The promotions, holdovers, hot seats, demotions, omissions, and things that make you go "hmm" from the NDP’s new cabinet.
The single biggest jump is indisputably Selina Robinson, who moves from Municipal Affairs and Housing into the second-most important role in government, Finance Minister. While her performance on those files was decidedly uneven (despite some very creative accounting, promised housing targets were several ballparks away from being met) she clearly has Horgan’s confidence and instantly becomes a major player.
One of the NDP’s truly rural MLAs, Katrine Conroy moves up from Children and Family Development to Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development – or FLNRORD, if you like acronyms (governments love acronyms). She is the first female forests minister in B.C. history.
Longtime veteran – and arguably the most prodigious heckler in this or any parliament – Nicholas Simons also broke into cabinet for the first time, inheriting the very difficult Social Development and Poverty Reduction ministry.
Soon-to-be-former Tofino Mayor Josie Osborne won three times over. First, she chose to run for the NDP over the Greens (both were wooing her) and was elected. Second, she made it into cabinet as a rookie (full) minister, ahead of names like Nathan Cullen and Fin Donnelly. Third, she got the most problematic file removed from her new portfolio – Housing has been moved from Municipal Affairs to the Attorney General.
Several members of the 2017 cabinet are resuming roles they have made their own.
This includes David Eby (Attorney General), Lana Popham (Agriculture, Food and Fisheries), Harry Bains (Labour), Mike Farnworth (Public Safety and Solicitor General), and of course, Adrian Dix (Health). Aside from Horgan possibly being tempted to name BC Building Trades Director Andrew Mercier to Labour, it would have been genuinely surprising to see any of these switched to different portfolios.
Purely hypothetically, one can only imagine the response, both public and private, had Horgan replaced Dix with…well, just about anyone other than Dr. Bonnie Henry.
The hot seats:
Several ministers inherit portfolios likely to cause significant and awkward headaches in the coming months.
The most sensitive will be Bruce Ralston in Energy, Mines, and Low Carbon Innovation, just because it includes BC Hydro and Site C. Questions continue to mount about what and when cabinet knew about serious geotechnical problems; the situation will almost certainly get worse before it improves. (If, in fact, it ever does.)
It’s a big potential problem, and the NDP have wisely assigned it to arguably their steadiest, most unflappable hand.
Ralston isn’t alone. In BC, Education is always a hot-button ministry – but when the BCTF is dealing with and occasionally pushing back on pandemic expectations, assigning it to an unheralded rookie MLA in Jennifer Whiteside is genuinely surprising. This is no comment on Whiteside herself (I admit I had to Google to remember where she’s from), who might be a rock star. To keep the ever-tempestuous teachers’ union in the NDP boat, she may have to be.
After much well-deserved criticism for patting themselves on the back for creating a Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions – only to fund it less than the Premier’s Office – the NDP have moved Sheila Malcolmson into the role. In the overdose crisis, she inherits an even deadlier epidemic than COVID-19. In opposition, the NDP were quick to blame government, but the problem has only gotten much, much worse. All I can say is I wish her well.
Finally, former MP Murray Rankin inherits Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation portfolio. This is a file the NDP have sometimes convinced themselves they’re winning, but you can only adopt UNDRIP once, and issues like the Wet’suwet’en protests and swatting aside Annita McPhee as a potential candidate aren’t going anywhere. Rankin is widely respected, and it will be interesting to see how he fares with a tough file during even tougher times.
The one big name many expected to see was former national NDP leadership candidate Nathan Cullen. True, he’s a Minister of State for Lands, Natural Resource Operations, but it’s a decidedly junior position for someone with his profile. But his botched nomination over Indigenous leader Annita McPhee dominated the first week of the campaign, and Horgan probably felt a major portfolio would have been a provocation.
Some will see Rob Fleming moving from Education as a demotion, but it’s really a lateral move; Transportation and Infrastructure is a major portfolio. And precious few ministers in any government stay in Education for long.
Arguably the biggest demotion is Jinny Sims, who had resigned from cabinet under a series of allegations. The special prosecutor dropped the investigation, which the NDP publicly called a complete vindication. The fact that she’s been left out, not even receiving the crumb of a Parliamentary Secretary role, probably indicates she caused one headache too many.
Aside from former MPs like Cullen and Fin Donnelly, many observers will be surprised to see Bowinn Ma as Minister of State, a decidedly junior role.
Outside of a small handful of the NDP’s major players, nobody in the NDP’s caucus room can match her public profile; it will raise eyebrows to see some fellow sophomores leapfrog her, much less rookies. But a good (if impetuous) Twitter game and good media relations do not necessarily correspond with full confidence behind the scenes.
The “that’s interestings”:
As noted above, Housing moves from Municipal Affairs to Attorney-General – surprising, in that it’s a major file and Eby is already busy, but it’s a topic he made his name on.
Just as interesting is moving ICBC away from Eby, the minister who coined the phrase “dumpster fire,” and into the decidedly non-firebrand, capable hands of Mike Farnworth in Public Safety.
What does it all mean? Time will tell.
Maclean Kay is Editor-in-Chief of The Orca
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