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VICTORIA, B.C. — Highways Minister Harry Lali has shaken the B.C. government to its foundations after tendering his resignation over a moratorium on hunting grizzly bears.

The shocking announcement, which caught the government by surprise, comes as Premier Ujjal Dosanjh and his ruling NDP mates prepare for 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, 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, which is expected within the next few months.

“The last 12-month period has been one of lost opportunities,” says Lali, who wept openly after the announcement. The grizzly bear moratorium is part of the provincial government’s election strategy of aggressively seeking the urban vote in the next 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 decision, 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. I wish him well.”

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.”

Now age 44, Lali has been an MLA for 10 years and Highways Minister since 1998, declined to discuss the Cabinet meeting, but 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,” he explains.

The loss of Lali will dramatically hurt Dosanjh, according to Mike Geoghegan, a political consultant in Victoria.

“In the days of Social Credit government, the Highways Minister was the most powerful minister in Cabinet,” he insists. While he stresses this has changed under the NDP’s leadership, it is still very much an important post.

“Especially in rural areas,” adds Geoghegan, “to have a Highways Minister resign is a devastating blow.”

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