Premier John Horgan embraces one of the most powerful members of his caucus, Finance Minister Carole James during Tuesday’s swearing-in. The Vancouver Island-based premier named five Island MLAs to his cabinet.

The Vancouver Island is strong in B.C.’s new government

With the Premier, five cabinet ministers and all the Greens, the Island has unheard-of influence

The heart of the capital region will be strongly represented in B.C.’s new cabinet while perhaps the Island’s most veteran MLA says he’s content after being somewhat surprisingly overlooked for a portfolio.

Nanaimo MLA Leonard Krog — a member of the NDP opposition for the past 12 years after serving as a backbencher in the NDP government of 1991-96 — will be caucus chairman for John Horgan’s new government.

The cabinet includes a presence north of the Malahat — with North Island’s Claire Trevena as Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure and Scott Fraser of Mid-Island Pacific Rim as Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation – but for the first time in many years the capital region has actually become B.C.’s new seat of power.

In addition to Premier Horgan (Langford-Juan de Fuca) and finance minister Carole James (Victoria-Beacon Hill), Saanich South MLA Lana Popham and Victoria Swan-Lake MLA Rob Fleming are ministers of agriculture and education, respectively.

And that’s not even accounting for the influence Oak Bay-Gordon Head’s Andrew Weaver will have as Green leader and the pillar propping up this minority government, or the fact the other two Green MLAs are also from the south Island.

Neither the cabinet presence of Popham and Fleming nor their respective portfolios surprise. Both have been among the most senior members of the New Democratic caucus — Fleming since 2005, Popham since 2009 — and have shadowed their respective ministries for years as critics.

This pattern of critics becoming ministers appears across Horgan’s cabinet and can be read as an acknowledgement that the new government does not want to waste time in getting settled.

Krog being an exception. He had been the attorney-general critic, but David Eby, Vancouver-Point Grey MLA, is B.C.’s new attorney-general.

Krog said Eby is a high-profile MLA who will do well in the role, adding he didn’t consider it a snub not to be named a minister.

“Everybody wants to be in cabinet, but not everybody can be in cabinet and it’s a tough job the premier has in making these decisions,” he said. “Cabinet is representative of government, representative of the people and you want that diversity.”

Horgan, speaking in a conference call Tuesday, said he wanted a cabinet that was both gender-balanced and ethnically diverse.

“I wanted to make sure that the people of British Columbia saw themselves reflected in their cabinet and we have experienced people, we have new people and we have a caucus that is committed to making sure that we’re able to deliver for British Columbians,” the premier said. “Everybody wants to be in cabinet, but everybody also understands that the job ahead involves all of us.”

Krog said all the party’s MLAs – minister or not – will have an important role in a legislature that is so narrowly split.

“Keeping the team together is job No. 1, so everyone is important. I can’t emphasize that enough,” he said.

Michelle Stilwell, B.C. Liberal MLA for Parksville Qualicum — and the Island’s lone Opposition MLA — said the premier seemed to have put thought into his cabinet choices.

“It was unfortunate, I think, for us to not see the Nanaimo MLA Leonard Krog receive a cabinet appointment. I think he was deserving of it,” she said.

Krog said seeing an NDP government take office this week was very important to him and very exciting. It hadn’t happened in his political career since he was first elected in 1991, because he lost his seat in the 1996 election.

He said there are immediate tasks to take care of in Victoria such as staffing and setting up offices.

Once legislature is back in session, he’s hoping “that a lot of the progressive stuff will pass quite quickly,” noting that the NDP and Greens have a signed agreement and the B.C. Liberals indicated agreement on many items in their recent throne speech.

“On one hand I am incredibly excited by what we want to do and what we have promised to do, [but] I understand how hard it is to make stuff happen around here,” Krog said. “You’ve got to get support from the people who are affected by the decisions that are made, you have to have a legislature that’s ready to approve it, a cabinet that’s ready to help drive the agenda, all of those things. It’s a lot of work. It’s daunting.”

Stilwell had been minister of social development and social assistance under the previous B.C. Liberal government, but that ministry has been rebranded and Shane Simpson, Vancouver-Hastings MLA, takes over as minister of social development and poverty reduction.

Stilwell said Simpson will find some good programs in place that she hopes he will respect, pointing to the single parent employment initiative as an example.

“What I’m disappointed to see is that there isn’t an actual minister responsible for accessibility,” Stilwell said. “I think we were making great strides to bring in the legislation for accessibility and that’s something that I will be ensuring I use my voice [for] as we move forward.”

She said since the NDP cabinet was just announced, her party will wait to consider which MLAs might serve as opposition critics.

Moving to the opposition side of the legislature, Stilwell said the biggest difference is that when advocating for the community and British Columbians, she’ll be working with a new minister in charge instead of talking to her own colleagues at the cabinet table.

“Overall, we’re going to be as an opposition making sure that the NDP isn’t wasting or misusing taxpayer dollars, that they’re putting things into place that benefit all the people of British Columbia, that they’re doing it without raising taxes and that we continue with our core values as B.C. Liberals to fight for and stand up for jobs and a strong economy,” she said.

Horgan’s minority government is the first since 1952-1953 and only the third in the history of British Columbia. Based on the available records, including SFU’s political scientist David Moscrop, it is the first minority government in British Columbia to assume power following a vote of non-confidence. Its fate hinges on a small party, which has been a familiar, but until recently, inconsequential force in provincial politics.

These circumstances give the new government a precarious, potentially fleeting, but also exciting feel, a fact not lost on the actors themselves.

“This minority government is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to do politics differently in British Columbia,” said Weaver, in a statement. “We have an historic opportunity to put partisan politics aside and work together across party lines to advance good public policy that is in the best interests of British Columbians.”

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