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Finance Minister Katrine Conroy hugs Premier David Eby during the swearing-in ceremony at Government House in Victoria, B.C., on Dec. 7.CHAD HIPOLITO/The Canadian Press

British Columbia Premier David Eby‘s new cabinet lineup cements housing affordability as one of his government’s top priorities, with the creation of a standalone ministry responsible for boosting rental opportunities and fast-tracking the construction of middle-class homes.

The expanded cabinet announced on Wednesday also includes a new ministry, led by Bowinn Ma, devoted to emergency management and climate readiness – a response to the costly disasters of wildfires and floods that exposed the weakness of the province’s infrastructure to withstand a changing climate.

“I believe that B.C. should be a place where everybody can build a good life, where you can afford a place to call home, and feel safe in your community,” Mr. Eby said as he introduced his first cabinet. “Where you have a family doctor, where kids go to a good school and teachers have the resources they need, where your kids can get training opportunities to pursue their dreams, and where we build a cleaner economy that works for everyone, in partnership with Indigenous peoples.”

Mr. Eby also elevated Niki Sharma, a political rookie, as his new Attorney-General, and dumped Selina Robinson from the Finance Ministry. The new Finance Minister is Katrine Conroy, a rural MLA who had asked to stay in the ministry of forests.

Ms. Conroy will introduce the next B.C. budget in February, just as the province’s economic growth is expected to slow. But before then, she will have plenty of spending room with an unexpected $5.7-billion surplus to meet Mr. Eby’s commitments for change.

“I’ll be working with the team to determine how to spend that,” she told reporters, adding that she hopes to be able to roll out more affordability measures, such as the recently announced cost of living credit from BC Hydro, and the BC Affordability Credit. “We’re going to be looking at that. ... The Premier and I are going to be working together very closely,” she said. “My plan is to ensure that we continue to provide services to people in the province.”

Ms. Robinson, who now leads the ministry of postsecondary education and future skills, was seated prominently during a press conference to introduce the new cabinet. However, her demotion from the powerful finance portfolio pointed to friction with Mr. Eby overspending priorities.

Ravi Kahlon, as the new minister of housing, will be a key member of the new cabinet, with a big budget. He is responsible for establishing the “BC Builds” fund to build housing for middle-income earners. His mandate also includes the creation of a rental-housing acquisition fund, and he will introduce laws to legalize secondary suites provincewide and to expand the number of units allowed to be built in cities using a single-family home development permit process.

Mr. Eby’s ambitious housing plan has already upset mayors, who are angry that the provincial government is blaming local government for slow approvals of new housing. “Any significant changes in housing policy are going to cause anxiety,” the Premier said. “But we are in a housing crisis, we can’t leave any housing on the table.”

Mr. Kahlon said he intends to meet with municipal leaders soon to discuss how they can work together to get more housing supply built, as the province’s population continues to grow at a record pace.

“I think there’s an understanding at all levels of government that we need to do more,” Mr. Kahlon said. “The Premier has made it one of his top priorities. He’s made it clear to me that he has been moving at an aggressive pace, and I need to move at that pace with him.”

The swearing in of 27 members of cabinet took place at Government House in Victoria. Mr. Eby, who became Premier on Nov. 18, kept some ministers in their existing portfolios, such as Health Minister Adrian Dix and Environment Minister George Heyman. But he also aimed to shore up the New Democratic Party’s minimal representation in rural B.C. with Ms. Conroy’s appointment, praising her as “rural tough.” He also elevated to cabinet backbenchers from the Fraser Valley, including the new agriculture minister, Pam Alexis.

Ms. Sharma, the new Attorney-General, was first elected to politics in 2020 and this is her first cabinet post. Mr. Eby, the former attorney-general, has been under fire for what his critics call a soft-on-crime approach.

Ms. Sharma, a lawyer whose practice focused on representing Indigenous peoples, will now be leading an initiative to deny bail to violent, prolific offenders. “I definitely hear from British Columbians that public safety is a big concern,” she told reporters. “They are seeing things on the streets that they are concerned about. ... I’m looking forward to rolling up my sleeves.”

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