Skip to content

Departure of high-profile B.C. cabinet ministers normal: analyst

Choice of new forests minister will be of particular intrigue if NDP holds power
B.C.'s cabinet will have a different look after three ministers announced they won't be running for re-election. (Black Press Media file photo)

A political scientist warns against reading too much into the recent retirement announcements of three cabinet ministers who had helped to lead the B.C. NDP into government after years in the political wilderness.

But looming behind these retirements is the question of particular interest to the rural, resource-reliant parts of the province: who will replace Bruce Ralston as B.C.'s forest minister? 

Ralston, along with Labour Minister Harry Bains and Transportation Minister Rob Fleming, announced last week they would not be running again in the upcoming election. Three other ministers — Finance Minister Katrine Conroy, Environment Minister George Heyman and Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Minister Murray Rankin — had previously made similar announcements. B.C. NDP MLAs Nicholas Simons, Jennifer Rice and Doug Routley also won't be seeking re-election.

"It's normal to have a turnover of MLAs and even in the cabinet, even when the prospects for the governing party are relatively good," Hamish Telford, who teaches political science at the University of Fraser Valley, said.

"In the case of Mr. Bains and Mr. Ralston, they are both in their 70s. They have been doing this for 20 years." Fleming, who is 52, has also been an MLA for nearly two decades, Telford added.

Voters first elected the trio in 2005 — the first election after the 2001 election reduced the B.C. NDP to two seats after a decade in power.

"These three men were part of a team that brought the NDP back to government," Telford said. "They spent a dozen years in opposition until they finally were able to bring the party back to a party of government and they are leaving a party which right now is looking like a party of government for the long-term...collectively, they have been a huge part of that story. "

Telford is firmly in the camp of observers who see the trio's departure as part of a natural renewal rather than evidence of a sinking ship.

"We do have evidence that one of the opposition parties (the Conservative Party of B.C. under John Rustad) are surging in the polls," he said. "That's pretty clear. But we don't have evidence yet that that party is about to overtake the government. Most money right now would be on another NDP victory, so I don't think this is a case of people jumping from a sinking ship."

In fact, Telford sees the trio's departure as an opportunity for Premier David Eby to move some of his party's star candidates into junior cabinet positions, while moving some of the current junior cabinet members into more substantial posts.

That includes the forests ministry, which is of great interest to not only but also rural B.C., but the province's corporate sector as well.

"Presumably, the forests minister is not going to come from the environmental wing (of the B.C. NDP)," Telford said. "I don't think that would play particularly well in the forestry sector. So having said, I think it would be helpful for the (forests) minister to come from a rural area. The NDP is really the urban party in B.C, so choosing someone is somewhat more difficult. But given the struggles of the sector, you also need someone who understands the business side of things and that's also a struggle within the NDP." 

The party's membership has not historically come from the corporate sector, he added.

Finally, it would be beneficial for the eventual forests minister to understand international trade and international law, Telford said. B.C. has been the main victim of a long-running trade dispute between Canada and the United States concerning softwood lumber, one of several factors that have hurt the provincial forestry sector. 

"So perhaps somebody with a lawyer background could be helpful," Telford said. 

Telford specifically points to the current minister of state for sustainable forestry, Andrew Mercier, MLA for Langley. 

"He is a lawyer, so presumably, he has learned some of the file over the time that he has been in that role. He is not rural though. He comes from a union background, not a business background, but as I said, he has been learning the file and he is a lawyer." 


Wolf Depner

About the Author: Wolf Depner

I joined the national team with Black Press Media in 2023 from the Peninsula News Review, where I had reported on Vancouver Island's Saanich Peninsula since 2019.
Read more