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Minister letters offer peek into BC premier's plans for liquor, teachers, and more

It used to be that the Throne Speech was the way the public learned about what the B.C. government had in store for new programs, policies and laws. Nowadays, the recitation is long on rhetoric and short on specifics.

For the second year in a row, Premier Christy Clark publicly issued her cabinet ministers individual mandate letters on June 10, the anniversary of their swearing-in.

While these letters contain political slogans ("Strong Economy, Secure Tomorrow") and rhetoric about balancing budgets, the point-form orders do offer a glimpse into what's to come.

Each minister is required, with his or her deputy minister, to "spend additional time" meeting chairs and boards of the public sector organizations and agencies connected to their ministries, part of Clark's policy to increase accountability.

The BC Liberals aren't done with Clark's pet project to deregulate the liquor industry and are pondering more changes to how the next provincial election in 2017 is run.

Attorney General Suzanne Anton's portfolio includes liquor, and her 16-point orders include "rewrite the Liquor Control and Licensing Act for introduction" in the spring 2015 sitting and to "consider and present options to cabinet on an updated Election Act"

Health Minister Terry Lake is to "finalize the St. Paul's and Royal Columbian Hospital revitalization plans" which were promised in spring 2012, and work with Ottawa to regulate the sale to minors of e-cigarette and flavoured tobacco products. "Or, in the absence of a federal strategy, introduce legislation."

A full-scale strike by B.C. teachers is nigh, but the government is already thinking beyond a settlement. The letter for Education Minister Peter Fassbender tells him to bring options to cabinet on how to "restructure collective bargaining" with the B.C. Teachers' Federation and work with the Ministry of Finance for tax credits for teachers who participate in extra-curricular activities and parents for back-to-school costs.

Film and TV industry workers saw jobs decline when other provinces hiked their subsidies for producers in 2012. They will be watching what Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training Minister Shirley Bond does. She has been ordered to "review the digital, audio and video effects film tax credits and make recommendations to cabinet on options for reform."

Transport and Infrastructure Minister Todd Stone is to present a 10-year B.C. Transportation Plan to cabinet by the end of September. ICBC, the biggest Crown corporation under his watch, is wrestling with a $110 million vehicle identification computer glitch and Stone was commanded to "find efficiencies at the Insurance Corporation of B.C. and ensure ICBC returns to solid financial footing."

Minister of Technology and Citizens Services Andrew Wilkinson is to continue the BC Services Card rollout and report on potential expansion of uses. The government may finally be paying heed to Information and Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham's repeated recommendations to proactively disclosure documents instead of subject citizens to the often glacial Freedom of Information system. Wilkinson's letter orders him to provide options to cabinet on "ways to improve citizens' access to information in B.C."

It's no surprise that Finance Minister Mike de Jong's priority is to deliver a balanced budget. He is also to "implement and pass" tax legislation for B.C.'s LNG industry, review the impacts of B.C.'s carbon tax on manufacturers and promote Vancouver as a global trading centre for China's renminbi currency.

De Jong's responsibilities include both marketing and regulation of gambling, but neither are mentioned on his order sheet.

Likewise for deputy premier Rich Coleman, the housing minister. None of his orders deals directly with social housing policy or spending. Clark ordered him to work on a new home inspection accreditation regime and introduce a new B.C. Building Code for spring 2015's legislative session.

Otherwise, six of Coleman's 11 orders are LNG-related, including working with Aboriginal Relations Minister John Rustad and B.C. First Nations "that are impacted by natural gas extraction, pipelines or LNG facilities to facilitate advancement of these projects."

Veteran political journalist Bob Mackin is a frequent contributor to The Tyee

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