Outspoken British Columbia energy minister fired

Wed Nov 17, 2010 5:57pm EST
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VANCOUVER (Reuters) - British Columbia Energy Minister Bill Bennett was fired on Wednesday just days after he said the Canadian province's outgoing premier should leave office sooner rather than later.

Bennett, who oversaw the resource-rich province's oil and gas, mining and electricity portfolios, also publicly criticized Premier Gordon Campbell last month for shuffling his cabinet.

Steve Thomson, currently the province's natural resource operations minister, will take over from Bennett becoming B.C.'s third energy minister this year.

Bennett was only appointed to the position in June after the previous energy minister quit in protest against the introduction of the province's new harmonized sales tax (HST), which combined the provincial retail sales tax and federal goods and services tax.

Campbell, whose government's popularity has been battered by widespread public opposition to the HST, announced his resignation earlier this month. He has said he will remain as premier until the Liberal Party holds a leadership convention to choose a permanent replacement.

Bennett said in a news interview that Campbell should step down before a new leader was selected, so the provincial Liberal Party can begin to rebuild its public support. The party is not expected to chose a new leader until February.

British Columbia is home to some of the world's biggest copper and gold deposits. Its Horn River and Montney shale gas regions are among the richest on the continent, attracting a Who's Who of oil companies, including Exxon Mobil Corp, Encana Corp, Apache Corp and Nexen Inc, as technology to tap the reserves has advanced.

Executives have praised the right-of-center Campbell government for keeping royalty rates low and offering drilling incentives when gas prices fell during the economic crisis. Their praise came amid industry anger at the time over Alberta's moves to increase its royalty take.

(Reporting by Nicole Mordant in Vancouver and Jeffrey Jones in Calgary)