VICTORIA – Chilliwack-Hope MLA Barry Penner is leaving politics in January to work at a Vancouver law firm, rather than serve out his term until the scheduled election in May 2013.
Penner announced in August that he wouldn't seek re-election for a fifth term, stepping down as attorney-general to spend more time with his wife and young daughter. At that time he was expecting a fall election, but Premier Christy Clark soon announced that the vote would be delayed.
Clark said Thursday she was expecting Penner's earlier departure. It means there may be at least two byelections at the same time, for Chilliwack-Hope and Port Moody-Coquitlam, where former cabinet minister Iain Black stepped down. That byelection must be held by March.
Clark said she isn't worried about Penner's departure creating an opportunity for the B.C. Conservative Party to gain a foothold, or at least split the vote enough for an NDP member to be elected in the conservative-leaning Fraser Valley constituency.
"I think in fact it's an opportunity for us," Clark said. "You might see more than one byelection happen at a time, and I think it's an opportunity for renewal for our party."
Penner has accepted a job as senior counsel at Davis LLP, an international law firm based in Vancouver. Starting in January he will be dealing with environmental law and renewable energy, a long-standing interest of his.
Penner received a letter from B.C.'s conflict of interest commissioner detailing the restrictions on his dealings with government after serving as a cabinet minister.
Penner touched on highlights of his 15-year political career, where he served as environment and aboriginal relations minister as well as attorney general. Among them were battling the Sumas Energy 2 gas-fired power plant in Washington state, and helping establish new run-of-river projects to supply electricity to aboriginal communities at the north end of Harrison Lake.
Penner poked fun at his own career in his farewell speech to the legislature.
"I won't even mention carrying Vancouver Island marmots on my back as dedicated volunteers and our government worked to increase their population by more than 700 per cent, or burrowing owls defending their mates and biting my thumb, or our ever-trusty cat Ranger, who got too close to a candle during Earth Hour," he said. "I think I can summarize by saying it's been awesome."