B.C.’s new premier shook up cabinet this week, and Nanaimo’s MLA was part of the shuffle.
Sheila Malcolmson, who had been the minister of mental health and addictions for the past two years, is now minister of social development and poverty reduction.
The new cabinet was sworn in Wednesday, Dec. 7, at Government House in Victoria by Lt.-Gov. Janet Austin.
“I’m really excited to take on this new role with social development and poverty reduction,” Malcolmson said. “It’s going to have some huge impacts for people in our community.”
She said she met with Premier David Eby last month to talk about community priorities, passion projects and other files she’d like to focus on. Then, at the beginning of this week, she received a phone call from the premier asking her to take on a new role in cabinet.
“I really thought that I would be staying in mental health and addictions. We’ve got some really good momentum on a lot of projects and there’s more to do, no doubt,” Malcolmson said.
She talked about challenges and accomplishments during her time leading that ministry, during a pandemic, as drug toxicity increased and factors such as renewed residential school trauma, for example, created mental health pressures. She pointed to new programs and services such as complex care, hundreds of new treatment beds and staff positions, expansion of safe supply, and approval for decriminalization.
“There isn’t a jurisdiction that has used more tools that are available to provinces to try to save lives during the toxic drug crisis,” Malcolmson said. “But I can’t say that the work is done while we continue to lose so many lives … So it’s very much mixed feelings that way. The imperative to build that system of care is even stronger than before.”
Her work in mental health and addictions was life-or-death, and there is also urgency in her new role. British Columbians who have lost housing, for example, or who are vulnerable for a range of reasons rely on income assistance and other support. There’s a complex system in place to get people their cheques and help them in other ways.
“To now be minister for such a huge service-delivery ministry is going to be a very different job – it’s a $4.5-billion budget, it’s got hundreds of employees,” Malcolmson said.
She’s got “binders upon binders” of reading to do and had her first stakeholders’ meeting Friday, Dec. 9, with an employers’ group committed to hiring people with disabilities. She looks forward to working on food security and exploring ways community members can work together for better outcomes on that front. And she’s been asked to figure out further ways to reduce costs for British Columbians and get more money into their wallets.
“Where we can add income supports and where we can get at the roots of poverty, that is an even more heightened responsibility given the [affordability] crisis that we’re feeling…” Malcolmson said. “Premier Eby has directed all of us in cabinet to work fast to get results for people because we know people are hurting.”
The minister said the premier has assembled a strong and diverse cabinet and said she’s honoured to be a part of it.
“I was delighted to see who walked across the stage yesterday and I really commend the premier for his choices,” Malcolmson said.
Both of Nanaimo’s other MLAs will have parliamentary secretary roles. Doug Routley, Nanaimo-North Cowichan MLA, is parliamentary secretary for forests and Adam Walker, Parksville-Qualicum MLA, is parliamentary secretary for sustainable economy.
There were some major changes to cabinet, the most noteworthy being Katrine Conroy’s promotion to finance minister, replacing Selina Robinson who becomes minister for post-secondary education. Jennifer Whiteside succeeds Malcolmson as minister of mental health and addictions and Rachna Singh is the new minister of education and child care. Niki Sharma was announced as attorney general, Ravi Kahlon is minister of housing, Bruce Ralston is minister of forests, Anne Kang is minister of municipal affairs and Brenda Bailey becomes jobs minister.
Immediately following the appointments, Eby remarked that the new cabinet brings “incredible experience and a diversity of perspectives,” and represents a “strong team” facing headwinds of inflation, economic uncertainty, health-care challenges, labour shortages, climate disasters and a toxic drug crisis.
“British Columbians understand we’re not going to solve all of these very significant problems overnight. Individually these are massive challenges; together, they set out the path of work for us ahead,” Eby said. “British Columbians expect us to show progress on these issues in ways that they can see, feel and touch in their communities – very real ways.”
A day after the NDP government announced its cabinet, the B.C. Liberal Party announced its shadow cabinet. The B.C. Liberal caucus issued a press release calling the NDP’s new cabinet “supersized” and stating that things aren’t improving under B.C.’s current government.
“Our B.C. Liberal caucus remains committed to holding them to account for that lack of action in areas like health care, affordability and public safety, all while continuing to push government for bold responses to the various crises we must collectively tackle,” said Kevin Falcon, leader of the B.C. Liberals, in a statement.