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Opinion: Two more B.C. cabinet ministers join the NDP's front line

Transportation Minister Rob Fleming and Agriculture Minister Lana Popham have been thrust into the spotlight by the B.C. floods
Lana Popham
Agriculture Minister Lana Popham is one of the cabinet ministers to join the NDP's front-line emergency response.

For almost two years now, the public face of the B.C. NDP government has largely consisted of just three people: Premier John Horgan, Health Minister Adrian Dix and Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth (plus Dr. Bonnie Henry, but she is not a cabinet minister – an important distinction).

They have been the front-line ministers dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic and have held significantly more news conferences than any of their counterparts.

However, the disastrous events associated with B.C.'s unprecedented weather event have thrust two more ministers into the public spotlight, and it looks like they will remain there for quite a while.

Transportation Minister Rob Fleming (who earned some public profile as education minister during the NDP’s first term in power) is fast becoming a familiar face as he provides almost daily briefings on the state of the highway system.

In addition, Agriculture Minister Lana Popham’s articulate, and at times somewhat emotional, media briefings detailing the carnage caused by mass flooding in the Fraser Valley has elevated her profile to a level not seen since she became an MLA in 2009.

Popham and Fleming have joined the front-line team that has been leading during the pandemic and now must do the same in the wake of devastating weather events.

A high public profile is unusual for any minister of agriculture, at least in this province. That portfolio normally receives scant media attention, and opposition parties tend to ignore agriculture ministers when they go hunting for headlines during Question Period.

However, given the lengthy period it will take to clean up and restore the broken Fraser Valley agriculture operations, Popham will remain front and centre with the public for quite a while.

A former farmer herself (she owned and operated a vineyard), Popham has displayed a personal connection with the farmers facing potential ruin, and her descriptions of their losses shows a genuine empathy.

At her first briefing, she appeared to slightly tear up as she described a Zoom call she had with a farmer, who was in his flooded barn, with dead livestock behind him. It was a moving moment.

As for Fleming, his ministry faces a long rebuilding effort that could go on for years. People are intensely interested in highway access, personal travel and the movement of goods, so he will be a busy man in front of the television cameras for quite a while.

I have written before about a memorable conversation I had with the premier back in March 2020, just as the pandemic began.

Sitting in his office, we talked about the great unknown the province and country was about to descend into. He said he would not be “leading” the government’s efforts the same way other premiers seemed to be doing.

“You won’t see me in front of the cameras every day,” he said, and added that “front-line” people would be doing that. He specifically mentioned Dix, Farnworth, Henry and then-Finance Minister Carole James.

James is now out of politics, but two more names can now be added to the high-profile front line.

Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global BC.