Horgan taps six Island MLAs for cabinet positions in NDP government

Six Island MLAs have been tapped for cabinet positions in Premier John Horgan’s majority NDP government.

Horgan announced his 24-member cabinet Thursday afternoon, with ministers ­swearing their oaths over live video feed.

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Former Tofino mayor Josie Osborne, elected in October in Mid Island-Pacific Rim, becomes minister of municipal affairs, a position previously held by Selina Robinson, who is now the finance minister.

Osborne said on Twitter that B.C.’s municipalities and regional districts are playing a critical role in COVID-19 response and recovery, and “I’ll bring every ounce of passion and energy I have for local government to serve British Columbia.”

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps said Osborne’s experience as a mayor during the pandemic will give her an appreciation of the challenges municipalities are facing.

“Not only that she’s been a mayor, but she’s been a mayor having to lead her community through a very challenging time will serve all of us very well,” Helps said.

Murray Rankin, MLA for Oak Bay-Gordon Head, will be the province’s Indigenous relations and reconciliation minister, taking over the portfolio from Scott Fraser, who did not seek re-election. Rankin served as NDP MP for Victoria from 2012 to 2019 and was house leader for the federal NDP.

Horgan said Rankin’s ­experience as a lawyer and law professor will allow him to continue the province’s work on fulfilling the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act, which was passed in B.C. a year ago Thursday.

“There’s a great deal of work ahead in order to move reconciliation forward,” Rankin said Thursday on Twitter. He said his first step will be establishing a secretariat, in consultation and co-operation with Indigenous peoples, to ensure that the ­government’s new legislation and policies are consistent with the UN declaration.

Judith Sayers, president of the Nuu-Chah-Nulth Tribal Council, which represents 14 nations with about 10,000 members from Brooks Peninsula to north of Port Renfrew, said she’s pleased by Rankin’s appointment, but noted that what he is able to accomplish for Indigenous ­communities could be limited by the mandate given to him by Horgan.

Sayers said in the year since the UN declaration was passed, there have been a lot of promises, but few concrete policies ­benefitting Indigenous communities have been enacted.

The Nuu-Chah-Nulth Tribal Council, Heiltsuk Nation and Tsilhqot’in National Government are still calling on the government to provide more information to First Nation communities about the location of confirmed COVID cases near their communities and whether someone who tested positive for the virus travelled to one of the Nation’s territories in the last 14 days.

Sheila Malcolmson, a former MP who was elected MLA for Nanaimo in a 2019 byelection, is the new minister of mental health and addictions, a difficult portfolio as B.C. battles an ­opioid overdose crisis. On Wednesday, the B.C. Coroners Service revealed that 162 people died of illicit drug overdoses in October, the fifth month this year with more than 160 suspected illicit drug deaths.

Horgan said he’s confident that Malcolmson “will be diving right in first thing tomorrow morning to get working on the issues that [former minister] Judy Darcy made such great progress on.”

The premier said he’s committed to the NDP’s election promise to build new treatment and detox facilities, and his government will work with the federal government, police chiefs and local governments “to make sure we decriminalize and destigmatize addictions.”

Victoria-Swan Lake MLA Rob Fleming is no longer education minister, replaced by Jennifer Whiteside, a rookie MLA representing New Westminster. Fleming, who has a background in economic development, was shuffled to the transportation and infrastructure portfolio, replacing Claire Trevena, who did not seek re-election in her North Island riding.

Horgan said Fleming, who was education critic for two years in opposition before being appointed education minister in 2017, was not removed from the education portfolio because of criticism about the way the government has handled the return-to-class plan amid the pandemic.

“I think Rob Fleming did an outstanding job under very, very difficult circumstances,” Horgan said. “Education is a challenge because of the diversity of stakeholders who at their core, come together to care for children and give them a quality education. This is not simple and it’s certainly not simple in the midst of a global pandemic. I believe the change will be good for the system, it will be good for the two ministers and the outcomes will be there to be judged in the future.”

David Black, an associate professor in the School of Communication and Culture at Royal Roads University, said the education portfolio in B.C. has always been volatile, one that sees the minister take on a lot of baggage. “So without knowing what the premier was thinking, some turnover there is not surprising,” he said.

Black noted that Horgan’s cabinet includes several reappointments to high-profile portfolios, such as Attorney General David Eby and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth, and former MPs who bring the weight of their federal political experience.

“The premier has pretty much gone with a steady-as-it-goes cabinet,” Black said. “It looks like a cabinet built for a pandemic and for an economic crisis.”

Lana Popham, MLA for Saanich South, will continue as minister of agriculture, while Esquimalt Metchosin MLA Mitzi Dean, previously parliamentary secretary for gender equity, was made minister of children and family development.

Black was surprised to see significant cabinet representation for Vancouver Island and fewer cabinet picks from the Fraser Valley, where the NDP made inroads in traditionally Liberal ridings.

Including Horgan, who represents Langford-Juan de Fuca, seven of the Island’s 12 NDP MLAs are in cabinet positions, which Black said is considerable.

“It feels like the Island might be over-represented, considering the new political gains that the NDP made in this election,” he said.

kderosa@timescolonist.com

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