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Rob Shaw: What to expect from Eby’s first cabinet announcement

Eby’s choices will reveal the future of his government, its priorities and where he intends to take the province over the next two years.
All eyes are on David Eby as he prepares to announce his first cabinet as premier on Wednesday.

Building a cabinet as a premier is a bit like deciding a seating chart for a wedding – an exercise fraught with delicate considerations as you try to get just the right people into just the right spots, while avoiding the kinds of conflicts, feuds and egos that can ruin the entire event.

In short: It’s not an easy task. The final product is a series of compromises.

So all eyes are on David Eby as he prepares to announce his first cabinet as premier on Wednesday. He must not only find the best people for the jobs, but also balance the political importance of key ridings, as well as the diversity and gender of those he picks (the BC NDP has long prided itself on maintaining a gender-balanced cabinet, for example).

The end product will be a tightly held secret until the moment it is announced at Government House.

But here are changes you can expect with confidence.

  • Eby will pick a new finance minister. Selina Robinson has done a good job over the past two years, but she and Eby infamously do not get along and her tenure at the top of the provincial treasury is coming to a natural close.
  • Eby will choose a new mental health and addictions minister. Sheila Malcolmson has struggled in this portfolio, presiding over a series of disjointed announcements that have failed to coalesce into an actual system of care that helps those struggling, or even begins to properly tackle the overdose crisis. The ministry has very little budget, staff or power. Eby is expected to retool this sector to make it more functional, and that includes a new minister at the top of whatever the new structure is.
  • Eby will keep the health minister. Adrian Dix was called “the best health minister in Canada” recently by Eby, and he’s as good as gold on cabinet day. Not everyone would agree, given that B.C. remains in the grips of a health-care crisis that has shuttered hospital ERs, delayed ambulances, ballooned wait times for life-saving procedures and left more than one million people without a family doctor. But Dix’s work to overhaul family doctor pay, recruit more physicians, build a new medical school and fast-track foreign trained doctors all have the endorsement of the new premier.
  • B.C. will get a new housing ministry and minister. Look for a top-shelf minister to get this new ministry, because it’s a key part of Eby’s plans to build more housing, cut through municipal delays and implement the premier’s promises for an anti-flipping tax, renter’s rebate and expansion of secondary suite approvals. The new minister will have vast powers to override municipalities that fail to meet their housing targets, and whomever is selected to sit in this role will be part of Eby’s inner circle of decision-makers.

Beyond these, we move into educated guess territory.

Many are watching to see what Eby will do with Minister of Children and Family Development Mitzi Dean, and whether she will lose her job over the bungled changes to autism funding. She so poorly handled that issue over the last year that Eby was forced to reverse the whole mess as one of his first acts as premier. If he keeps her, it would be slightly perplexing.

Look for some new faces to get the call up to cabinet, including Vancouver-Hastings MLA Niki Sharma, a whip-smart lawyer who earned praise from all sides in how she stickhandled the delicate chairpersonship of the all-party overdose committee.

Katrina Chen is a good bet to get a promotion from minister of state for child care to a full cabinet portfolio, having co-chaired Eby’s leadership campaign and done an exceptional job on the affordable child-care portfolio.

Surrey-Green Timbers MLA Rachna Singh could also advance upwards from her parliamentary secretary for anti-racism role and into a more established cabinet position (she earned praise for her development of a recent anti-racism bill), as could Langley MLA Andrew Mercier, Chilliwack MLA Dan Coulter and Richmond-Queensborough MLA Aman Singh.

Many are looking to North Vancouver-Lonsdale MLA Bowinn Ma to get called up from minister of state for infrastructure into a full cabinet role.

And few would be surprised if Ravi Kahlon was awarded the title of deputy premier, along with a more senior portfolio than his current ministry of jobs, economic recovery and innovation. He deserves both, not just because he’s one of the best ministers in government but also because of his decision to bow out of the leadership race and co-chair Eby’s campaign. He plays an important role in keeping the NDP caucus united around Eby.

Look for Eby to surround his upper echelon with strong women, to counterbalance the fact that he’s a middle-aged white man. He’ll also need to retain some rural voices in his front bench, to give the NDP eyes on the rest of the province outside its Metro Vancouver power base. With all that said, expect a significant number of veteran ministers to retain positions in the new cabinet.

In the end, Eby’s choices will tell us much about the future of his government, its priorities and where he intends to take the province over the next two years.

It’s also one of the most important moments in his premiership so far.

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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