Katrine Conroy says she asked to keep her old job as British Columbia’s forests minister because there was unfinished business, but Premier David Eby had other plans and put her in charge of managing the province’s finances.
The veteran New Democrat, who was first elected in 2005, said she was surprised she was appointed finance minister in Eby’s new cabinet.
Conroy inherits a budget with a projected surplus of $5.7 billion this year, but the good times are not expected to last, with private and government forecasters saying B.C.’s economic growth will dip to less than one per cent next year.
“There’s stuff to do,” Conroy said Thursday in an interview. “There’s big challenges. Actually, I’m quite honoured he asked me to take on this portfolio.”
Eby described his new cabinet as a blend of experienced politicians and energetic newcomers who will focus on big issues facing the province.
The new finance minister will bring a rural perspective to her portfolio, in contrast to the urban-centred views of Eby and other cabinet ministers from larger communities, the premier said on Wednesday. He noted Conroy lives on a ranch and has been known to participate in family hunting trips.
Conroy said she and her cabinet colleagues will deliberate on how best to address the surplus and the challenges ahead.
“I’m a very collaborative person and I’m going to ensure we’re going to carry on doing the things we need to do,” Conroy said. “People want us to ensure we’re carrying on doing that work around making sure we’ve got housing for British Columbians and that things are affordable.”
Eby’s mandate letter for Conroy sets out several priorities, including possibly strengthening the Speculation and Vacancy Tax, working to deliver the renters’ rebate to help bring down costs for renters and providing cost-of-living supports to people in response to global inflation and economic uncertainty.
The NDP government introduced the Speculation and Vacancy Tax in 2018 to discourage housing speculation and vacant homes. The tax also targeted foreign owners and satellite families who have Canadian citizenship but earn their incomes outside Canada.
The government promised a $400 renters’ rebate during the 2017 election campaign but has yet to implement the pledge.
Conroy said she agrees with Eby’s description of her approach to work and life as a person who is “rural tough.”
“It’s the truth, I’m from rural B.C. and some of my colleagues are from urban B.C. and we need all voices at the table. We definitely need to hear rural voices at the table. That’s what I bring.”
Conroy, who has four children and nine grandchildren, lives on a ranch at Pass Creek located just outside of Castlegar in southeast B.C. Her late husband, Ed Conroy, also served as the area’s New Democrat MLA.
Conroy has had a varied career outside of politics, including being one of the province’s first female power engineers, a person who supervises, operates and maintains machinery and boilers. She was also an early childhood educator, director of a multi-service non-profit agency, a college instructor and a small businesswoman.