British Columbia·Analysis

In building new cabinet, NDP must avoid hurt feelings

NDP premier-designate John Horgan faces a number of challenges in building a cabinet including regional breakdown, gender diversity and keeping his MLAs happy.

If one NDP MLA votes against party in confidence vote, government could fall

NDP Leader John Horgan gives a thumbs-up while addressing supporters in Vancouver, B.C., in the early morning hours of Wednesday May 10, 2017. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

It's the first major job of John Horgan's premiership: building a cabinet.

Over the past few weeks, Horgan has been busy mapping who will sit at the table once the political game of musical chairs ends.

There is much to be determined for the NDP leader who will become premier at a swearing in ceremony on July 18.

No matter what happens, Horgan can't risk incurring the anger of any his MLAs. The NDP was able to form a government after reaching an agreement with the Green Party, which has agreed to support the NDP on matters of confidence in the legislature.

But every vote matters, with the legislature likely to be divided 43 Green/NDP MLAs to 43 Liberal MLAs, with one speaker. 

That means even one New Democrat abstaining from a confidence vote could topple the government.

"Every single MLA is now going to be in power, so managing your caucus and keeping everyone happy is going to be job one," said Simon Fraser University political scientist David Moscrop. 

"Really any MLA could be the end of your government. And that's not ideal."

At the same time, none of the NDP MLAs seem interested in going back to Opposition anytime soon. And the consensus is they understand that building a cabinet is complicated. 

'Work with what is there'

The first challenge is creating regional diversity in a cabinet comprised of about 20 or 21 people, when only four of his caucus colleagues are from outside Metro Vancouver or Vancouver Island.

"There is the old John A. McDonald story where it says if you want a better cabinet, send me better wood," said NDP strategist Bill Tieleman.

"That is always the challenge with every premier or prime minister, you have to work with what is there."

The regional breakdown bodes well for Michelle Mungall, Katrine Conroy, Doug Donaldson and Jennifer Rice, who are the only MLAs from outside Metro Vancouver, Vancouver Island or the Sunshine Coast.

Big cities full of options

But regional break down is far more complicated than just the rural/urban split.

Horgan needs to be cautious about overloading the cabinet table with politicians from either the Capital Regional District or the city of Vancouver.

Carole James, NDP MLA for Victoria-Beacon Hill, speaking at a press conference. (Michael Mcarthur/CBC)

Carole James, Rob Fleming and Lana Popham all have realistic expectations to be part of the inner circle, but when you factor in Horgan himself, that would mean about 20 per cent of the cabinet is from around Victoria. 

The bigger problem is the city of Vancouver.

Adrian Dix, David Eby and Melanie Mark should all expect to be handed major portfolios.

Then Horgan must decide what to do with George Chow, George Heyman, Spencer Chandra-Herbert, Mable Elmore and Shane Simpson. All of them have credentials that would make them possible choices for cabinet, but they can't all go in because they represent the same city.

Adrian Dix, speaking to reporters outside of budget estimates, on May 2, 2016. (Richard Zussman/CBC News)

Getting close to gender parity

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has also set a new standard for gender representation in cabinet.

Horgan has not made any commitments to name women to fill half of the cabinet roles, but he will still feel the pressure to have female voices at the table.

This will include James, Mark, Mungall, Selina Robinson and Judy Darcy occupying some of the most important jobs. 

"I expect you will see good diversity, said James, who is speaking on behalf of the transition team.

"We have a strong number of women in a caucus, I think you will see strong diversity from areas in British Columbia as well as gender."

The size of the cabinet also matters.

Must consider cabinet size

Outgoing premier Christy Clark had 21 members of her cabinet before the provincial election and Horgan is expected to add a new portfolio of ministry of mental health and addictions. 

Horgan may decide to change some current roles like cabinet members responsible for rural economic development, jobs and skills training, red tape reduction or natural gas development that were all created by Clark.

But the NDP would be cautious about eliminating all of those considering it could open the party up for attacks that it is not open to business. 

The incoming premier also needs to consider some of the newly elected MLAs, including Anne Kang, Ravi Kahlon and Bowinn Ma.

All of this adds up to potentially upsetting those who are left out, ending the political honeymoon seemingly before it even starts.