Penner quits cabinet, won’t run again

Chilliwack-Hope MLA Barry Penner has announced he is resigning as B.C. attorney general and won't run in the next B.C. election.

Chilliwack-Hope MLA Barry Penner holds his daughter Fintry

VICTORIA – Chilliwack-Hope MLA Barry Penner has resigned as attorney general and won’t run in the next B.C. election.

After telling Premier Christy Clark of his decision Thursday morning, Penner said the time he has spent with his family this summer convinced him it is time for a change after 15 years as a politician.

Speaking to reporters as he packed personal items in the attorney-general’s office at the B.C. legislature, Penner said he will miss the challenging job. What he won’t miss are the two Blackberrys with a constant stream of messages and “a phone that never stops ringing.”

His government duties caused him to postpone holidays this summer, dealing with issues such as courtroom backlogs, the Stanley Cup riot and a gangland shooting in Kelowna. His last official meeting as attorney-general was on the ongoing investigation of polygamous relationships in the Kootenay village of Bountiful.

The decision point was the B.C. Liberals’ election preparations. Penner said he received papers from the party a few weeks ago, asking him to name his campaign team for the next election. That could be called as soon as this fall.

“I believe the premier and government would be better served having someone in cabinet who will be working with them, shoulder-to-shoulder, through to and after the next election,” Penner said.

At age 45, Penner has been an MLA for the Chilliwack area since 1996. He was appointed to cabinet as environment minister in 2005, and served briefly as aboriginal relations minister before being appointed to the attorney general role in December 2010. His political experience started in 1989 when he served as a legislative intern.

Penner said he will continue to serve as MLA for Chilliwack-Hope until the next election, and doesn’t know what he will do after that. He expects to contact the Law Society of B.C. to reactivate his licence to practise law.

Penner was treated for cancer in 2007, but he said he was clear of any problems at a checkup in June and health concerns were not a factor in his decision.

The top law officer in the province is traditionally a lawyer, but non-lawyers Colin Gabelmann for the NDP and Russ Fraser for Social Credit have served in the post previously.

The remaining two lawyers in the B.C. Liberal caucus are Health Minister Mike de Jong and Kootenay East MLA Bill Bennett.