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gary mason

Globe and Mail columnist Gary Mason.The Globe and Mail

They say a crisis focuses the mind. In that case, B.C.'s new NDP government, which officially assumed office on Tuesday, should have no problem becoming engrossed with the many challenges at hand.

Wildfires that have laid waste to vast tracts of the province's Interior, and that have forced the evacuation of tens of thousands of residents, provided a sombre backdrop to what normally is a jubilant event: the swearing-in of a new premier and his cabinet.

An emergency that until Tuesday was the problem of the outgoing Liberal government of Christy Clark is now NDP Premier John Horgan's dilemma with which to deal, just like the softwood lumber dispute, the opioid epidemic, the critical shortage of affordable housing. The list goes on.

It's one thing to scream from the opposition benches about what a terrible job the government is doing about these and other matters; it's quite another to suddenly have the roles reversed and become the ones being judged. I'm sure there are some Liberal MLAs, including former premier Christy Clark herself, who are looking forward to the first Question Period this fall.

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The cabinet Mr. Horgan unveiled at Government House is an ethnically diverse, gender-balanced mix of experience and youth. To that extent, it reflects the NDP caucus perfectly. There weren't a great deal of surprises in his picks, although giving 39-year-old David Eby the attorney-general's portfolio will certainly raise eyebrows in legal circles.

It wasn't that long ago Mr. Eby was making a name for himself as the front-person for the Pivot Legal Society, an often brash advocacy group fighting for the rights of the downtrodden and mistreated. The province's attorney-general was often the target of its wrath. Now Mr. Eby is that person. Strange where life takes you sometimes.

If Mr. Eby's appointment was somewhat unexpected, Carole James's new job as finance minister and deputy premier was just the opposite. There may not be two closer allies in the new government than Mr. Horgan and Ms. James, who led the NDP for eight years and into two losing elections before being ousted by a caucus coup.

Mr. Horgan vehemently opposed the actions of his colleagues at the time and has stood by Ms. James ever since. In return, she offered her unwavering loyalty to Mr. Horgan when he took over the leadership. Ms. James, however, has a tough act to follow. The Liberals' Mike de Jong was one of the best finance ministers the province has had in years, a terrific communicator responsible for a string of five balanced budgets.

Ms. James inherits books any finance minister in the country would kill for; she should send Mr. de Jong a note of thanks. She will have to deliver a budget before the end of September and it's difficult imagining it not easily being balanced thanks to a thriving provincial economy.

Another former NDP leader, Adrian Dix, is also in cabinet, to no one's disbelief. He is the province's new health minister, a portfolio in which he once served (to much acclaim) as opposition critic. Mr. Dix is a quick study who is extremely detail oriented, both assets that will serve him well in one of the most pressure-packed jobs in government.

Judy Darcy, the former national president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, takes over an entirely new ministry: mental health and addictions. Previously, this was under the ambit of Ministry of Health. No more. There is a reason these two areas are getting special attention; together they represent a vexing and intractable public-health quandary. What Ms. Darcy makes of this new ministry will be very much up to her.

One of her immediate challenges will be the province's deadly opioid crisis, something Mr. Horgan has identified as an immediate priority.

What is evident from the makeup of the cabinet is how heavily weighted it is toward Metro Vancouver and Vancouver Island, the two regions that form the core of NDP support. Three MLAs from outside this area, Katrine Conroy from the Kootenays, Michelle Mungall from Nelson-Creston and Doug Donaldson from the Stikine, in northwestern B.C., all have a seat on the executive council.

But there is no one from the Interior and other areas of the north, which is a problem for the New Democrats. Mr. Horgan will undoubtedly want to devise a rural strategy to help return the party to favour in a large and important section of the province that has turned its back on the NDP in recent years.

On Tuesday, Mr. Horgan and his new team were all smiles, delighted by the reality the NDP was taking over government after 16 years of Liberal rule. On Wednesday, the smiles will dissipate and the hard part begins: governing.

British Columbia premier-designate John Horgan said Sunday he’s working with the outgoing administration to help people affected by wildfires raging across the province. Horgan said he also spoke to the prime minister about the situation.

The Canadian Press

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