Premier-elect David Eby has put B.C. civil servants on notice that he intends to shake up the often slow-moving government bureaucracy and set higher expectations for results on health care, public safety, affordable housing and climate action.
He did so in a letter Tuesday to the province’s civil servants and by appointing a rising-star lawyer and political outsider to head the provincial civil service.
The 46-year-old MLA for Vancouver-Point Grey, who will be sworn in as premier in the coming weeks, named his senior staff and transition team Tuesday, offering a glimpse of how he will tap experienced New Democrats, fresh faces and Indigenous leaders to achieve his goals.
Eby’s picks for the premier’s office send a clear message that “the B.C. government cannot deliver what David Eby wants if government remains the way it is now,” said Jeff Ferrier, a public affairs analyst for Hill+Knowlton Strategies and longtime B.C. NDP volunteer. “So Eby has made some off-the-board picks for key roles. People with big skills, but also fresh eyes and an outsider’s perspective.”
Eby tapped Shannon Salter to serve as deputy minister to the premier and head of the public service.
Salter, 44, was named by Canadian Lawyer Magazine as one of the top 25 most influential lawyers in the country.
She takes over from Lori Wanamaker, a career bureaucrat.
Salter worked with Eby in the attorney general’s office, serving as deputy attorney general since January. Before that, she was chair of the Civil Resolution Tribunal, an online legal system that adjudicates strata disputes, small claims for damages under $5,000, and, since 2019, rules on liability and damages in minor injuries from motor vehicle crashes.
Vancouver-based political strategist Matt Smith will be Eby’s chief of staff, replacing Geoff Meggs who was poached from Vancouver city council in 2017 when John Horgan became premier.
Smith was Eby’s campaign manager during the B.C. NDP leadership race, which ended last week after the party disqualified Anjali Appadurai over what the party’s chief electoral officer called improper co-ordination with environmental groups.
Eby’s campaign was criticized for getting a slow start and failing to sign up as many members as Appadurai, which led to accusations from the climate activist’s supporters that the party was intent on blocking Appadurai from running to ensure a coronation for the former attorney general and housing minister.
“A transition (between premiers) can be like turning a big ship in a canal,” Ferrier said. “Eby’s staff picks tell me his plan is to send a fleet of quick-response hovercrafts to land on the beaches of housing and health care, public safety and climate change, and that Smith and Salter will captain those ships.”
Eby’s transition team will be co-chaired by former finance minister and deputy premier Carole James and lawyer and First Nations negotiator Doug White. White is the chair of the B.C. First Nations Justice Council and a former chief of the Snuneymuxw First Nation.
James retired from politics in October 2020 following her Parkinson’s disease diagnosis, but was tapped a month later to serve as special adviser to Horgan for $1 a year. She was appointed in 2021 to the Royal B.C. Museum’s board of directors to fix what was described as a toxic culture in the institution.
James said in an interview that having White as co-chair is a strong indication that Eby is committed to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People and ensuring representation from Indigenous leaders in all levels of government. White brings new ideas and fresh approaches to the table, James said.
In a letter to public servants, Eby said British Columbians he spoke to during his tour of the province are concerned about the health-care system, public safety, the lack of affordable housing, and creating an economy that is sustainable.
Eby acknowledged “these are not small matters that can be resolved overnight,” and said without the support of civil servants, “we won’t be successful in this effort.”
Eby made a commitment to respect and listen to civil servants with front-line experience. He also made clear he has high standards and expects results.
“I need your support both in understanding what is working well, how we can expand and develop those positive results, and also what is not working well,” Eby wrote. “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.”
B.C. Liberal health critic Shirley Bond criticized Eby for not giving specifics on what kind of action he will take in his first 100 days to address housing, health care, the environment and public safety.
“He takes over the chair of premier in this province without having said a single word about health care, about the other major issues,” Bond said. “To announce that he has a 100-day action plan with no actions specifically outlined, that speaks volumes about talking about things and taking action and there is a very substantive difference.”
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