Rural B.C. will have a stronger presence in Victoria with the creation of a Minister of State for Rural Economic Development, a new portfolio under the Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations (FLNRO). The announcement was made by Premier Christy Clark on October 21.
Cariboo-Chilcotin MLA Donna Barnett was sworn in as the new Minister of State the same day. The appointment is an expansion of the role that Barnett, who is in her second term as an MLA, already plays in Victoria, says a spokesperson for the premier’s office. Barnett was parliamentary secretary to FLNRO minister Steve Thompson for more than two years, and has a long association with rural issues.
“I’ve always worked hard for rural B.C.,” she told The Journal. “Now I’ll be able to work at the cabinet table and have more independent discretion and a louder voice.
“Rural communities are the economic driver of the province. The biggest issue is getting people all over B.C. to understand that without rural resources, our economy is in trouble. Rural communities have always been the economic engine of the province, and we have to continue to support our resource sector.”
The new portfolio is intended to address the challenges facing rural B.C. A government spokesperson says that while the province is doing very well overall, rural communities are facing some real challenges. “If you’re in a forestry or mining town, you know that the global resource economy is weak, and that global appetite for our products is down. The new portfolio shows a sensitivity to the challenge B.C. is facing.”
Cache Creek mayor John Ranta is pleased with the appointment. “Good for her. She has always been an important advocate for rural communities.”
Ranta adds that he has long realized that the sustainability of rural communities is very important. “If they continue to decline in population, where will people who work in the resource sector live? People in Vancouver think they drive the economy of the province, but in my view rural communities drive the economy.
“It’s important for the sustainability of urban centres to have a strong rural economy. Without the rest of the province, Vancouver would not be sustainable.”
“We all have to work together,” says Barnett. “And now I’ll be able to work with my rural colleagues at even greater length.”