Kootenay West MLA Katrine Conroy was named BC’s finance minister when Premier David Eby announced his new cabinet last week. Conroy has served as MLA for the region since 2005 and has been in cabinet since the NDP formed government in 2017, first as children and families minister and until recently as forests minister. We caught up with her by phone this morning.
What do you think of being named finance minister?
I’m incredibly honored and excited with the work ahead of me.
How did you find out?
We had a discussion the Wednesday before. [Eby] asked me if I’d like to do it. We discussed what it entails, what his expectations are. Then I got the final call on the Monday before the cabinet swearing in. I was on the ferry, and just as he said “Kat, I want you to be my …” my cell phone kicked out!
What was running through your head when he asked you?
I originally thought I was going in to talk about one of the forestry files. I had said to him, if you want me to stay in that ministry, I definitely would. I hadn’t thought about finance. So I was of course surprised and thinking ‘Can I do this? Yes, I can do this.’ I’ve had my experience in the social ministry, with children and families, and of course in an economic resource ministry with forestry. And my years of experience in the real world outside of politics. So I thought yes, let’s get this one done too.
Seems like a good time to become finance minister.
Yes, we have a substantial surplus. But I always remind people it’s not something we can put on operating costs. We’re looking at how we can invest in infrastructure and things like that. We want to make sure we continue to provide supports for people.
Finance is probably one of, if not the biggest portfolios. What does that do to your time, or ability to connect with constituents?
I’m going to continue to do the work I’ve always done with constituents. Yes, it’s a big file. Forestry was a pretty big file too. In fact, if you really put yourself into your ministry, they’re all big files. I have really great staff in my constituency office in Castlegar who continue to support people. We’re in contact a lot and they keep me up to date on issues.
So as far as dividing your time between the riding and Victoria, you don’t think that will change?
I’ve been away a lot, I must admit, with my former ministry and probably will again, but nowadays we can do meetings by Zoom and Teams. That’s one thing COVID’s taught us.
Were you sorry to leave forestry?
I was. I enjoyed it, it was a challenge, there was a lot going on, I’m really optimistic about what’s going to happen and I’ll bring that voice with me to the finance table. In this ministry, you oversee everything going on in different ministries, so you still know what’s going on.
You will continue to be the minister responsible for the Columbia Basin Trust, Columbia Power Corporation, and the Columbia River Treaty talks. Is that something you insisted on or that the premier asked?
I asked to do it. I said that was something I definitely wanted to continue and he agreed I was the best person for the job because I’ve been doing it for a while now. We’re actually getting into the nitty gritty with negotiations so it’s good to have some consistency there.
What does it mean to have a finance minister from the Kootenays or a rural area? Does it matter where the finance minister is from?
I don’t think it matters, but at the same time it’s good to have someone with an understanding of rural BC, of the interior, of resources that are a substantial contribution to our coffers. I think it’s always good to have a different perspective, and I look forward to being able to bring that voice to the cabinet table as I have been doing since 2017.