A B.C. cabinet minister who was booted out of cabinet over his criticism of Premier Gordon Campbell says the Liberal Party leader is intimidating and abusive.
After weeks of making his dislike of the premier's leadership known, former energy minister Bill Bennett pulled out all the stops Wednesday after being ousted at a weekly cabinet meeting.
"[Campbell] is a very, very intimidating human being and he does have a temper," Bennett told reporters in Victoria after his firing. "He does talk to people disrespectfully in caucus. I've seen him do it dozens and dozens of times."
Bennett said the first time Campbell became abusive with him, "He was so angry, he got in my face, he actually spit in my face. He is not a nice man."
Bennett later admitted the spitting incident was accidental, but was indicative of how close the premier got to him and how infuriated Campbell was.
"You can run on me, I'm a tough guy, I can take it," Bennet said. "But I've seen him do it to other people in our caucus. You have almost a battered-wife syndrome inside our cabinet."
Finance Minister Colin Hansen said Wednesday morning that his cabinet colleagues fired Bennett, but Bennett claims he was fired by the premier.
Says ministers driven out
Bennett said Campbell has lost good cabinet ministers because of the way he treated them and said the outgoing premier has driven people to tears.
Among those Bennett said quit because they couldn't work with the premier was Carole Taylor, a former finance minister who has been suggested as a possible replacement for Campbell.
He said the cabinet cannot have an honest free-flowing conversation about reversing any of the Campbell government's policies as long as the premier is in the room.
"I think every day that Campbell stays around is … one less day that we have to start a renewal."
Campbell has announced he will step down as premier after a leadership vote Feb. 26, but Bennett said on the weekend that Campbell should go earlier.
Colleagues back firing
Finance Minister Colin Hansen said Wednesday Bennett was fired because he was unwilling to maintain cabinet solidarity.
"The cabinet has to operate as a team. It was obvious that Bill Bennett was not prepared to work as a member of that team and so cabinet as a whole made a decision that they would ask him to leave cabinet and he agreed," said Hansen.
B.C. Health Minister Kevin Falcon said Bennett violated an important government protocol with his remarks about Campbell.
"It is not appropriate to be making those comments outside cabinet confidentiality of which we all swear an oath when we are signed up as cabinet ministers," said Falcon. "Bill knows that and was warned after the first time it happened and after he continued, he unfortunately left cabinet no other option."
B.C. Natural Resource Operations Minister Steve Thomson has been appointed energy minister and will have the post added to his current portfolio.
Opposition not surprised
NDP Opposition house leader Mike Farnworth says he's not surprised Bennett was fired, noting it's clear some Liberals want Gordon Campbell to resign rather than stay around until his successor is chosen.
But Farnworth noted that in a parliamentary system, a minister who disagrees with a cabinet decision really has no choice but to leave.
"It doesn't matter what business you're in, whether you're in politics or whether you're in car sales, whether you're in the media or whatever, if you say your boss has got to go, that your boss has been there too long, there's going to be consequences," said Farnworth.
Maverick from the Kootenays
Bennett has a reputation as a political maverick, and has been caught up in controversy in the past, but he holds the party's only seat in the Kootenays.
In February 2007, Bennett sent a profanity laced email to a constituent who had complained about the government, which cost him his job at the time as minister of state for mining.
In 2009, he was accused of running an election ad that offended local First Nations, and in 2010 he called environmental activists seeking to protect the Flathead Valley "eco-terrorists" in an email.
Bennett also called for Campbell to step down in late October, less than week before the premier announced his plan to resign, but at the time Campbell said he had no plans to kick Bennett out of cabinet.
His comments followed similar criticism of Campbell's leadership from his former energy minister Blair Lekstrom, who quit cabinet, and the party, during the summer over Campbell's failure to consult the public about the HST.