B.C. Premier John Horgan introduced a new 20-member cabinet with a focus on the health and economic challenges of the pandemic, including keeping seniors safe with more staff, more beds and new hope for rapid COVID-19 tests for thousands of care-home staff.
Rapidly rising case counts in the province – there were 887 cases and a further 13 deaths, according to Thursday’s daily count – and the prospect that a vaccine may not be available for months mean all of the cabinet’s senior portfolios will be focused on managing the pandemic.
Adrian Dix remains health minister while Mike Farnworth stays as solicitor-general, with responsibilities that include enforcement of public-health orders such as wearing masks. Mr. Horgan named a new education minister, rookie MLA Jennifer Whiteside, a former union executive, as schools grapple with infections. Ravi Kahlon was named minister of jobs, economic recovery and innovation, to focus on economic recovery, and a new finance minister, former housing minister Selina Robinson, will be responsible for such election commitments as a means-tested $1,000 pandemic payout for B.C. families.
“We are buoyed by the good news of vaccines on the way, but until then, we have to continue to do our level best to keep the second wave of COVID-19 under control and prepare for the new year,” Mr. Horgan said.
It has been two months since the B.C. government was put in caretaker mode to accommodate Mr. Horgan’s snap election.
The Premier said Thursday as he presided over a virtual ceremony to announce his new cabinet that Mr. Dix will work with parliamentary secretary for senior services Mable Elmore to improve care for seniors who are especially vulnerable to COVID-19.
“We are focused on the hirings that we committed to during the election campaign so that we have more people working in the health care sector to keep people safe,” Mr. Horgan said.
In addition, he said the government will continue its efforts to expand the capacity of long-term care to relieve overcrowding. And Mr. Horgan welcomed the federal contribution of new equipment to pave the way for rapid testing of care workers.
B.C. seniors advocate Isobel Mackenzie said rapid COVID-19 testing is an added layer of protection and detection for health workers and residents at long-term care homes. Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry said at a briefing Wednesday that B.C. has received rapid tests from the federal government, including 131 ID Now rapid test machines that can provide a result in 13 minutes or less, and 27,000 test kits.
Ms. Mackenzie said the tests could open the door to relieving some of the isolation of elderly residents in care who have had little access to loved ones during the pandemic.
“I think that this will be an added layer of detection for staff. It also, I think, might give us more confidence about being able to allow more visitation than we’re currently seeing in long-term care,” Ms. Mackenzie said in an interview Thursday.
To work with teachers who have been highly critical of the NDP’s back-to-school plan, Mr. Horgan appointed Ms. Whiteside, formerly secretary-business manager for the Hospital Employees’ Union, which represents more than 40,000 workers. Mr. Horgan touted her experience working with competing interests, saying it will facilitate her work in education.
Mr. Horgan found room for NDP MPs who left Ottawa to run to be part of the provincial government, appointing Murray Rankin as minister of Indigenous relations and reconciliation, and Sheila Malcolmson as minister of mental health and addictions.
Nathan Cullen is now minister of state for lands, natural resource operations, and Fin Donnelly is parliamentary secretary for fisheries and agriculture.
With a report from Xiao Xu in Vancouver
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