B.C. farmers will have to work with a new provincial minister after Premier David Eby announced his new cabinet Wednesday morning.
Pam Alexis replaces Lana Popham, who moves to tourism, arts, culture and sport, after having held the agriculture portfolio since 2017, when New Democrats ended 16 years of government under the BC Liberals.
Voters in Abbotsford-Mission first elected Alexis in 2020, when Eby’s predecessor John Horgan converted his minority government into a majority government in ending a three-year-long confidence and supply agreement with the B.C. Greens.
Adam Olsen of the B.C. Greens representing Saanich North and the Islands said it is hard to tell how the change will impact farmers.
“If the (minister) focuses on increasing local and regional food production as a way to increase community resilience against an increasingly tenuous and threatened food supply chain, then our farmers, all British Columbia farmers, will benefit,” he said.
Alexis’ promotion to cabinet appears as an attempt to boost her profile with a ministerial post important to the most important food-growing region in British Columbia.
While the Fraser Valley with its farms and many small businesses related to agriculture once reliably voted for the B.C. Liberals and their right-of-centre predecessors, the region has undergone demographic and social changes. These have allowed New Democrats to make in-roads as evident by a narrow victory in Alexis’ riding.
Both main parties in the provincial legislature will likely heavily contest the riding in a future election, given the narrow outcome in 2020.
The riding also saw a large spending announcement earlier this fall to help it recover from heavy flooding in late 2021. Alexis, who served as mayor of Abbotsford-neighbouring Mission before entering provincial politics, has familiarity with regional infrastructure issues.
The devastating, traumatic flooding experiences of 2021 in the Fraser Valley and elsewhere, appear to be behind the creation of the new ministry of emergency management and climate readiness. It is one of two new ministries and Bowinn Ma, who represents North Vancouver-Lonsdale, will serve as its first minister.
Meanwhile, Delta North MLA Ravi Kahlon is the first minister to head the newly created stand-alone ministry of housing. As such, he assumes responsibility for one of B.C.’s most pressing issues.
Eby, who used to be responsible for housing, has previously identified housing as a top priority for his government and Kahlon, who previously served as minister of jobs, economic recovery and innovation, now finds himself responsible for implementing that agenda.
New legislation suggests the province will take a more active role in creating affordable housing.
The provincial government described the new cabinet as a mix of “experience and new energy” in a release.
Familiar figures in familiar places include Adrian Dix, who remains minister of health, Mike Farnworth, who remains minister of public safety and solicitor general (ICBC), and George Heyman, who remains environment minister.
Katrine Conroy, the former forests minister, received what appears to be the most significant promotion, as she takes over the the finance portfolio. Selina Robinson, who previously held the position, moves to post-secondary education and future skills.
“British Columbia is a wonderful place to live, but people are looking for action on the issues facing them and their families,” Premier Eby said in a statement. “If the pandemic taught us anything, it’s that we can’t solve these problems alone. We need to solve them together. My team of determined colleagues will use a wealth and variety of experiences to continue the good work we’ve started and go further to deliver results people can see and feel in their communities.”
The new cabinet includes 23 ministers and four ministers of state. Gender representation remains balanced. The cabinet will be supported in its work by 14 parliamentary secretaries, it reads.
“Well, it is a very large cabinet, nearly 85 per cent of the (New Democratic) caucus,” said Olsen. “Seems to be unnecessary, however, we will see how they deliver. The key will be what is in their mandate letters and how they address the priorities of British Columbians.”
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