A double gold medalist on the track, Michelle Stilwell is accustomed to speedy achievements.
Eighteen months into her first job as an elected official on any level, the Parksville-Qualicum MLA took her place in the inner circle of the provincial government on Monday.
Stilwell was sworn into cabinet as the Minister of Social Development and Social Innovation, replacing fellow Islander Don McRae, who resigned for personal reasons last week.
“I have lots of reading and briefing binders to go through,” Stilwell told The NEWS on Friday shortly after learning about her promotion and recently returned from a vacation with her family. “I’m well rested and ready to hit the ground running.”
Stilwell said she wasn’t sure what to expect last week when her phone indicated she was getting a text from Premier Christy Clark.
“You know it’s either good or bad when the premier is texting you,” she said.
Stilwell replaces Comox Valley MLA Don McRae, who told the Comox Valley Record he was resigning due to a family health concern.
“When you’re a cabinet minister, you get the province owning you a bit,” McRae said Friday, his 45th birthday. “I spent a lot of my time, when the legislature was not sitting, visiting stakeholders around the province. I think that’s a really important job as a cabinet minister, but at some stage you want to make sure you’re there for your family. Family health is super important to me.”
McRae gave Stilwell a vote of confidence.
“”I’m excited for her,” he said. “She’s a great new MLA. I have full confidence in her.”
Stilwell, 40, is married to Mark and they have one son, Kai. She said she expects to be in her constituency as much as she has been in the last 18 months.
“I hope you’ll see just as much of me,” she said. “We seem to be able to find that work-life balance.”
The premier made the announcement through a news release on Friday.
“I fully support Don McRae’s difficult and courageous decision to step away from the additional responsibilities of executive council at a time when he needs to focus on his family and his constituents,” she said. “Michelle Stilwell has excelled at everything she has done, including as our caucus chair. She will continue to provide a strong voice from Vancouver Island in cabinet.”
Since being elected in May 2013, Stilwell had added a number of responsibilities, including caucus chair and parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Health for healthy living and seniors. She will relinquish those roles now.
Stilwell said her new job is to head a ministry “that helps people gain their independence.” The Ministry of Social Development and Social Innovation is in charge of the province’s social assistance programs, often called welfare.
There are often calls for an increase to the monthly payments for those on social assistance in B.C.
“We have to acknowledge that we have a comprehensive social safety net in B.C.,” she said.
Stilwell, like McRae was, will be the lone Island-based MLA in cabinet.
She said was scheduled to meet with the new municipal councils in Parksville and Qualicum Beach this week, but those meetings have been postponed.