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b.c. politics

As the New Democrats take power after 16 years in Opposition, there is a list of difficult files that will require immediate attention

John Horgan leaves Government House on June 29, 2017, after Lieutenant-Governor Judith Guichon asked him to form government. Mr. Horgan and his cabinet were formally sworn in Tuesday, July 18, in Victoria as the NDP minority government officially took power.

British Columbia's new NDP Premier and cabinet have been formally sworn in as the party forms government for the first time in 16 years.

There are several contentious issues awaiting Premier John Horgan and his executive council, including the softwood lumber dispute, wildfires, and the opioid crisis.

Here are some of the most significant files – and who Mr. Horgan has appointed to handle them.

Read the full list of who's in the NDP's cabinet

Gary Mason: In B.C., Liberals' crises suddenly became the NDP's problems

Explainer: B.C.'s New Democrats have taken power: What happens next?

Softwood lumber

THE ISSUE: The softwood lumber dispute erupted in the middle of B.C.'s spring election campaign as the United States announced countervailing duties against Canadian softwood exports. British Columbia is Canada's largest exporter of softwood lumber to the U.S. by a large margin. Then-premier Christy Clark threatened to retaliate by banning or taxing thermal coal exports through B.C. ports, most of which originate in the U.S. Mr. Horgan promised to immediately visit Washington to push the province's interests. He has not said whether he would continue pushing for retaliation on American coal.

POINT PERSON: Premier John Horgan plans to be personally involved in this file, beginning with a trip to Washington, as well as by reaching out directly to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The issue also falls under the portfolio of the Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development, Doug Donaldson, who represents the northern B.C. riding of Stikine.

The B.C. economy

THE ISSUE: Ms. Clark's Liberals campaigned largely on their record of managing the province's economy and its finances. The 2016-17 fiscal year ended with a fourth consecutive surplus, and the province led the country last year in GDP growth and employment. The Liberals also warned during the campaign that the NDP's combination of expensive programs and tax increases would threaten that economic performance. The Liberals also left the NDP a gift: last month, the outgoing government revealed the province was finishing the year with a $2.8-billion surplus, roughly 10 times what the Finance Ministry projected in February, 2016.

POINT PERSON: Finance Minister Carole James, a former party leader who was seen as a natural pick for cabinet, will be in charge of presenting the government's first budget when the legislature resumes in September.


THE ISSUE: The NDP is now in control of a province that remains in a state of emergency due to wildfires. Nearly 700 fires have scorched more than 200,000 hectares of land since April 1, with much of that activity happening in the past few weeks. Almost 40,000 people are under evacuation orders, including the entire city of Williams Lake in B.C's central Interior. The Liberal government announced $100-million to help people affected by the unfolding disaster, which is expected to continue throughout the summer. Officially, the province budgets $63-million to fight fires, but in busy seasons such as this one the bill can reach $300-million or more. Mr. Horgan only has four MLAs outside Vancouver Island and the Vancouver region, and none in the areas worst hit by the wildfires.

POINT PERSON: Minister of Forests Doug Donaldson's office oversees the BC Wildfire Service.

Health care

THE ISSUE: The government is currently fighting a legal battle over private health care, which has flourished in B.C. perhaps more than in any other province. The case involves private clinics run by Dr. Brian Day, who argues that restrictions on private health care are unconstitutional. The case is currently in B.C. Supreme Court and is expected to reach the Supreme Court of Canada. The new government also must manage a health budget that accounts for nearly half of all government spending. The NDP campaigned on a promise to eliminate health-care premiums (B.C. is the only province to charge residents directly for medical coverage) but has not said how it plans to replace that money.

POINT PERSON: Health Minister Adrian Dix is a former party leader who previously handled the health file for the party.

Opioid crisis

THE ISSUE: B.C. has become ground zero in the opioid crisis that has spread across the country, largely driven by the synthetic painkiller fentanyl. The BC Coroners Service recorded 967 fatal overdoses in 2016, and this year the province is on track to reach 1,500. The province has also taken a lead role in responding to the crisis, expanding the use of supervised-injection sites – after opening the first such facility in North America a decade ago – and experimenting with more aggressive interventions such as prescription heroin.

POINT PERSON: The opioid crisis will involve two cabinet members: Adrian Dix as Minister of Health and Mental Health and Addictions Minister Judy Darcy, who takes over a newly created ministry.


THE ISSUE: Home prices in the Vancouver region have been spiralling upward for years, with the average price for detached homes sitting at $1.7-million. The New Democrats repeatedly accused the Liberals of sitting idly as prices increased out of the reach of many residents, and specifically blamed the previous government for failing to address the issue of foreign speculation in the market. The previous government introduced a 15-per-cent tax on foreign buyers last year, a policy that has since been adopted in Ontario, allowed the City of Vancouver to tax vacant homes, and introduced a loan program for first-time buyers. The New Democrats have proposed a broader speculation tax, but the party hasn't committed to dismantling the Liberal government's measures.

POINT PERSON: Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Selina Robinson takes over a renamed ministry. She was first elected in 2013 in the suburban Vancouver-region riding of Coquitlam-Maillardville.


THE ISSUE: The NDP were highly critical of the Liberals' approach to the environment. Specifically, the New Democrats targeted the previous government's apparent reluctance to increase the carbon tax, its pursuit of resource projects such as liquefied natural gas terminals, its approval of Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain pipeline, and its commitment to the massive Site C hydroelectric dam in the province's north. The NDP have committed to increase the current $30-a-tonne carbon tax by $5 a tonne, per year, starting next April, to bring it in line with federal targets. The party has also vowed to kill the Kinder Morgan pipeline, though it's not clear what power, if any, they have to make that happen. Mr. Horgan has also promised to put the Site C dam to a fresh review, opening up the possibility of killing the project.

POINT PERSON: Environment and Climate Change Strategy Minister George Heyman is a former executive director of the Sierra Club BC and has been a three-term president of the BC Government and Service Employees' Union. In opposition, he has had a high profile as environment critic. Some issues related to resource development will fall to Minister of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources Michelle Mungall.

First Nations

THE ISSUE: The Liberals struggled to improve the province's relationship with First Nations, launching a treaty negotiation process more than a decade ago that has only resulted in final agreements with three First Nations. Those relationships have been strained in recent years amid conflicts over resource projects, such as the Kinder Morgan pipeline and an LNG project on the northern coast.

POINT PERSON: Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Scott Fraser was previously the NDP's critic on aboriginal issues. He was elected in 2005 in the riding of Mid Island-Pacific Rim.


THE ISSUE: The Liberals' tenure in office was overshadowed by a legal battle with the province's teachers that began a year after the party took power. In 2002, the Liberal government removed several clauses from teachers' contracts related to classroom size limits and class composition, which the Supreme Court of Canada ruled last year was unconstitutional. The New Democrats inherit the fallout, which will require the hiring of thousands of teachers.

POINT PERSON: Education Minister Rob Fleming was previously the NDP's education critic.


THE ISSUE: The B.C. government is currently fighting several high-profile legal cases, including a constitutional challenge of the province's rules against private health care and a lawsuit targeting the Liberal government's foreign buyer tax. B.C. has previously struggled with delays in the court system, which were blamed in part on funding and staffing shortages, but changes in recent years have meant a landmark Supreme Court of Canada case involving unreasonable court delays has not had a significant impact in the province.

POINT PERSON: Attorney-General David Eby is former executive director of the BC Civil Liberties Association and built a reputation as the NDP's housing critic.