Farmers on the Saanich Peninsula will have to work with a new provincial minister after Premier David Eby announced his new cabinet Wednesday morning.
Pam Alexis, who represents the riding of Abbotsford-Mission, replaces Lana Popham, who moves to tourism, arts, culture and sport, after having held the portfolio since 2017, when New Democrats ended 16 years of government under the BC Liberals.
Popham represents Saanich-South, which borders Saanich North and Islands, the riding that includes the Saanich Peninsula and farms focused on Central Saanich and North Saanich, two communities with deep historical ties to agriculture on Vancouver Island and Canada.
Some residents of Central Saanich may yet have closer contact with Popham, as parts of Central Saanich may move into her riding.
Local MLA Adam Olsen of the B.C. Greens representing Saanich North and the Islands said it is hard to tell how the change will impact local 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.
Voters in Abbotsford-Mission first elected Alexis during the general election in 2020, when former premier and 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.
Alexis beat the incumbent BC Liberal MLA Simon Gibson, who had held the riding since 2013, by less than 800 votes in 2020. 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 current opposition party and its right-of-centre predecessors, the region has undergone demographic and social changes. They have allowed New Democrats to make in-roads as evident by their 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 and 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 in the province, including parts of Greater Victoria and Vancouver Island, also appear to 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.
Other developments of local note in the cabinet shuffle concerns housing. 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 the most pressing issues facing not only the Saanich Peninsula and Greater Victoria, but almost every part of the province. 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.
Residents and officials in Central Saanich will likely be eager to find out more details from the new ministry about the housing development on Prosser Road. New legislation also suggests that the province will take a more active, some might say more interventionist role, in creating affordable housing with potential effects on the Saanich Peninsula, especially North Saanich, where the electorate has signalled opposition to additional housing and density.
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.
Looking at other Greater Victoria MLAs, Oak Bay-Gordon Head MLA Murray Rankin remains responsible for Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation, while dropping other responsibilities, Victoria-Swan Lake MLA Rob Fleming remains minister responsible for transportation and infrastructure, and Esquimalt-Metchosin MLA Mitzi Dean stays minister of children and family development. Victoria-Beacon Hill MLA Grace Lore moves up from parliamentary secretary for gender equity to minister of state for child care, as one of the new official faces in cabinet.
“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 the 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 deliever. The key will be what is in their mandate letters and how they address the priorities of British Columbians.”
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