Bruce Ralston appointed B.C.'s new energy minister

Premier John Horgan has shuffled Michelle Mungall out of the provincial energy portfolio, and has appointed in her place the MLA at the centre of a $5 million defamation lawsuit brought by the province's former LNG advocate.

Mungall has been appointed Minister of Jobs, Economic Development and Competitiveness, with Bruce Ralston the new Minister of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources.

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Ralston made headlines when the NDP took power in 2017 and he summarily fired former BC Liberal leader Gordon Wilson from his post as the province's international LNG advocate.

Ralston, then the jobs minister, had claimed his government could find no written reports by Wilson during a review of his role and four-year tenure.

However, 180 pages of publicly available documents and reports were quickly found by the Province newspaper that shed light on Wilson's time in the position, including a work plan, meeting summaries, research findings, and project updates.

The information was made public in 2015 following a freedom of information request by the NDP. Ralston and Horgan were forced to retract and apologize for the comments.

But that didn't stop Wilson from launching a $5 million defamation lawsuit against them and others. The trial begins this April in B.C. Supreme Court, according to Victoria News. The claims have yet to be tested in court, and the defendants have applied to the court to strike some of Wilson's claims for damages.

In a press release Wednesday, Horgan's office stated that Ralston's priorities will include implementing initiatives that support the CleanBC climate change plan, including the development of carbon capture and storage technology. 

Ralston will oversee BC Hydro and the $10.7-billion Site C project, and will continue to serve as lead minister for consular affairs. 

Mungall takes on Ralston's old post, and "will be responsible for trade, and engage with industry associations and major sectors on government's approach to quality economic growth."

"These ministers will work hard every day to deliver sustainable economic growth that provides good jobs, a better quality of life and a stronger province for people in every region," Horgan said in the release.

"I am confident they will put their knowledge and energy to work for people, as we focus on building an economy that works for everyone."

What role Ralston will have in advancing the LNG file remains to be seen: The release made no mention of it, and Horgan's office did not respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.

Mary Polak, house leader for the Opposition Liberals, questioned Ralston's shuffle into the portfolio, given the pending trial and challenges facing B.C.'s energy and mines sector.

Chief among them is what looks to be a protracted blockade over construction of a section of the Coastal GasLink pipeline near Houston, which will feed the LNG Canada facility being built on the west coast in Kitimat with natural gas from the Peace region.

"This is not a part of their government that they are really trying to drive," Polak said. 

"We know there is an awful lot of potential prosperity there for British Columbians if we have someone in energy and mines really driving the portfolio."

Email Managing Editor Matt Preprost at editor@ahnfsj.ca.

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