MLA’s promotion to cabinet criticized by Conservative

Graeme James, who recently won the B.C. Conservative nomination, blasted Liberal MLA Norm Letnick’s appointment as agriculture minister.

The newly acclaimed B.C Conservative candidate for Kelowna-Lake Country wasted no time in firing his first verbal volley at the man he hopes to unseat in next May’s provincial election.

Graeme James, who won the B.C. Conservative nomination last Thursday, blasted first-term Liberal MLA Norm Letnick’s recent appointment as agriculture minister, saying the job should have gone to someone with experience in agriculture.

And he added he feels the only reason Letnick got the job was because the Liberals are scared of losing the riding.

The Central Okanagan, long seen as a stronghold for the B.C. Liberals, now has all three area MLAs in cabinet.

Westside-Kelowna MLA Ben Stewart is the province’s citizens’ services minister and Steve Thomson is forest, lands and natural resource operations minister.

“But the Liberals don’t have the support of the electorate anymore,” said James.

Letnick, like James, is a former Kelowna city councillor. Prior to his entry into local politics, Letnick worked as a business professor at Okanagan College’s School of Business and before that was a businessman and a municipal councillor in Banff.

In 2008, he won the Kelowna-Lake Country riding with 52 per cent of the vote.

Unlike Stewart and Thomson, Letnick was not appointed to cabinet under former Liberal premier Gordon Campbell.

His successor, Christy Clark—whom Letnick did not support for the Liberal leadership—tabbed him to lead the select standing committee on health to come up with a blueprint for the future of health care in this province.

He had to give up that post earlier this month when he was named agriculture minister.

James called Letnick’s elevation to cabinet a political appointment aimed at currying favour with local voters.

“It speaks to the fact (the Liberals) are concerned about losing this riding,” said James.

James, who has a trades and business background and who owns a 10-acre farm in North Glenmore, served on Kelowna city council for one term, from 2008 to 2011, before losing his seat as part of a massive change on council that saw the then incumbent mayor and five of her councillors replaced.

James announced a short time later that he would seek the B.C. Conservative nomination in Kelowna-Lake Country and started selling party memberships.

Following this weekend’s B.C. Conservative Party annual general meeting in Langley, James plans to start knocking on doors and talking to voters as he prepares for next spring’s election.

“I already have my election team in place,” he said. “We will hit the ground running.”

James has also thrown his support solidly behind embattled B.C. Conservative leader John Cummins, who survived a challenge to her leadership from within the party ranks at last weekend’s party convention.

Calling himself a “huge” supporter of Cummins, James credited Cummins for taking the B.C. Conservatives to 22 per cent in the polls from just two per cent a few years ago.

When asked Friday for his rebuttal to James’ comments, Letnick simply shrugged off the criticism, adding no further comment.