Vancouver Island farmers will have to work with a new provincial minister after Premier David Eby announced his new cabinet Wednesday morning.
Pam Alexis, who represents the riding of Abbotsford-Mission, replaces Lana Popham, who moves to tourism, arts, culture and sport, after having held the portfolio since 2017, when New Democrats ended 16 years of government under the BC Liberals.
Popham represents Saanich-South, which borders Saanich North and Islands, the riding that includes the Saanich Peninsula, an area with deep historical ties to agriculture on Vancouver Island and Canada.
Saanich North and Islands MLA Adam Olsen of the B.C. Greens said it is hard to tell how the change will impact local farmers.
“If the (minister) focuses on increasing local and regional food production as a way to increase community resilience against an increasingly tenuous and threatened food supply chain, then our farmers, all British Columbia farmers, will benefit,” he said.
Voters in Abbotsford-Mission first elected Alexis during the general election in 2020, when former premier and Eby’s predecessor John Horgan converted his minority government into a majority government in ending a three-year-long confidence and supply agreement with the B.C. Greens.
Alexis’ promotion to cabinet appears as an attempt to boost her profile with a ministerial post important to the most important food-growing region in British Columbia.
While the Fraser Valley with its farms and many small businesses related to agriculture once reliably voted for the current opposition party and its right-of-centre predecessors, the region has undergone demographic and social changes. They have allowed New Democrats to make in-roads as evident by their narrow victory in Alexis’ riding. Both main parties in the provincial legislature will likely heavily contest the riding in a future election, given the narrow outcome in 2020.
The riding also saw a large spending announcement earlier this fall to help it recover from heavy flooding in late 2021 and Alexis, who served as mayor of Abbotsford-neighbouring Mission before entering provincial politics, has familiarity with regional infrastructure issues.
The devastating, traumatic flooding experiences of 2021 in the Fraser Valley and elsewhere in the province, including parts of Greater Victoria and Vancouver Island, also appear to behind the creation of the new ministry of emergency management and climate readiness. It is one of two new ministries and Bowinn Ma, who represents North Vancouver-Lonsdale, will serve as its first minister.
The new cabinet includes 23 ministers and four ministers of state. Gender representation remains balanced. The cabinet will be supported in its work by 14 parliamentary secretaries, it reads.
“Well, it is a very large cabinet, nearly 85 per cent of the (New Democratic) caucus,” said Olsen. “Seems to be unnecessary, however, we will see how they deliever. The key will be what is in their mandate letters and how they address the priorities of British Columbians.”
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