Comox Valley MLA Don McRae 'honoured but surprised' to be new agriculture minister

— image credit: PHOTO SUBMITTED

Comox Valley MLA Don McRae is "honoured but surprised" at entering cabinet less than two years after joining the B.C. political picture.

He was appointed agriculture minister by Premier Christy Clark, who was sworn in Monday to replace Gordon Campbell.

"Every MLA wants to get into cabinet because that's where the real decisions are made," said McRae, elected in 2009 after previous Liberal MLA Stan Hagen died unexpectedly that year.

"Since only one MLA actually supported her (Clark) in the leadership race, she had sort of a blank slate to work with...I was as surprised as anybody. I didn't find out until last weekend. I didn't even know who the other members of cabinet were until I went to the swearing-in ceremony."

McRae is among 17 ministers in the new cabinet, which previously consisted of 24 members, including the premier. He feels the smaller number of people will be a benefit in terms of critical mass.

"The conversation just becomes long and not as productive," McRae said. "It's a reflection of government. The idea is we don't have a lot of money to spend. Having a big cabinet is perceived as being wasteful. Leaner, meaner is how government needs to act right now. It's still a tough economic time we're in."

While a smaller cabinet will save money, it will not affect the number of employees working for the B.C. government.

"In the grand scheme of a $40-billion budget, it's probably not a lot of money."

McRae hopes the appointment will not hinder his ability to handle affairs in his riding. As a private member, he was able to spend time in the Valley and meet with constituents in a timely manner.

"We couldn't always give them the answer they wanted, but I thought I was very accessible as the MLA. The reality now is I'm not just working for the citizens of the Comox Valley. When you're in cabinet, you're working for the citizens of British Columbia. It will take me out of town, and that part does worry me to some degree. But I hope I can do that balance."

Though not a farmer by trade, McRae is proud of agricultural and value-added growth in the Valley.

"I think Comox Valley is a prime example of how agriculture can flourish in British Columbia. It is a tough industry. Obviously so many factors from  weather to world markets to changing government policies."

As for the newly-elected 35th premier of B.C., McRae said he is looking forward to working with Clark.

"I think she is a very approachable person. She is a great listener, and she is a great communicator. She has a totally different style from Gordon Campbell, and I think that's what people want right now. I'm glad we have her as our premier."


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