Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett has ended a colourful and blunt-talking career in B.C. politics, saying he will not run again in the 2017 provincial election.
The 66-year-old BC Liberal MLA for Kootenay East made the announcement at a cabinet retreat Tuesday in Cranbrook, saying it’s time to focus on his family after four terms in government since first being elected in 2001.
Bennett’s legacy includes pushing ahead with the contentious $8.3-billion Site C hydroelectric project on the Peace River despite intense opposition, as well as restructuring BC Hydro rates.
He also led a contentious core review in 2013 that resulted in a division of the Agricultural Land Reserve into two zones with different rules.
And he survived intense criticism as mines minister in the aftermath of the Mount Polley mine tailings disaster.
Bennett quickly developed a reputation for saying what he thinks – no matter the consequences – and his mouth sometimes got him in trouble.
In 2007, he resigned his first post as Minister of State for Mining after he sent an expletive-laced email to a constituent.
He returned to cabinet as minister of tourism, and later community and rural development, before taking on the energy and mines portfolio.
The most spectacular moment came in a scrum in November of 2010, when Bennett – pushing for a faster replacement of resigning premier Gordon Campbell – ripped into his leader for his handling of the harmonized sales tax and denounced him as “bullying” and abusive.
“I have a pretty good gut for politics, my instincts are not usually very far off and I really believed if we went into the 2013 election with Mr. Campbell as the premier, that we wouldn’t win,” Bennett told Black Press Tuesday night.
“I’d tried more conventional methods of persuading him and persuading others that we needed to make a change and I was unsuccessful so I resorted to pretty extreme action to try to have him quit and he did that.”
Campbell fired Bennett from cabinet, but he was later reinstated when Christy Clark became premier, even though he supported rival George Abbott for the BC Liberal leadership.
While in cabinet, Bennett fought to build new mines and increase jobs in resource-dependent communities.
Clark paid tribute to Bennett as a “warrior” for B.C. and his riding, and a man of “tremendous” character.
“Bill always brings back honest clarity to the discussion,” Clark said. “And even if you don’t agree with Bill, always know he’s telling you what he thinks. And I believe that people don’t just vote on what politicians say, they vote on whether or not they think politicians have character.”
– with files from Barry Coulter and Trevor Crawley