Parksville-Qualicum MLA Michelle Stilwell after winning the 100m gold medal at the Paralympic World Championships in Lyon

New B.C. minister to face child support controversy

Paralympian MLA Michelle Stilwell takes over social development amid calls to increase social assistance, disability benefits

Parksville-Qualicum MLA Michelle Stilwell was sworn in Monday as B.C.’s minister for social development and social innovation.

Comox Valley MLA Don McRae asked to be relieved of his cabinet role last week to deal with an illness in his family, and Premier Christy Clark appointed Stilwell to replace him.

The ministry is in charge of social assistance, provincial disability assistance and Community Living B.C., the agency responsible for people with developmental disabilities.

The cabinet change comes as the ministry reviews its long-standing policy of deducting spousal child support payments from money paid to social assistance recipients. Stilwell will likely be a target of opposition critics on that and other poverty-related issues when the B.C. legislature reconvenes Feb. 10.

A multiple medal-winning Paralympic athlete in basketball and wheelchair racing, Stilwell was elected to the B.C. legislature in May 2013, and has served as B.C. Liberal caucus chair.

Clark named Abbotsford South MLA Darryl Plecas to replace Stilwell as parliamentary secretary for seniors.

Clark has said the B.C. Liberal government will table its third balanced budget on Feb. 17, after considering revenues and spending priorities such as an increase in social assistance rates.