British Columbia·Analysis

John Horgan's cabinet sends message that experience matters

John Horgan has done what no NDP leader in BC has had to in more than 16 years: put together a cabinet. With a range of options from young stars to wily veterans, Horgan has weighed his choices towards those with experience.

New NDP cabinet filled with former councillors, school trustees, an MP and MLAs

Premier John Horgan is photographed with Lieutenant-Governor Judith Guichon and his provincial cabinet after being sworn in as premier at Government House in Victoria, B.C., on Tuesday, July 18, 2017. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito)

Now the governing begins. 

It took 52 days after the May 9 provincial election for NDP leader John Horgan to be asked to form a government in B.C. It took another 19 days for Horgan to select a cabinet and be sworn into power. 

On Tuesday, Horgan unveiled his cabinet. Prior to that, he had promised a gender-balanced cabinet that would draw on all regions of the province, even though the NDP have only four MLAs outside Metro Vancouver and Vancouver Island. 

That reduced much of the guesswork about the composition of his first cabinet. But Horgan said he had to work hard on his choices.

"Over the months, I've been sitting in airports, waiting for connections, scribbling on the back of sheets of foolscap. What you think would be easy is not that easy," said Horgan. 

Rookies with other experience

There was thought he would name Bowinn Ma and Ravi Kahlon to cabinet. Both MLAs are under 40, both are from South Asian backgrounds, and both won swing ridings the NDP lost four years ago. Yet Horgan relegated both to secretary positions, below cabinet status.

There was also speculation that the MLAs who pushed Carole James out as NDP leader six years ago wouldn't be rewarded with cabinet posts. Horgan backed James during that period and the two have been allies since. On Tuesday, James was named finance minister and deputy premier.

Yet of the six James' dissidents still in office, three — Katrina Conroy, Lana Popham and Claire Trevena — were named to cabinet.

Horgan said he's moved on.

"The troubles are long past. We had cabinet ministers who were not supportive back in the day," said Horgan.

"I believe that page has turned, and we have a united group that's extremely excited." 

Horgan's cabinet is heavy on experience as much as a party that hasn't been in power for 16 years can be experienced. 

Of the 16 NDP MLAs who have served since 2005, 12 were named to cabinet. 

Of the 14 NDP MLAs who are new to Victoria, just four are in cabinet. And all four (Katrina Chen, Jinny Sims, George Chow and Lisa Beare) have experience in other forms of government, namely, school board, city council and federal politics.

"We're ready to get started," said Horgan as he ended his address at Government House. And his picks certainly reflect that.

Premier John Horgan hugs Deputy Premier Carole James after being sworn in. ( THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito)

Pros and cons of experience

But does experience in cabinet really matter?

It depends, says Lori Turnbull from Dalhousie University's political science department.

"Experience can be really important when building a cabinet because there are some things you can't know unless you are on the inside," said Turnbull.

"But if you want to send the message that you are inclusive and want to seek fresh ideas, then you can't appoint everyone with experience."

Horgan is trying to do a little bit of both. He has appointed a gender-balanced cabinet. He has also appointed visible minorities and the first First Nations woman appointed to a B.C. cabinet; with Melanie Mark named as advanced education minister.

"Cabinet composition is not just about what you want to do. It's about what signal you want to send as well. You want to show you are inclusive, you are representative, that various parts of the province will see themselves in the cabinet," said Turnbull.

Premier John Horgan leaves Government House after being sworn in as premier. (Chad Hipolito/The Canadian Press)

First priorities 

Experience will come into play right away in dealing with top priorities. It is no surprise that on the wildfire file Horgan has tapped his most experienced cabinet minister, Mike Farnworth, to co-chair the cabinet committee. 

Farnworth, having served in the cabinets of former premiers Glen Clark, Dan Miller and Ujjal Dosanjh, will be ready to speak directly to evacuees while also dealing with staff on the ground, coordinating the fire fight. 

Beyond the ongoing provincial state of emergency, the government has listed the softwood lumber deal, the fentanyl crisis and education as top priorities in the short term. 

It's no surprise that all three politicians handling those files — Education Minister Rob Fleming, Mental Heath and Addictions Minister Judy Darcy and Forests Minister Doug Donaldson — are experienced.

But neither Horgan nor his cabinet have any experience navigating a legislature with an NDP/Green one-seat advantage. The seat count is 44 to 43.

Manoeuvring that will take political skill that we still don't know if Horgan or his cabinet possess. 

Premier Horgan: "Ready to get started."

6 years ago
Duration 0:23
The B.C. NDP has officially taken power after 16 years