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Keith Baldrey: Horgan's 'no-shuffle approach' to cabinet ministers differs from predecessors

Premiers of various political stripes were always shuffling their cabinets.
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Three other current ministers (Environment Minister George Heyman, Attorney-General David Eby and Solicitor-General Mike Farnworth) have set records of longevity in their portfolios that go back decades.

Here’s a B.C. political trivia question:

Who is the longest serving B.C. agriculture minister since the 1960s?

If you said Lana Popham, the current minister, you would be correct.

Here’s another: who is the longest serving labor minister in the last 50 years?

Again, if you answered with current Labor Minister Harry Bains, you would be correct.

In fact, three other current ministers (Environment Minister George Heyman, Attorney-General David Eby and Solicitor-General Mike Farnworth) have set records of longevity in their portfolios that go back decades.

The NDP government is approaching the fifth year anniversary of assuming power in this province and the fact that a record number of cabinet ministers still hold their positions after that span of time shows just what a different approach Premier John Horgan takes when it comes to putting together a cabinet.

In previous governments going back more than 50 years it was unusual for ministers to last more than two or three years in the same cabinet post. Premiers of various political stripes were always shuffling their cabinets.

Not Horgan.

He has told me several times that once he appoints a team, he prefers to step back and let them do their work. Back in the first couple of weeks of the pandemic, he made it clear to me that his ministers would be the face of the government’s response, and not him.

Back in December, he reminded me how few changes he had made and about how few changes had been made at the deputy minister level as well. His take was this approach led to consistency and better outcomes.

This approach is in stark contrast to most of his predecessors.

For example, Christy Clark had four different labor ministers in a little more than six years in office, and four attorney-generals as well (the NDP has had one of each). Over his 10 years in office, Gordon Campbell had five agriculture ministers and five solicitor-generals (again, the NDP has had of each, albeit over half the time in office).

The NDP’s Mike Harcourt had five different government services ministers over just over four years in power, and three different environment ministers.

The retirement of eight cabinet ministers going into the 2020 election necessitated some changes at the cabinet table of course, but that is not the same as a shuffle in mid-term.

In all, eight ministers have had the same portfolio since first getting their posts in July, 2017. They include two ministers of state: Katrine Chen (child care) and George Chow (trade), and the aforementioned Popham, Baines, Heyman, Eby and Farnworth.

Then there is Health Minister Adrian Dix.

Assuming Horgan keeps his no-shuffle approach, Dix is poised to become B.C.’s second longest consecutive serving health minister in August, surpassing former Social Credit minister Jim Nielsen (all this information is available on the B.C. legislature library’s web site).

Back in 2017, when the election outcome seemed uncertain many observers (including this columnist) wondered how stable a minority NDP government could be over time. The 2020 election result, and the fact that so many key cabinet ministers have remained in their jobs for record times, suggest that stability is beyond what most had imagined.

Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global BC.

Keith.Baldrey@globalnews.ca