Kootenay East MLA Bill Bennett has been welcomed back into the B.C. Liberal caucus, as Premier Christy Clark prepares for a provincial election that could come this year.
Clark and Parksville-Qualicum MLA Ron Cantelon, the B.C. Liberal caucus chairman, made the announcement after a caucus meeting in Vancouver Tuesday. Cantelon said Bennett has always been a valued contributor to the party and his return is welcome.
Speaking to CKNW radio Wednesday, Bennett said he was “very graciously” welcomed back by his fellow MLAs after his expulsion late last year, and said he was not aware of any MLAs who opposed his return.
Bennett was fired as the energy minister in November after he publicly criticized former premier Gordon Campbell’s reorganization of natural resource ministries. He then launched a lengthy tirade against Campbell’s “bullying,” suggesting B.C. Liberal MLAs suffered from “almost battered-wife syndrome” from Campbell’s domineering behaviour. Bennett was expelled from the party caucus at its next meeting.
Bennett has since said he regrets his personal comments about Campbell, which were intended to put pressure on him to step down sooner, and Bennett was willing to apologize to the caucus for his conduct.
Shortly after Clark’s selection as B.C. Liberal leader in February, the caucus welcomed Peace River South MLA Blair Lekstrom back. Lekstrom quit the cabinet and caucus in the spring of 2010 because his constituents objected to the harmonized sales tax, but later said Clark’s plan to hold a referendum on the HST in June was sufficient to bring him back.
Lekstrom was immediately reappointed to cabinet as transportation minister, a signal of the importance of conservative-leaning areas along the Alberta border where criticism of the HST has been intense.
While in exile, Bennett said he was considering remaining as an independent in Kootenay East or looking at a rejuvenated B.C. Conservative Party. He has consistently advocated for rural B.C. in a province dominated by the three quarters of the population living in the southwest.
The B.C. Conservatives have closed their nominations for the long-vacant leadership, with former Delta-Richmond East MLA John Cummins the only candidate to lead them.
Clark has kept her options open for her own return to the B.C. legislature, hinting that it is most likely she will seek the Vancouver-Point Grey seat vacated by Campbell.