July 17, 2017 2:48 pm
Updated: July 17, 2017 6:04 pm

Putting together an NDP cabinet will be challenging for incoming Premier John Horgan

Mon, Jul 17: It's moving day for the BC Liberals as the province prepares for a change in government.


Premier-designate John Horgan is presumably busy putting the final touches on what will be the first NDP provincial cabinet in more than 16 years.

All premiers face challenges when choosing a cabinet, but Horgan has a couple of added ones that will make his task a bit more difficult than usual.

Still, I’m sure he’d rather be in this position than not, even if it means having to bruise the egos of a few government caucus members.

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A number of factors are at play here: a razor-thin majority of one seat, a preponderance of MLAs, who have sat impatiently in Opposition for 12 years and are expecting a reward, a commitment to gender equality and ethnic representation, a need to ensure that regions outside of Metro Vancouver have a voice at the cabinet table, and evidence that new blood has been injected into the caucus.

The first two factors (that thin majority and lots of veteran MLAs) are actually linked together.

That tiny majority means every MLA’s vote is precious to the governing side, which means not a single member of caucus can be alienated, angered or ignored (feelings that can arise by being, say, sidelined from the cabinet room).

But those other factors and the math that goes with creating that cabinet will inevitably mean at least a few of those 12-year veterans will be sidelined from cabinet, and it will be interesting to gauge their reaction as time goes by and they have to sit by and watch as newcomers get the plum posts (which come with a hefty salary top-up of almost half their MLA salary).

Horgan’s first cabinet will likely have, at most, 24 positions plus the premier himself. Anything larger than that is politically risky (the outgoing B.C. Liberal cabinet numbers 22 members, including the premier).

The gender equity rule the NDP cherishes so much means that will translate to 12 male MLAs and 12 female MLAs.

Let’s examine those geography concerns (the party has just four seats outside of Metro Vancouver and Vancouver Island/Sunshine Coast). That means Stikine MLA Doug Donaldson – holder of one of those seats – is virtually a lock for a cabinet post.

As well, two other up-country MLAs – Michelle Mungall and Katrine Conroy, both from the Kootenays – are almost certainly headed for the cabinet table (I’m less confident the other northern MLA – Jennifer Rice from Prince Rupert – will make the grade).

Now we come to the obvious choices. Former party leader Carole James is an absolute certainty to be at the cabinet table (deputy premier and perhaps finance minister), as are MLAs Selina Robinson and Melanie Mark.

Former party leader Adrian Dix and Mike Farnworth, the party’s veteran house leader and the only person in the NDP caucus with actual experience at being a cabinet minister (he was one during the NDP government in the late 1990s) are both shoo-ins as well.

Veteran Bruce Ralston from Surrey and David Eby, whose public profile grew immensely as he took on the housing file the past couple of years, are also likely on the list of almost assured ministers, as is Harry Bains, who was first elected in Surrey in 2005.

If you’re keeping score at home, this brings us to six male cabinet ministers and about the same number of female cabinet ministers.

So space at the cabinet table is now getting tight, and we have to pick six more male MLAs and almost the same number of female MLAs. And this is where things get tricky for the new premier.

There will undoubtedly have to be some fresh faces in the NDP’s first cabinet. The party needs to show renewal, and familiar old names and faces don’t accomplish that.

So how many rookies? I would bet on there being at least two to four women first-timers, and at least two men.

On the female side, I would suggest Bowinn Ma, the young civil engineer from North Vancouver-Lonsdale heads the list of cabinet rookies. Aside from her youth and smarts, there is the fact that her riding is strategically important to the NDP (she took what was supposed to be a somewhat safe seat from the B.C. Liberals) and the party needs to hold it if it hopes to win an outright majority come the next election.

Next on this list is likely either ex-MP and former teachers’ union president Jinny Sims, who represents a strategically important Surrey riding, and/or perhaps Katrina Chen or Anne Kang (both from Burnaby).

On the men’s side of the draw, Ravi Kahlen from Delta North and perhaps Bob D’Eith from Maple Ridge-Mission stand the best chance for promotion. Both are in proverbial swing ridings that must be kept in the NDP camp, among other attributes. Another possibility: George Chow from the Vancouver Fraserview riding (but he may lose out because of the number of other ministers representing Vancouver).

Okay, now we’re down to finding four or five more men, and three to five more women to put into cabinet (assuming, again, that it is a 24-member cabinet; anything lower means even fewer posts for Horgan to hand out).

There are seven male MLAs first elected in 2005 who I haven’t mentioned yet (this is where Horgan inevitably starts to bruise some egos): Rob Fleming, Shane Simpson, Raj Chouhan, Leonard Krog, Scott Fraser, Nick Simons and Doug Routley.

As well, there are three other male MLAs with less seniority: Spencer Chandra-Herbert, Jagrup Brar and George Heyman.

So it would seem about five or six of these names won’t make it into cabinet. But there are other plums to be had: Fraser is the party whip, and someone (perhaps Krog?) has to be Speaker (elected by the legislature, not appointed the same day the cabinet is announced).

I would bet on Fleming, Simpson, Krog (if he’s not Speaker), Heyman and perhaps Chouhan fronting this list into cabinet.

Will being passed over for a plum seat at the cabinet table be a big problem for an MLA who has been sitting in Opposition for 12 years? Can they be counted on to show for every vote in the House next year?

We shall see.

But it’s important to remember that Horgan has a whole bunch of consolation prizes to hand out to disappointed cabinet office-seekers, such as parliamentary secretaries (an extra $16,000 a year), ministers of state ($37,000), deputy whip ($16,000), and a few others. In fact, it’s quite possible every member of his caucus gets something extra.

Rounding out our selections are three veteran female MLAs: Lana Popham, Judy Darcy and possibly Claire Trevena (who could also be a choice for Deputy Speaker).

So how accurate is this projected scorecard?

We’ll know about 2 p.m. on Tuesday afternoon, when the cabinet swearing-in ceremonies begin at Government House in Victoria.

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