New education minister values experience wisdom of former cabinet minister Hansen

Comox Valley MLA Don McRae has a much larger budget to administer in his role as part of Premier Christy Clark's cabinet.

McRae was named education minister in Wednesday's cabinet shuffle. He inherits a $5.3-billion portfolio — substantially higher than the $60-million budget for which he was responsible as agriculture minister.

"I think my colleague George Abbott who was (education) minister before me did a lot of the heavy lifting," said McRae, a former teacher at Vanier Secondary in Courtenay. "I don't see labour issues as being front and centre in the coming year.

"I'm looking forward to seeing how we can work with the stakeholders to see how we can allow the system to evolve and reflect the needs of a modern society. And also bring a teacher lens to it."

Along with overseeing the new ministry, McRae is also a first-time member of the priorities and planning committee that includes Clark, newly-appointed Deputy Premier Rich Coleman and newly appointed Finance Minister Mike de Jong.

"It comes down to making sure that government sets priorities, and basically with policies that get carried out, because you have to balance what you can afford to do," McRae said. "Balancing the budget is still the No. 1 priority for next year, and we're on track to do so."

Vanier graduate Colin Hansen, who served as finance minister under former premier Gordon Campbell, is another P&P committee member. Hansen will also sit on the Treasury Board.

"We're very lucky to have people like Colin. He's very wise, he's been around a long time. Nice to have another Comox Valley connection there," said McRae, who is also on the Cabinet Working Group on Family Affordability and Cabinet Committee on Families First.

"Which I really enjoy because I always bring a lens to caucus or to a committee. My wife and I, we're a working family, we're budgeting time and money, and trying to raise two young girls the best we can. I think government, if you can make the jobs of families easier, it's good for society."

As far as he knows, McRae is the only remaining cabinet minister changing diapers on a regular basis. "Now I am the sole member of the diaper caucus," he quipped.

McRae spent 15 years teaching high school. He intends to eventually return to his former career that started in 1994.

"Teachers are really important, obviously," he said. "I'm looking forward to engaging and hearing what they see as what's working in the system and also what needs to be changed and how to change it."

As for his former portfolio, McRae was at first not up to speed on agriculture acronyms or stakeholder groups because he had not been a farmer. He is proud of helping to strengthen the agricultural land reserve and land commission during his time as minister.

"That's a legacy which I think I want to put down as the highlight of my term there," he said. "In some ways it's (education ministry) a lot easier, but I'll miss agriculture. It was a really good ministry, great individuals.

"My career has evolved in a way that I did not really map out," he added. "I enjoy serving, obviously, the Comox Valley. Bringing the hospital to the Comox Valley was my No. 1 priority. We're on path for that. That's a $660-million build."

The new cabinet has 16 ministers and two ministers of state, plus the premier. No new ministries were added.

Kevin Falcon resigned as finance minister last week. He was joined by Abbott, Children and Family Development Minister Mary and Chilliwack MLA John Les, following recent retirement announcements by other members of the government.

— With a file from Black Press.

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