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Bill Bennett, top minister on Site C file, won't seek reelection

Bill Bennett, the minister who ushered the Site C dam from approval to nearly one year of construction, has announced he will not seek re-election in 2017. As Minister of Energy and Mines, Bennett has overseen some of the B.C.
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Energy Minister Bill Bennett speaks to reporters in Fort St. John, where he toured Site C dam construction. The veteran minister won't seek reelection in 2017.

Bill Bennett, the minister who ushered the Site C dam from approval to nearly one year of construction, has announced he will not seek re-election in 2017.

As Minister of Energy and Mines, Bennett has overseen some of the B.C. Liberal Government's most contentious files, including Site C and the response to the Mount Polley mines disaster. He was also responsible for the government's core review, overseeing the overhaul of the Agricultural Land Reserve.

In an interview with the Vancouver Sun, the acerbic MLA for Kootenay East said he was leaving public life to spend time with family.

“I’m kind of top of my game—not that the opposition would agree with that obviously—but I’m a reasonably effective minister and I’ve got the confidence of the premier and my colleagues, and I love my file and there’s work still to be done," Bennett told the Sun. "So it’s tempting to think about 'well I should do another four years to get more stuff done?'

"But that comes at the expense of what’s more important. And it’s taken me a long time in my life to really come to grips with that, but what’s most important to me now at this stage of my life, and probably should have been all the way through, is my family.”

Bennett has long been a favourite of the provincial press gallery for his outspokenness—including during a tell-all media scrum after he was fired from Gordon Campbell's cabinet.

The minister stood beside Premier Christy Clark in December 2014 when the B.C. government made the controversial decision to approve Site C.  

He has since faced tough scrutiny from BC Hydro critic Adrian Dix, the former leader of the B.C. NDP, who has accused the government of "chasing customers" for Site C in the fossil fuel industry and Alberta amid declining electricity demand. Dix has also claimed BC Hydro has already spent contingency funds on the project—claims Bennett denied.

The minister has also admitted flaws in the project, including the way government has negotiated land transfers with First Nations impacted by Site C.

Ken Boon, a Peace Valley farmer and opponent of the dam, said the premier's intention to get the project past the "point of no return" means a new energy minister is unlikely to have much of an impact on Site C.

The dam is scheduled for completion in 2024. It will flood around 83 kilometres of river valley and generate 1,100 megawatts of electricity. It continues to face court challenges from two Treaty 8 First Nations.

reporter@dcdn.ca