New premier to be sworn in March 14

Premier-designate Christy Clark takes questions at the B.C. legislature Monday.

VICTORIA – Christy Clark confirmed Monday she will be sworn in March 14 as B.C.’s 35th premier, and promised to unveil a smaller cabinet than the last one appointed by Premier Gordon Campbell.

Meeting with reporters at the legislature for the first time since her selection as B.C. Liberal leader Feb. 26, Clark declined to say how much smaller she would make the government’s executive council. It currently stands at an all-time high of 20 full-scale ministries as well as ministers of state and parliamentary secretaries.

Clark didn’t rule out calling an early election some time in 2011, saying only that it would be after a province-wide referendum on whether to scrap the harmonized sales tax. Clark has indicated she wants that referendum held June 24.

She renewed her campaign pledge to restore $15 million in gambling grants cut from charities last year, and to launch a review of the B.C. government’s relationship with charities.

Faced with a recession and budget deficits, former housing and social development minister Rich Coleman restricted arts and sports grants to those that benefit young people and the disabled. B.C. government revenues from lotteries and casinos have grown to $1 billion a year, with a large new destination casino being considered for downtown Vancouver.

“My position on it has always been that if we’re going to expand gambling in British Columbia, we need to make sure that there is money going back to communities and charities,” Clark said. “I think that was the crucial tradeoff that citizens bought into, and so we need to make sure that if we’re expanding gambling, that we keep that deal with the citizens of the province.”

A commission will be appointed to examine the government’s relationship with charities, and to recommend ways that they can be assured of stable funding.

Clark said her first priority is to make sure the government considers families in all of its decisions. Asked how that fits in with increasing medical services plan premiums and BC Hydro rates that are expected to rise 50 per cent in the next few years, she said government has to look beyond tax rates to the full costs imposed on families by the province.

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