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Highways minister shocks B.C.

VICTORIA, B.C. - Transportation and Highways Minister Harry Lali shook the B.C. government to its foundations when he suddenly quit over the government's decision to impose a moratorium on hunting gri...


WAR OF WORDS: Lali resigned his post after a heated cabinet meeting, which he has publicly blamed on the B.C. Premier. (CP picture archive - JOHN MCKAY)
WAR OF WORDS: Lali resigned his post after a heated cabinet meeting, which he has publicly blamed on the B.C. Premier. (CP picture archive - JOHN MCKAY)

VICTORIA, B.C. – Transportation and Highways Minister Harry Lali shook the B.C. government to its foundations when he suddenly quit over the government’s decision to impose a moratorium on hunting grizzly bears.

The timing couldn’t have been worse for the jolting announcement, which caught the government by surprise, as Premier Ujjal Dosanjh – and his ruling NDP mates – are preparing to call a spring election.

Lali, the provincial member representing the rural riding of Yale-Lilloet, announced to Cabinet the bear ban would only serve to further polarize NDP supporters depending on where they live. He complained the shortsighted and controversial hunting ban would make it hard for non-urban MLAs to get re-elected.

“Harry was wild at that meeting, but they shut him up,” an unnamed NDP MLA told reporters. “He hates Ujjal … he thinks the government is going in the wrong direction.”

Lali says he is leaving his Cabinet post immediately and he insists he will not run in the next election.

“The last 12-month period has been one of lost opportunities,” says Lali.

The grizzly bear moratorium is part of the provincial government’s election strategy to aggressively target the urban vote in the coming election.

“I believe that when you’re in government, you deal with some very, very tough issues,” says Premier Dosanjh. “But when you have to make tough decisions, you need tough people to be in those places to make those decisions. Mr. Lali isn’t one of those people and doesn’t want to be around to make those tough decisions.”

Lali reacted later, exclaiming, “Well, that’s a crock. People who know me know … people don’t get any tougher than Harry Lali. It has to be a whole pile of things … to make me do what I did today.”

Lali’s departure, however, sent only ripples through the trucking community.

“We were certainly surprised,” says Louise Yako, director of policy and communications for the British Columbia Trucking Association (BCTA). “We wish him well in his future endeavors.”

For its part, the BCTA says it has enjoyed a good working relationship with Lali over his tenure.

“We’ve not dealt with him much in recent years,” says Yako. “We’ve been pleased, that generally speaking, the Ministry of Transportation and Highways has invested money raised through road taxes back into highway infrastructure.”

Now age 44, Lali has been an MLA for 10 years and highways minister since 1998. Declining to discuss the Cabinet meeting, he did offer a hint of his clash with Dosanjh.

“I’ve taken that voice from rural B.C. (to the Cabinet table) and I’ve been passionate,” Lali explains.

Some critics have commented that Lali’s resignation represented bigger news than his entire term in his ministerial role. However, according to Mike Geoghegan who is a political consultant in Victoria, the loss of Lali will hurt Dosanjh’s bid for re-election.

“In the days of Social Credit government, the highways minister was the most powerful minister in Cabinet,” he insists. While Geoghegan admits this has changed under the NDP’s leadership, (due to the transfer of duties, such as highway safety and vehicle licensing, to ICBC), he contends it is still an important post. “Especially in rural areas,” adds Geoghegan, “to have a highways minister resign is a devastating blow.”

As Truck News went to press, no replacement had been appointed to the vacancy created by Lali’s sudden departure. He agreed to remain at his post until someone is named. n


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