VICTORIA — On a weekend when NDP MLAs will be hoping for a cabinet summons from premier-to-be John Horgan, the only certainty is that the number of hopefuls exceeds the number of openings at the table.
Experience, geography, gender, diversity and other qualifications will all figure in Horgan’s calculations in appointing the first NDP cabinet to hold office in 16 years.
Still, many of the 40 MLAs in the NDP caucus will be disappointed when Horgan sets the lineup that will take the cabinet oath at government house on Tuesday afternoon.
Premier Gordon Campbell named a record 27 ministers back in 2001 when the B.C. Liberals held all but two seats in the house. But more recent Liberal cabinets have numbered in the 20-member range.
New Democrats plan to add a stand-alone ministry of mental health and addiction services. They might also revive separate portfolios for labour and for women’s equality and child care.
Then there’s the post of Speaker, which has pay parity with cabinet ministers and assumes greater importance in a house where the occupant will be called on to cast tiebreaking votes on a regular basis.
Though the Speaker is selected by secret ballot of MLAs on the first day the legislature convenes, premiers often find ways to indicate their preference for the post at the same time as the cabinet lineup is announced.
Usually the candidate will be a veteran MLA. The New Democrats fielded a rookie MLA as Speaker when they took office in 1991 and later embarrassed themselves by forcing her to resign in midterm.
The combination of an expanded cabinet lineup and a veteran MLA ticketed for the speakership would make for, say, 24 satisfied New Democrats when the premier has finished his cabinet-making.
All would be in line for a significant boost in pay. The ministerial top-up lifts the base MLA income of $106,000 a year to $159,000.
There’d be some grumbling about the loss of pay and prestige among the 16 or so MLAs who would not make the cut in the foregoing scenario. But to help manage expectations, Horgan will have multiple consolation prizes at his disposal.
There’s deputy speaker and the deputy-chair of the committee of the whole. Together they preside in the absence of the Speaker, particularly when the house is scrutinizing ministry budgets and legislation on a clause-by-clause basis.
Both appointees could find themselves pressed into a tiebreaking role, though that will depend on how the New Democrats choose to manage the business of the house.
Government whip is another key appointment and one critical to Horgan’s survival as premier.
The whip makes sure that every New Democrat is present for every recorded vote in the legislature, forestalling embarrassment where the measure is not a confidence matter and absolute ruin where it is.
Provincial legislation provides for the appointment of a deputy government whip as well, and both can expect to be run ragged when the house is sitting.
A third posting, chair of the government caucus, acts as liaison between the cabinet and the backbench, another critical line of communication between the ministerial “ins” and the excluded from cabinet “outs.”
This is also as good a place as any to point out that the NDP accord with the Greens includes a commitment to hold fall as well as spring sittings of the legislature every year.
So at a time when the balance of power is more precarious than it has been in decades, the house will also be in session more often than it has been most years under the Liberals.
Back to Horgan’s choices.
For those New Democrats who don’t make the cut for any of the above-mentioned postings, the premier has the option of appointing MLAs as parliamentary secretaries to assist various cabinet ministers on specific matters ranging from seniors to liquor policy.
Christy Clark named 13 of them to her last cabinet shuffle so there’s no practical limit to what the traffic can bear.
Plus Horgan can appoint MLAs as chair of one of the select standing committees of the legislature.
The committee system has been under-utilized by the Liberals, in keeping with the quip by former NDP MLA Mark Rose that “they are called standing committees because they never sit.”
But in the power-sharing agreement with the Greens, the NDP promised to “ensure more public input into decision-making by making more effective use of committees of the legislature and allowing MLAs an opportunity to have input on policy decisions.”
There are eight committees of the house. One, public accounts, is by long-standing tradition chaired by a member of the Opposition. The rest are available to New Democrats, though not out of the question that one would be left clear for a Green nominee.
All of the foregoing posts below the cabinet level come with premium pay as well — enough to boost the basic MLA salary to $122,000 in the case of parliamentary secretaries and committee chairs, to $127,000 for the whip and caucus chair, and to $143,000 for the Deputy Speaker.
With that wealth of possibilities, when Horgan gets to handing out jobs next week, he need not exclude anyone in the 40-member caucus from some sort of additional reward, large or small.
Rather, it could be like one of those sports days in elementary school, where everyone gets a prize, even if it is only for showing up.
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