Transport Minister Ketil Solvik-Olsen confirmed on Thursday that he’s steering a new course, and resigning after five years as one of the Progress Party’s most popular top government officials. More ministerial changes are due to be formalized at the weekly Council of State on Friday.
Newspaper Dagbladet reported that Solvik-Olsen is stepping down as transport minister to temporarily move to the US with his wife, who’s a doctor, and their two children.
“She’s made sacrifices for me, now it’s my turn to do the same for her,” Solvik-Olsen told Dagbladet. He said she’d been offered a position at a large children’s hospital in Birmingham, Alabama: “When this fantastic opportunity came up, it just had to be grabbed.”
Solvik-Olsen’s resignation means the government isn’t only losing a popular minister who’s speeded up road improvements and pushed through major changes in how road- and rail projects are carried out. Finance Minister Siv Jensen is also losing a strong, moderate partner both within the conservative coalition government and the Progress Party, where Solvik-Olsen served as deputy leader. He had already declined re-election to the Parliament in 2013.
Jensen called Solvik-Olsen Norway’s “best transport minister ever,” and claimed that he’ll be back in Norway next year to work on the local governments election campaigns. “He’s not leaving politics even though he needs to resign as minister because of his time in the US,” she said, adding that he’ll be a “resource” for the party “for many years ahead.”
Dagbladet reported that Solvik-Olsen is due to be replaced by the Progress Party’s agriculture minister Jon Georg Dale. Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported that Dale will in turn be replaced by yet another Progress Party politician, Bård Hoksrud, who’s now a Member of Parliament, and has served as a state secretary.
DN was also reporting on Thursday that Oil & Energy Minister Terje Søviknes of the Progress Party will be stepping down, after less than two years in the post. Søviknes’ appointment in December 2016 was controversial because he had admitted to sexual relations with an underaged girl at a meeting of the party’s youth organization in 2001. He was a deputy party leader at the time and had to resign, and also withdraw from national politics.
He remained popular in his home community of Os in Norway’s West Coast county of Hordaland, though, and was the party’s longest-serving mayor until he was appointed as a minister. DN reported that Søviknes, who’s been active at this week’s oil industry exposition in Stavanger, now wants to return to local politics.
DN reported that Søviknes will be succeeded by Kjell-Bjørge Freiberg, who represents Nordland County in Parliament. Freiberg was a long-time mayor of Hadsel in Nordland before becoming a state secretary in the oil ministry in 2015. He currently serves on the parliamentary committee dealing with business and trade issues.
Both Prime Minister Erna Solberg and Jensen were huddling in state budget negotiations on Thursday and unavailable for comment. The ministerial changes are expected to be announced after Friday’s Council of State at the Royal Palace, where the monarch formalizes government appointments.