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Rob Shaw: Eby administration appointments signal major change for BC NDP

Premier-designate David Eby signalled big changes are coming for both B.C.’s civil service, as well as the NDP’s next election campaign, with the appointment of two new top officials to his administration this week.
Premier-designate David Eby meets with his new senior staff and transition team at the legislature on Oct. 25. From left: Matt Smith, chief of staff; Doug White, transition co-chair; Eby; Carole James, transition co-chair; Shannon Salter, deputy minister and head of the civil service

Premier-designate David Eby signalled big changes are coming for both B.C.’s civil service, as well as the NDP’s next election campaign, with the appointment of two new top officials to his administration this week.

Eby announced Matt Smith, a veteran NDP campaigner with ties to the earliest days of Vision Vancouver, as his new chief of staff when he takes office in early November.

Shannon Salter, a lawyer Eby hand-picked from the private sector to be his deputy when he was attorney general, was named deputy minister to the premier and head of the civil service.

"With a team that brings new ideas from outside government but also understands how Victoria works, we can get results on the big challenges people in British Columbia are facing,” Eby said in a release.

The new jobs are expected to become official once Eby is formally sworn in as premier in early November.

Both appointments are notable – though for different reasons.

In Smith, Eby is signalling he intends to be in campaign mode for the next two years, as he finishes out Horgan’s term and positions himself for the 2024 provincial election (assuming he doesn’t call one earlier).

Smith, 44, is a veteran of political strategy, campaigning and voter identification going back to the 2011 federal NDP Jack Layton campaign and the 2017 and 2020 Alberta NDP Rachel Notley campaigns.

It’s a good bet Eby will tap Smith to run the next BC NDP election campaign, too.

Until then, Smith will hold the most powerful job in government, allowing him to make sure Eby’s priorities, messaging and decisions are continually tied back into a cohesive campaign platform.

He and Eby first met in the mid-2000s in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, when Eby was doing advocacy work and Smith was working with Jim Green, who would go on to found Vision Vancouver.

In Salter, Eby is sending a clear message to the 30,000-person public service that a generational shift is occurring amongst the government bureaucracy.

Instead of promoting the next senior-most deputy minister to the top job, Eby chose Salter, in her mid-40s, who has been deputy attorney general for barely eight months. Her background is transformational change. She previously led the Civil Resolution Tribunal, which has been internationally lauded for its innovative approach to solving strata and small claims disputes.

Salter is skilled at tackling major reforms in uncharted areas, and making them work. In civil service terms, she builds the airplane while flying it.

That will mean a more modern, flexible and nimble civil service to respond to Eby’s changing direction on housing, climate change, crime and health care. It’s a big ask, considering the civil service is also fighting widespread burnout, following the COVID-19 crisis.

“I need your support both in understanding what is working well, and how we can expand and develop those positive results, and also what is not working well,” Eby wrote in an email sent to the civil service Tuesday.

“How can we move faster, more efficiently and more effectively without those results coming at the expense of you, your family and friends, and your willingness to work in the public sector.”
Eby reiterated to top officials his four main areas of focus in his early administration.

“Challenges around our public health-care system, concerns about public safety, alarm at the lack of availability of housing even for people with decent incomes and expectations that we deliver an economy that is sustainable for our planet and our province’s diverse people,” he wrote.

“These are not small matters that can be resolved overnight. Some of them are national, and some international in scope. But it is clear to me that we must make progress on these issues a priority if we are to be the government I know we need to be. One that delivers meaningful and tangible results for the people of this province.”

Some might be surprised at the scope of change Eby is signalling, considering the NDP has done pretty well under John Horgan and holds a commanding majority in the legislature.

To even things out, Eby appointed Carole James as co-chair of his transition campaign. James is a staunch Horgan loyalist, and not particularly close with Eby. Her involvement is a nod to those within the NDP worried Eby might move too quickly in new directions.

James also brings a wealth of experience from helping the BC NDP transition to power in 2017, as well as from her time as finance minister and deputy premier.

James summed up the current lay of the land quite well during a meeting with reporters at the legislature on Tuesday.

“It’s going to be a wild few weeks,” she said. “There’s no question about it.”

 Rob Shaw has spent more than 14 years covering B.C. politics, now reporting for CHEK News and writing for Glacier Media. He is the co-author of the national bestselling book A Matter of Confidence, and a regular guest on CBC Radio.

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