John Horgan's cabinet picks send a signal that loyalty is critically important to the premier's office

Finance Minister Selina Robinson and Attorney General David Eby will play key roles in the NDP's second term

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      Premier John Horgan's new cabinet is generating a great deal of interest among the chattering classes.

      The biggest news is the appointment of Coquitlam-Maillardville MLA Selina Robinson as the new finance minister.

      Another noteworthy development has been the expansion of the Vancouver–Point Grey MLA David Eby's portfolio to include housing. That's in addition to him remaining attorney general.

      I'll first deal with these two before moving to other interesting aspects.

      Robinson and Eby were key caucus members prior to the 2017 election, playing the role of caucus pit bulls while in opposition against the Christy Clark government.

      Their willingness to throw spears at the B.C. Liberals enabled Horgan to take the high road, appearing premierlike before he actually moved into this position.

      Then in the NDP's first term in government, Eby continued framing the now-opposition B.C. Liberals in a devastating way. He oversaw the creation of the cleverly named Dirty Money report by former Mountie Peter German and then the subsequent money-laundering inquiry.

      He likely worked closely on these issues with the premier's chief of staff, Geoff Meggs, given the union sensitivities around the entire casino file.

      The money-laundering report more or less finished off the B.C. Liberals before Andrew Wilkinson could even establish himself in the minds of British Columbians as a candidate to become premier.

      Then for good measure, Eby painted the B.C. Liberals as incompetent overseers of ICBC. And he scored a political hat trick by shepherding through a no-fault auto insurance plan that is rarely actually called by that name.

      Meanwhile, Robinson oversaw the sometimes tricky municipal affairs and housing portfolio in the NDP's last term. In that role, she kept most Metro Vancouver municipal politicians onside, helping the NDP make even greater gains in the region in the 2020 election.

      She also got a lucky break when the housing market ran out of steam, taking some heat off the NDP. Robinson is quick on her feet and will probably do fine as the finance minister.

      The premier's chief of staff, Geoff Meggs will continue to wield enormous influence behind the scenes.

      Many ministers kept their old positions

      In the last term, Horgan's real inner circle centred around Meggs, Health Minister Adrian Dix, and Finance Minister Carole James.

      Others with significant influence included Public Safety Minister and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth, Energy and Mines Minister Bruce Ralston, Environment and Climate Change Strategy Minister George Heyman, and the now-departed social development and poverty reduction minister, Shane Simpson.

      Those who've returned from this group remain in these positions—a sign of a status quo approach. If it delivered the largest NDP landslide in history, why tinker with success?

      The elevation of Robinson and Eby moves them firmly into the inner circle. 

      It also shows that they've achieved a level of trust normally only accorded to long-time NDP insiders dating back to the 1990s.

      Eby will have more opportunities to show off his stunningly effective communications skills in the legislature. That's because as the minister responsible for housing, he'll be called on to fend off attacks on this topic from the B.C. Liberals.

      What's interesting in the cabinet choices is what it says about the level of trust accorded to other members of caucus.

      Even former MP Nathan Cullen, the star candidate in Stikine, has to content himself with a measly minister of state position, which means he doesn't even get his own deputy minister. He'll probably get into cabinet long before this term ends, however.

      Another former MP, Fin Donnelly, is a mere parliamentary secretary.

      But the rookie MLA for New Westminster, Jennifer Whiteside, catapulted straight into cabinet as the education minister, overseeing a $6.7-billion budget.

      Whiteside is a former secretary-business manager of the Hospital Employees' Union. That likely carries more heft with Horgan, Meggs, and Dix than any number of years working on Parliament Hill.

      Plus, elevating Whiteside helps stifle any complaints that not enough women were getting A-list positions. Making veteran MLA Katrine Conroy the minister of forests, lands, natural resource operations and rural development reinforces that message.

      Burnaby–Deer Lake's hardworking MLA, Anne Kang, has also clearly won the trust of Horgan, Meggs, and Dix—the big three now that James didn't run again.

      She's the only caucus member of East Asian ancestry with her own deputy minister as she oversees advanced education. It makes her the grand poohbah of B.C.'s university and college system.

      After three terms on Burnaby council and after her second provincial election victory, Anne Kang is now the minister of advanced education.

      Metro Vancouver MLAs hold key posts

      North Vancouver–Lonsdale MLA Bowinn Ma was elevated from parliamentary secretary to minister of state for transportation.

      That will make her a key spokesperson in the Lower Mainland while the new transportation and infrastructure minister, Rob Fleming, likely deals with the rest of the province. But she isn't quite in the inner circle.

      George Chow and Katrina Chen remain in their pre-election positions as the minister of state for trade and minister of state for childcare, respectively.

      Only two of the NDP's caucus members of South Asian ancestry—Harry Bains and Ravi Kahlon—are cabinet ministers. Bains remains in charge of labour, though clearly the premier's office will be taking a keen interest in that area. And Kahlon has been elevated to minister of jobs, economic recovery, and innovation.

      It will be understandable if there are complaints in the coming days about Horgan's failure to give a bigger share of the full cabinet posts to MLAs of colour. Mable Elmore, for example, was kept out of cabinet even though she's the only person ever elected to the B.C. legislature who traces her roots back to the Philippines.

      However, the Jewish community will be pleased to see Robinson and Heyman continuing to occupy important positions.

      B.C.'s second-largest city, Surrey, only has two cabinet ministers—Ralston and Bains—though Kahlon represents nearby North Delta. And Kahlon is a favourite at the Guru Nanak gurdwara, which recently gave him a human rights award.

      Plus, Surrey–Green Timbers MLA Rachna Singh is a provincial secretary, sending a signal to the Sikh community that the party is sensitive to complaints that it was turning a blind eye to human-rights abuses in India.

      Vancouver has five members of cabinet: Eby, Heyman, Dix, Mark, and minister of state Chow.

      Farmland advocates will likely be happy that Horgan kept Saanich South's Lana Popham as the agriculture minister. She shepherded through some sensitive policymaking around fish farming, helping to blunt any serious challenge from the B.C. Greens in the last election.

      It's interesting to see Vancouver–Mount Pleasant's Mark move from advanced education to Tourism, Arts, Culture and Sport.

      When she was advanced education minister, university and college boards moved more quickly to Indigenize their institutions. We can expect her to have a similar impact on arts and cultural organizations, which have already made significant progress in this regard.

      The former minister overseeing this area, Lisa Beare, will have a less glamorous job as the minister of citizens' services. But it gives her a window into freedom-of-information issues and other sensitive areas. And it's likely that Horgan and Meggs want to be sure there are no slip-ups here.

      A third former member of the federal NDP caucus, Murray Rankin, becomes the minister of Indigenous relations and reconciliation. As a former UVic law professor, he is well-suited for this position. If he thrives, it could clear the way for him to become B.C.'s next attorney general if Eby takes on another role.

      Former UVic law professor Murray Rankin is the new minister of Indigenous relations and reconciliation.

      Some things change, some remain the same

      A fourth former NDP MP, Sheila Malcolmson, is the minister of mental health and addictions. While it sounds impressive, most of the major health-care decisions will still likely be made by Dix. He can fob off this area to another woman in cabinet, just like he did in the last term with Malcolmson's predecessor, Judy Darcy.

      Meanwhile, the former mayor of Tofino, Josie Osborne, is the new minister of municipal affairs. And Esquimalt-Metchosin's Mitzi Dean has been handed the gruelling post of minister of children and family development.

      And speaking of trust, that brings us to one of the most intriguing picks of them all.

      Powell River–Sunshine Coast MLA Nicholas Simons seemed to be in the doghouse for a few years after he participated in a revolt against a former leader, Carole James. But for the first time since being elected in 2005, he's now in cabinet as the minister of social development and poverty reduction.

      A former social worker with a greenish hue, Simons is unlikely to bolt to the B.C. Greens now that he's finally made the big time in B.C. politics.

      He's an effective constituency politician, a solid debater, an outstanding cellist, and can give Dix a run for his money in speaking French. 

      Over here at the Georgia Straight, we wonder why it took so long to get into cabinet. But hey, with Horgan and Meggs in charge, loyalty takes precedence. And a few years in the penalty box can do wonders in boosting a politician's level of obedience to the boss.

      It's something that the parliamentary secretaries should all keep in mind if they want to move up the political ladder.