10/28/2013 19:44 EDT | Updated 01/23/2014 18:58 EST

Former B.C. cabinet minister named Asia trade commissioner

A former cabinet minister who gave up his seat for Premier Christy Clark to run in a byelection this past summer won't be out of work for long.

Ben Stewart, who until July was MLA for Westside-Kelowna, has been named B.C.'s new Trade and Investment Commissioner to Asia.

Premier Clark says Stewart's new position will see him act as B.C.'s on-the-ground representative in the region, meeting with government and business leaders to further the province's trade interests. Of particular focus will be the Liberal government's strategic imperative to find new export markets for liquefied natural gas.

Stewart will be paid $150,000 a year — almost the same salary he gave up as a cabinet minister. At Monday's announcement in Vancouver, Clark dismissed suggestions the job is a patronage appointment, saying Stewart will be selling B.C. in Asia's capitals every day, not hosting dinner parties.

Clark says the province has a gap when it comes to government-to-government relationships in Asia, adding that Asian leaders need to know those working in the province's trade offices can pick up the phone and have their calls answered in Victoria.

Stewart, founder of Quails' Gate Estate Winery, served one term as MLA for Westside-Kelowna. In the 2011 BC Liberal Party leadership campaign he endorsed Kevin Falcon, but following Christy Clark's victory, Clark made Stewart government whip.

Between Sept. 2012 and this past June, he served as B.C.'s Minister of Citizens' Services and Open Government.