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Departure of top BC cabinet ministers normal: analyst

Departure of top BC cabinet ministers normal: analyst
Departure of top BC cabinet ministers normal: analyst

A political scientist warns against reading too much into the recent announcements of the resignations of three ministers who helped the British Columbia NDP into government after years in the political wilderness.

But behind these retirements lies a question of particular importance to the province’s rural areas that depend on natural resources: Who will replace Bruce Ralston as British Columbia’s minister of forests?

Ralston, along with Labour Minister Harry Bains and Transport Minister Rob Fleming, announced last week that they would not seek re-election in the upcoming election. Three other ministers — Finance Minister Katrine Conroy, Environment Minister George Heyman and Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Minister Murray Rankin — had previously made similar announcements. BC NDP MLAs Nicholas Simons, Jennifer Rice and Doug Routley will also not seek re-election.

“It is normal to have a change of MPs and even cabinet members, even though the outlook for the governing party is relatively good,” said Hamish Telford, a political science lecturer at the University of the Fraser Valley.

“In the case of Mr. Bains and Mr. Ralston, they’re both in their 70s. They’ve been doing this for 20 years.” Fleming, who is 52, has also been an MLA for nearly two decades, Telford added.

Voters first elected the trio in 2005, the first election after the 2001 election, which left the BC NDP with just two seats after ten years in power.

“These three men were part of a team that brought the NDP back to government,” Telford said. “They were in opposition for 12 years until they finally brought the party back to a governing party and they’re leaving a party that now looks like a long-term governing party … collectively they’ve been a huge part of that story.”

Telford is among those who see the trio’s departure as part of a natural rebuilding process, not evidence of a sinking ship.

“We have evidence that one of the opposition parties (the Conservative Party of BC under John Rustad) is rising in the polls,” he said. “That’s pretty clear. But we don’t have evidence yet that that party is about to overtake the government. The most money right now would be on another NDP victory, so I don’t think this is a case of people jumping off a sinking ship.”

Telford sees the trio’s departure as an opportunity for Premier David Eby to move some of his party’s star candidates into lower cabinet positions, while moving some of the current lower cabinet members into more substantial posts.

This also applies to the Ministry of Forestry, which is of great importance not only to rural British Columbia, but also to the province’s business community.

“The minister of forests is probably not going to come from the environment department (of the BC NDP),” Telford said. “I don’t think that would be particularly good in the forestry sector. So having said that, I think it would be helpful if the minister of forests came from a rural area. The NDP is really the urban party in BC, so picking someone is a little bit harder. But given the problems in the sector, you also need someone who understands the business side of things and that’s also a problem in the NDP.”

He added that historically the party has not had members from the business community.

Finally, it would be helpful for the eventual forest minister to understand international trade and international law, Telford said. B.C. has been the biggest victim of a long-running trade dispute between Canada and the United States over softwood lumber, one of the factors that has hurt the provincial forestry sector.

“Maybe someone with a legal background could be helpful,” Telford said.

Telford specifically points to the current Minister of State for Sustainable Forestry, Andrew Mercier, MLA for Langley.

“He’s a lawyer, so presumably he learned some of the file while he was in that role. He’s not from a rural background, though. He comes from a union background, not a business background, but as I said, he learned the file and he’s a lawyer.”