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New faces, same government arrives at B.C. legislature after May election

VICTORIA, B.C. - New faces, but the same government is set to arrive Monday at an expanded legislature for a swearing-in ceremony that will see 84 of the province's 85 elected members officially welcomed to the world of B.C. politics.

VICTORIA, B.C. - New faces, but the same government is set to arrive Monday at an expanded legislature for a swearing-in ceremony that will see 84 of the province's 85 elected members officially welcomed to the world of B.C. politics.

Premier Gordon Campbell, whose Liberals were elected to a third-straight mandate will be sworn-in first.

Immediately after, he's likely to face questions about his plans to tackle the province's rocky economy and who he will appoint to his new cabinet.

"Sometime in the next couple of weeks," was Campbell's only response to questions on his news cabinet.

The most obvious cabinet vacancies are in the justice-related posts of attorney general and solicitor general.

Attorney General Wally Oppal lost his seat in Delta South to Independent Vicki Huntington, who provided the most stunning result of the May 14 election after a judicial recount.

Huntington, the first Independent elected to the B.C. legislature since 1949, is being sworn-in separately on Tuesday.

Huntington's party of one faces 49 Liberals and 35 New Democrats.

Former solicitor general John van Dongen quit his cabinet post during the election after revealing his driver's licence was suspended after he accumulated too many speeding tickets.

At the time of his driving suspension, van Dongen was in charge of B.C. driving regulations, including speeding rules. He was re-elected.

And the top post in the children and family development ministry is also vacant, after former children's minister Tom Christensen did not seek re-election.

The election brings 27 raw political rookies to the legislature: 19 Liberals, seven New Democrats and Huntington.

There are also representatives for six new ridings, as electoral redistribution expanded the legislature to 85 seats from 79 in the 2005 election.

The Liberals won four of the new seats, and the NDP took two.

Officials at the legislature have tinkered with the seating arrangements inside the heritage chamber where the debates occur to make room for the six new members.

Special seating and audio arrangements have also been made for newly-elected Liberal Stephanie Cadieux, who uses a wheelchair.

The desk area for Cadieux, the MLA for the new Surrey-Panorama riding, has been expanded, and a special set of audio signals have been developed to allow Cadieux to communicate directly with the legislature's sergeant-at-arms.

Other new faces at the legislature are former federal NDP MP Dawn Black. She won the provincial seat in New Westminster for the New Democrats after Chuck Puchmayr decided he wouldn't run again for the party after getting a liver transplant.

And Don McRae held onto the Comox Valley seat for the Liberals after veteran cabinet minister Stan Hagen died last January.

Dennis Pilon, a University of Victoria political scientist, said he expects Campbell to introduce a reduced cabinet to signal he understands that tough times are being felt across the province.

"If he cut down the cabinet he could cut down some costs and demonstrate what a responsible guy he is," said Pilon.

"Obviously, he needs a new attorney general. But when you win three times in a row, it gives you some latitude that the other politicians might not have."

 
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