Penner charts a new course

Life is already different for Chilliwack-Hope MLA Barry Penner who stepped down from his role as Attorney-General in the B.C. cabinet last week.

Life is already different for Chilliwack-Hope MLA Barry Penner who stepped down from his role as Attorney-General in the B.C. cabinet last week.

“The weekend was much quieter,” he reported Monday morning, with Ranger the Cat perched in his lap.

“It’s going to be a challenging transition. I’m used to starting my day with all kinds of alerts.”

Penner has held a cabinet position for six of his 15 years of holding elected office.

Penner announced he won’t be standing for re-election in the upcoming election.

He released the news Thursday, as quickly as he could, since the B.C. Liberal election machine was starting to churn about nomination papers.

Already the active 45-year-old has gone down from two ringing Blackberrys, to just the one.

It’s a big change for the MLA who joined the caucus mid-1990s at just 29.

“Taxes were going up and the economy was going down,” he remembered.

He didn’t want to reach a ripe old age wondering what it would have been like to serve as MLA.

He went for it.

“I also felt it was important to have representation from someone who lives here.”

He was the longest serving B.C. Environment Minister, fought a successful battle against SE2, and for the installation of B.C.’s first cable wire barrier on Highway 1. Early on he waged an “epic” battle for Chilliwack’s new courthouse building.

One of his favourite memories was the traditional First Nations ceremony he witnessed as Aboriginal Relations minister. It was a poignant moment last year when folks from Upper Harrison shut down their diesel generators, and finally obtained a reliable source of electricity, by joining the BC Hydro grid.

“I’ve enjoyed almost all of it,” he said.

If he’s disappointed by anything in retrospect, it’s the depressing level that public discourse has sunk to, as represented by sometimes nasty comments posted anonymously on some newspaper websites.

“It’s simply not contributing to raising up the level of discourse,” he opines.

What about that bit about him leaving cabinet to spend more time with family? Unlike some who say it but don’t actually mean it, Penner says he actually means it.

“I’m off to Baby Boot Camp soon with mom and baby,” he says, describing a fitness program the family is enrolled in.

No, the family bit was not a hollow excuse.

“It is the primary reason but there are other factors,” says the first-time dad and first time husband.

“I’m getting older and I never thought I’d do politics forever.”

The next moment he’s back to joking about Ranger the Cat.

“There is early speculation that Ranger the Cat might seek the nomination,” he said. “And for the record Ranger is getting along just fine with Fintry despite her habit of pulling out tufts of fur.”

What he’ll remember most about serving Chilliwack is just how remarkable the legions of people here are who join volunteer organizations and associations.

“We’re so lucky to have so many people willing to give up their time for the greater cause. Others from outside Chilliwack always notice that we have very active social underpinnings.”

So will he be freer now to really weigh in on the Metro Waste-to-Energy incinerator plan?

“I already have,” he said. “I don’t think it’s anything we’ll ever see happen.

“Metro Vancouver has a decidedly checkered record when it comes to large capital projects.”

He cited the water treatment project on the North Shore that’s “hundreds of millions of dollars over budget and still not complete.”

Metro still has to spend billions to upgrade its sewage treatment, as well.

“These are big ticket items. And then there’s the desire for the Evergreen Line SkyTrain extension. So where do they think they’re going to get half billion more for incineration?”

The hard-working local rep doesn’t yet know if he’ll try to practise law again one day.

“I’ll be consulting with the Law Society to determine what it would take to get my licence back,” he said.

Possible future career options will have to wait a little bit for now.

“We’re going camping at Manning Park,” Penner says in reply to what’s next. “We’re also taking our daughter to her park.”

Fintry is a provincial park. It’s not accidental that her name rhymes with wintery, and it was snowing the day she was born.

“It was wintry for Fintry. So I’m hoping she will love the snow as much as I do.”

He’s fairly philosophical about stepping down, and quotes Ecclesiastes 3:1, “For everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven.”

In the meantime he’s looking back at his lengthy run with great fondness.

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