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Eby's cabinet retains seven Islanders, with new attorney general, finance minister

The new cabinet, unveiled Wednesday, shows an effort to balance gender, ethnicity, regional representation and experience. Niki Sharma takes over as attorney general, and Katrine Conroy as finance minister

Outgoing premier John Horgan had said it was time for “generational change,” but when Premier David Eby’s cabinet was revealed Wednesday, it was more of a “mixed bag” balancing gender, ethnicity, regional representation and experience, say pundits, with some “head-scratchers” — including a new finance minster months before a new budget.

The cabinet, which was sworn in by Lt.-Gov. Janet Austin at Government House, still has seven cabinet ministers from Vancouver Island — the Island gained one minister of state in Victoria-Beacon Hill MLA Grace Lore but lost a local ­premier at the table. Appointments included 23 ministers and four ministers of state.

Eby, who kept stalwarts such as Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth, Health Minister Adrian Dix and Environment Minister George Heyman, said the cabinet represents a wide diversity of perspectives and experience.

In new key roles are Niki Sharma as attorney general — who received a standing ovation during the swearing-in as the first South Asian woman to hold the post — replacing Oak Bay-Gordon Head MLA Murray Rankin, and Katrine Conroy as finance minister, replacing Selina Robinson.

Hamish Telford, political ­science professor at the ­University of the Fraser Valley, said while there’s rumoured tension between Eby and Robinson, many might be puzzled by his decision to oust a strong ­minister, who recently delivered a $5.7-billion surplus, in the final months of budget ­deliberations.

Conroy said she asked to remain forests minister but now oversees an approximate $70-billion budget and will tweak it based on the priorities of the premier and the new cabinet. “It’s pretty clear the premier thinks he can work with her,” said Telford.

Ravi Kahlon, viewed as a key NDP leadership candidate before he endorsed Eby, was appointed minister of the new Housing Ministry and government house leader.

Kahlon’s stature and popularity set him up well to navigate the potentially “tense negotiations” ahead with municipalities who could be forced to fulfil housing targets, said David Black, a political communications expert at Royal Roads University.

Heyman kept the climate-change file but Bowinn Ma is now minister of emergency preparedness with the additional responsibility of “climate change readiness.”

B.C. Green Leader Sonia Furstenau said actions in the coming weeks will show whether the government’s environmental policy meets “the scale of the emergencies we face.”

“I look forward to finding out whether or not Premier Eby will fulfil his promise for no more fossil fuel development — ultimately, actions speak louder than words,” she said.

Rachna Singh was appointed education and child care ­minister.

The only Island cabinet ministers to keep the same posts are Transportation Minister Rob Fleming, representing Victoria-Swan Lake, and Minister of Children and Family Development Mitzi Dean, MLA for Esquimalt-Metchosin.

Pundits had predicted Dean would be bumped after the ­government recently reversed its plan to end individualized autism funding for children in favour of a new hub model that Dean has steadfastly defended.

Rankin stays on as minister of Indigenous relations and ­reconciliation.

Saanich South MLA Lana Popham MLA moves to tourism, arts, culture and sport — she’ll now be responsible for the Royal B.C. Museum — from agriculture and food, while Mid Island-Pacific Rim MLA Josie Osborne moves to energy, mines and low carbon innovation from her former post as minister of land, water and resource stewardship.

Sheila Malcolmson, MLA for Nanaimo, moves to head the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction from her former post as minister of mental health and addictions, where she led the effort to address toxic drug deaths. Jennifer Whiteside will now take up that challenge.

Opposition Liberal Leader Kevin Falcon, in a phone ­interview, said he’s more focused on the results from government than who’s sitting in the cabinet seats. But Falcon said Eby’s decision to leave Dix as health minister after he “presided over the collapse of the health-care system” shows the premier is satisfied with the status quo.

“That should be frightening to every British Columbian out there struggling to access any kind of health care.”

Falcon said he was surprised that Robinson was taken out of the finance post as the province heads into “more turbulent economic times” and Eby is “spending like a drunken sailor.”

Nanaimo-North MLA Doug Routley retains his post as parliamentary secretary for forests, one of 14 parliamentary secretaries outside of the executive council.

Eby said Ralston, who worked in a mill and who has worked closely with Indigenous leaders in his previous role in Energy and Mines, “is the ideal minister for this role” given his focus on innovation, industry and trade.

“If we are going to ensure a sustainable forest industry for British Columbians for generations to come, we need to get more value out of the wood that we’re harvesting — that means using innovation to make sure we’re creating jobs, [and] that means increasing our trade networks around the world as we lobby and push against unfair softwood tariffs in the United States,” said Eby. “He’s incredibly well suited to take on this job and I’m glad he did.”

Telford said the new cabinet mix brings “a fair degree of stability” while introducing more ethnic diversity in critical posts, new energy and a regional rebalancing, including needed cabinet seats in the Fraser Valley.

Eby said his team is ready to take on the big challenges the province faces — global inflation that is driving up the cost of essentials such as groceries, global economic uncertainty, health-care systems across Canada under strain, small businesses struggling to find employees as the economy grows, climate disasters, and the toxic drug overdose crisis.

“If the pandemic taught us anything, it’s that we can’t solve these problems alone,” said Eby. “We need to solve them together.

Black sees the cabinet shakeup as tied to what he believes will be an early fall 2023 provincial election, despite a fixed election date of October 2024.

“Why would you wait until 2024?” said Black, noting Eby has already announced up to $1 billion in spending on key priorities and will be acting on those through the spring but by 2024 would be into an expected recession. “The political calculus for a 2024 election becomes less persuasive and fixed election laws are the most breakable laws in the federation,” said Black.

Falcon said the party will prepare as if Eby is going to call an election before October 2024.

The B.C. Greens announced Tuesday they are opening up nominations in the event of a snap election.

However, Eby said in a media availability following the swearing-in ceremony that he is committed to a fixed election, noting that as he campaigned around the province: “I didn’t hear one British Columbia and say, ‘Gosh, you know what I really hope happens now is a provincial election.’ ”

“We have two years, we have a mandate for British Columbians to deliver,” said Eby. “We didn’t get into politics to run elections — we got into politics to deliver for British Columbians. We have an opportunity to do that and we’re going to do it.”

ceharnett@timescolonist.com

The new B.C. cabinet

• Premier: David Eby

• Agriculture and Food: Pam Alexis

• Attorney General: Niki Sharma

• Children and Family Development: Mitzi Dean

• Citizens’ Services: Lisa Beare

• Education and Child Care: Rachna Singh

• Minister of State for Child Care: Grace Lore

• Emergency Management and Climate Change Readiness: Bowinn Ma

• Energy, Mines and Low Carbon Innovation: Josie Osborne

• Environment and Climate Change Strategy: George Heyman

• Finance: Katrine Conroy

• Forests: Bruce Ralston

• Health: Adrian Dix

• Housing and Government House Leader: Ravi Kahlon

• Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation: Murray Rankin

• Jobs, Economic Development and Innovation: Brenda Bailey

• Minister of State for Trade: Jagrup Brar

• Labour: Harry Bains

• Mental Health and Addictions: Jennifer Whiteside

• Municipal Affairs: Anne Kang

• Post-Secondary Education and Future Skills: Selina Robinson

• Minister of State for Workforce Development: Andrew Mercier

• Public Safety and Solicitor General (ICBC): Mike Farnworth

• Social Development and Poverty Reduction: Sheila Malcolmson

• Tourism, Arts, Culture and Sport: Lana Popham

• Transportation and Infrastructure (BC Transit and TransLink): Rob Fleming

• Minister of State for Infrastructure and Transit: Dan Coulter

• Water, Land and Resource Stewardship (Fisheries): Nathan Cullen

New parliamentary secretaries

• Anti-Racism Initiatives: Mable Elmore

• Emergency Preparedness: Jennifer Rice

• Sustainable Economy: Adam Walker

• Environment: Aman Singh

• Gender Equity: Kelli Paddon

• Forests: Doug Routley

• Seniors’ Services and Long-Term Care: Harwinder Sandhu

• Rural Development: Roly Russell

• Labour: Janet Routledge

• Accessibility: Susie Chant

• Community Development and Non-profits: Megan Dykeman

• Arts and Film: Bob D’Eith

• Tourism and Premier’s Special Advisor on Youth: Brittny Anderson

• Fisheries and Aquaculture: Kelly Greene

ceharnett@timescolonist.com

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