Written by Danielle Dalzell and Nikki Hill
When Premier John Horgan unveiled B.C.’s new Cabinet last Thursday after securing a majority in the October provincial election, he introduced a new government that reflects how the world has changed in the past 9 months, and how the priorities of the BC government have also changed in order to address the current realities.
The mandate letters released alongside Premier Horgan’s new gender-balanced Cabinet show direction to his team of ministers to adhere to a set of foundational principles: putting people first; lasting and meaningful reconciliation; equity and anti-racism; a better future through fighting climate change; and a strong, sustainable economy that works for everyone.
A refreshed structure to deal with pandemic priorities and recovery efforts
A number of ministers remained in their previous portfolios, including Health Minister Adrian Dix; Solicitor General and Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth; Minister of Labour Harry Bains; Attorney General David Eby, who gained responsibility for Housing; Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy George Heyman, who returned to his role with the additional responsibility of TransLink; and George Chow, who returned to his role as Minister of State for Trade.
While no new ministries were added, several underwent name changes to better reflect the priorities of this government. This includes Agriculture, Food and Fisheries, where Minister Lana Popham was re-appointed; Jobs, Economic Recovery and Innovation, where new Minister Ravi Kahlon has taken on a significant portfolio continuing to deliver on the StrongerBC plan that the public service has been systematically implementing throughout the interregnum period; and Energy, Mines and Low Carbon Innovation, a renamed role Minister Bruce Ralston was originally appointed to in January 2020.
Long-time confidant and Deputy Premier/Finance Minister to Premier Horgan, Carole James, retired from her elected role with the fall election, but has committed to remaining as a Special Advisor at a salary of $1 for the next year. The Premier did not appoint anyone to the role of Deputy Premier, rather indicating that Minister Dix is designated 1st Acting Minister and would assume responsibilities for the Premier should that be necessary.
Minister Selina Robinson moves into the critical role of Finance Minister, bringing her extensive experience in government and the community to the important job of managing the province’s growing $13 billion deficit – the largest B.C. has ever faced. Former Minister of Education Rob Fleming moves into the Transportation and Infrastructure portfolio with new Minister of State for Infrastructure Bowinn Ma supporting some significant public works projects. These two portfolios will be significant ones, as, on top of the existing BC capital plan, both the provincial and federal governments have released ambitious economic recovery-related infrastructure spending plans.
B.C.’s first female forestry minister, Minister Katrine Conroy, will work with Minister of State for Lands and Resource Operations Nathan Cullen to break the ministry up into two separate structures – a move many would argue is long overdue, as the portfolio has only continued to grow over the last several years. Among other significant pieces, Cullen has been tasked with leading the development of the government’s coastal strategy, a priority touched upon in several mandate letters.
New Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation and former federal NDP MP Murray Rankin has been charged with developing a plan to create a dedicated Indigenous Secretariat by the end of 2021.
Other new faces added to Premier Horgan’s Cabinet include Minister Jennifer Whiteside, who will replace Rob Fleming in Education; Minister Sheila Malcolmson, who replaces Judy Darcy in the Mental Health and Addictions portfolio; former Tofino mayor Josie Osborne, who becomes Minister of Municipal Affairs; and Mitzi Dean, who becomes Minister of Children and Family Development.
The roles assigned to the 13 parliamentary secretaries – up from 8 in the previous government – acknowledge where current structures require additional support and signal the pressures this government expects ahead. Several new additions, including Parliamentary Secretary for Community Development and Non-Profits (Niki Sharma) and Fisheries and Aquaculture (Fin Donnelly), were the result of long-standing gaps identified by sectoral stakeholders and community members.
The Cabinet announcement was followed by notice of changes to deputy ministers. Former Deputy Minister of Finance Lori Wanamaker accepted the role of Head of the Public Service, Office of the Premier when Don Wright announced his retirement in early November. Wright will continue in a role of Special Advisor through transition.
Following the Cabinet swearing-in, ministers jumped quickly into their portfolios, appearing at stakeholder events and participating in briefings within days. With B.C.’s legislature resuming on December 7, 2020 for a brief session, which will begin with a short Throne Speech, they will be transitioned quickly to address the urgent issues facing the province. In preparation for the return to normal operations, caucus positions were also appointed immediately (below).
COVID-19 management and economic recovery remain the priority for the government, and likely will for some time. Finance Minister Selina Robinson indicated that the next budget will be delivered in the spring session and it will be billed as a ‘COVID recovery budget’. Dates have not been set for the Budget or the next legislative session.
The house is expected to sit for two weeks and will focus on pandemic response and relief measures – primarily, the $1,000 recovery benefit promised during the campaign. Premier Horgan said last week he could not guarantee the money would arrive in pockets before Christmas, but that “getting the money out the door quickly” is an urgent priority of the upcoming legislative session.
Beyond the pandemic and recovery
Mandate letters reflect the vision for the province for a future when COVID-19 is under control and recovery is underway, with a focus on commitments from the BC NDP election platform that meet the overarching priorities for the years ahead.
With a four year majority government, the Cabinet and caucus can now start the work of ensuring they meet their commitments to B.C. and make further progress than they were able to under the minority government structure.
Caucus Leadership, Cabinet & Parliamentary Secretaries:
- Government Caucus Chair, Bob D’Eith
- Deputy Caucus Chair, Niki Sharma
- Government House Leader, Mike Farnworth
- Deputy House Leader, Lisa Beare
- Government Whip, Garry Begg
- Deputy Government Whip, Michele Babchuk
- Speaker, Raj Chouhan (nominated)
- Deputy Speaker, Spencer Chandra-Herbert (nominated)
- Premier, Hon. John Horgan
- Minister of Advanced Education, Skills and Training, Hon. Anne Kang
- Minister of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries, Hon. Lana Popham
- Attorney General (and Minister Responsible for Housing), Hon. David Eby, Q.C.
- Minister of Children and Family Development, Hon. Mitzi Dean
- Minister of State for Childcare, Hon. Katrina Chen
- Minister of Citizens’ Services, Hon. Lisa Beare
- Minister of Education, Hon. Jennifer Whiteside
- Minister of Energy and Mines and Low Carbon Innovation (and Minister Responsible for the Consular Corps of B.C.), Hon. Bruce Ralston
- Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy (and Minister Responsible for TransLink), Hon. George Heyman
- Minister of Finance, Hon. Selina Robinson
- Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development, Hon. Katrine Conroy
- Minister of State for Lands and Natural Resource Operations, Hon. Nathan Cullen
- Minister of Health (and Minister Responsible for Francophone Affairs), Hon. Adrian Dix
- Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation, Hon. Murray Rankin
- Minister of Jobs, Economic Recovery and Innovation, Hon. Ravi Kahlon
- Minister of State for Trade, Hon. George Chow
- Minister of Labour, Hon. Harry Bains
- Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, Hon. Sheila Malcolmson
- Minister of Municipal Affairs, Hon. Josie Osborne
- Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General, Hon. Mike Farnworth
- Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction, Hon. Nicholas Simons
- Minister of Tourism, Arts, Culture and Sport, Hon. Melanie Mark
- Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure, Hon. Rob Fleming
- Minister of State for Infrastructure, Hon. Bowinn Ma
- Anti-Racism Initiatives: Rachna Singh
- Skills Training: Andrew Mercier
- Fisheries and Aquaculture: Fin Donnelly
- Environment: Kelly Greene
- Gender Equity: Grace Lore
- Rural Development: Roly Russell
- Seniors Services and Long Term Care: Mable Elmore
- Technology and Innovation: Brenda Bailey
- New Economy: Adam Walker
- Emergency Preparedness: Jennifer Rice
- Community Development and Non-Profits: Niki Sharma
- Accessibility: Dan Coulter
- Arts and Film: Bob D’Eith