Departing health minister sees change as a powerful force in 2017 B.C. election

FILE PHOTO - British Columbia Health Minister Terry Lake speaks during a news conference after the first day of a meeting of provincial and territorial health ministers in Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday January 20, 2016. After serving two terms as the member of the legislature for Kamloops-North Thompson, Lake isn't running for re-election, giving him a different view of the coming campaign.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

VICTORIA - Health Minister Terry Lake will be sitting on the sidelines, but he expects the winds of political change will be one of the strongest challenges facing B.C. Premier Christy Clark's Liberal government in May's election.

After serving two terms as the member of the legislature for Kamloops-North Thompson, Lake isn't running for re-election, giving him a different view of the coming campaign.

The Liberals have been in power since 2001 and the party is seeking its fifth consecutive mandate. Clark is seeking her second term as premier.

"That time-for-a-change message is a very powerful one," Lake said in a recent telephone interview. "But you've got to ask yourself what does that change mean?"

The former Kamloops mayor used his hometown junior hockey team's success of consecutive championship seasons in the 1990s to illustrate the potential pitfalls of change.

"I always think back to the Kamloops Blazers who won three Memorial Cups in four years," Lake said. "The management decided it was time to go in a different direction, so they changed the general manager and they haven't won a Memorial Cup since."

B.C.'s economy is forecast to lead the country in 2017. The province has the lowest jobless rate in the country, but the Liberals shouldn't go into the election believing voters will respond favourably because things are going well, he said.

"You can never, ever take the public for granted," said Lake. "We've seen that so many times. We saw it in our own election in 2013. We saw it in the federal election. We saw it in the Alberta election and we just saw it in the U.S. election."

Lake is a veterinarian who has been on leave since 2009 from Thompson Rivers University, where he teaches animal health.

He was appointed health minister in June 2013 after serving as environment minister for two years and has been at the forefront of major issues facing the government, including the opioid overdose crisis and negotiations with the federal government, provinces and territories on health-care funding.

In April, he joined the provincial health officer in declaring a public-health emergency after a near-record number of overdose deaths in B.C., many involving the powerful opioid fentanyl.

As the problem escalated, he enacted a ministerial order earlier this month that gave provincial emergency health services and regional health authorities the power to provide overdose-prevention treatment as necessary on an emergency basis.

On the economy, Lake views the Opposition New Democrats led by John Horgan as a party that's locked in a struggle over finding the right balance on some of the big economic-development issues facing the province, such as pipelines and liquefied natural gas projects.

"That's the challenge for John as a leader of a party where you've got competing mandates," Lake said. "You've got those who want to have a lot of economic activity and well-paying union jobs, and then you've got another part of your party that wants to stand in the way of any development."

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