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Keith Baldrey: Deft cabinet shuffle is a good start for Eby

New roster of BC NDP cabinet ministers shows premier’s commitment for gender equity, rural representation.
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B.C. Premier David Eby is off to a good start with his cabinet shuffle.

Putting together a provincial cabinet is a challenging endeavour for any premier and no doubt new B.C. Premier David Eby had to make some interesting calls in determining which members of his team would make the inner circle.

However, he seems to have pulled off some notable “firsts” in his first crack at cabinet making.

For the first time, B.C. has a South Asian woman in the important post of attorney-general. Niki Sharma received the only standing ovation from the audience at last week’s swearing-in ceremony at Government House, an indication of the importance attached to this historic appointment.

In fact, Sharma is one of 15 female cabinet ministers. That is the most ever, and for the first time there are more women in cabinet than men (also, of 25 deputy ministers, 15 are women).

Another first: MLAs from the Fraser Valley are at a BC NDP cabinet table. Agriculture Minister Pam Alexis represents Abbotsford-Mission and there are two ministers of state from Langley (Andrew Mercier) and Chilliwack (Dan Coulter).

The NDP made historic breakthroughs in all three cities in the 2020 election (the party had never won a seat in a general election in them before), and the path to victory in the next election may very well run through all three communities.

A cabinet appointment generally tends to heighten the profile of an MLA, so Alexis, Mercier and Coulter should all benefit from the added attention.

While it is not a first, the appointment of Katrine Conroy as finance minister marks the first time since Paul Ramsey held the portfolio in the NDP government in the 1990s that the portfolio has not been held by an MLA from Metro Vancouver or the capital region (Ramsey was from Prince George).

At the ceremony, Eby said Conroy will bring a rural voice into a cabinet dominated by urban voices. That rural representation is no doubt needed, given that Metro Vancouver has 16 ministers (plus the premier) while Vancouver Island has six.

Conroy and Sharma’s appointments also reflect Eby’s view that not only should there be gender equity in cabinet but that it should also apply to the biggest and key ministries. He views four ministries to be the most important: finance and attorney-general (both portfolios now held by women) and health and public safety (held by Adrian Dix and Mike Farnworth, respectively).

Also, of the eight largest ministries when it comes to budget size, six are now overseen by women.

Finally, given there are a lot of egos involved when it comes to cabinet appointments (some get bruised while others get inflated), Eby appears to have navigated a safe course.

He promoted eight backbenchers (including the longest-serving one, Jagrup Brar from Surrey, who is now the minister of state for trade) and demoted only two people from cabinet. He moved 11 ministers to new portfolios and kept eight in their existing positions pre-shuffle.

All in all, not a bad start by the new premier. The next shuffle will likely be just before the next election, assuming we are still at least a year away from one (and given Eby’s insistence that he is committed to the fixed election date, we are likely almost two years out from one).

Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global BC.

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