really excited because this role, I think, fits me like a glove," the former Minister of Advanced Education said. "Small business is the backbone of our B.C. economy, unlike almost any other province."
Yamamoto's North Van MLA counterpart Jane Thornthwaite didn't secure a cabinet spot in the shuffle but was appointed to one of two new parliamentary secretary jobs within the education ministry.
"This is something I've been interested in for a while," Thornthwaite told The Outlook.
The North Vancouver-Seymour MLA said her focus over the next eight months will be in broadening a parent-engagement program she developed with local special-needs advocates Moms on the Move, taking it to a province-wide level.
"They came up with a pretty good idea that I thought was worth investigating and I subsequently started a special-needs roundtable in my own riding," Thornthwaite said.
Last year, the group held about a half-dozen meetings in North Van to engage special-needs parents, students, teachers and administrators with the aim of drawing up recommendations for better special-needs education in the province.
"I'm in the process now of putting that all together to submit to the ministry," Thornthwaite said, noting the mandate of the recommendations has broadened to include all types of parent engagement rather than just in special-needs cases.
"Obviously I can't go to every region in the province," Thornthwaite, a mother of three, including one still in high school, said. "But I think what we should be doing is look at what school districts are doing it right, look at why they're doing it right and hopefully emulate it ministry-wide."