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British Columbia Premier David Eby's control could play a role in cabinet resignations

Vaughn Palmer: The resignation of three ministers this week came as a surprise, both because of the timing and because two of them had announced they would run for re-election

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VICTORIA – NDP cabinet ministers Bruce Ralston, Harry Bains and Rob Fleming announced their resignations this week, sparking speculation about the timing and reasons.

The announcements came just 15 weeks before elections scheduled for October 19, a later point in the electoral cycle for sitting ministers to resign from office than usual.

Two other NDP ministers and five backbenchers who had announced their resignations did so before the legislature adjourned in mid-May. The timing allowed them to deliver farewell speeches on the floor of Parliament and gave the party more time to find replacements.

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The three ministers who announced their candidacy this week cited personal reasons for not committing to another four-year term and all expressed confidence in an NDP election victory.

Forestry Minister Ralston had only announced in the spring session that he wanted to run for another term as MP for Surrey-Whalley. After some thought, he changed his mind.

“I've been here for almost 20 years now and I decided it was time for the next phase of my life,” Ralston told Surrey Now-Leader reporter Tom Zytaruk.

He is a lawyer and has maintained his licenses. But he readily admitted to the reporter, “No, I don't really plan on returning to the practice of law.”

Ralston's service to the NDP includes a five-year term as party leader in the 1990s, a difficult period in which the NDP changed premiers three times in five years, culminating in a crushing defeat in 2001.

Labour Minister Bains had previously informed Prime Minister David Eby that he intended to seek another term as MP for Surrey-Newton.

But last week, Bains told CHEK News' Rob Shaw that his wife did not want him to run again and that he wanted to spend more time with his grandchildren.

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Now, he says, “It's time for someone else to continue the work we started.” For Bains, a former union official, that work involves a significant re-orientation of provincial laws and regulations in favor of organized labor.

Bains is 72, Ralston 71. Indigenous Relations Minister Murray Rankin, who announced his resignation a month ago, is 74. It is not surprising that a septuagenarian is thinking about retirement and hesitant to commit to another four years.

The other cabinet member who announced his plans this week, Transport Secretary Rob Fleming, is only 52.

But he has been in office for more than half his life: starting with two terms on the Victoria City Council and then 20 years as a representative of the Victoria-Swan Lake constituency in the legislature.

For Fleming, the end of a busy tenure in transportation comes after he led the astonishingly rapid reconstruction of the Coquihalla Highway following its destruction by flooding in 2021.

In his press release this week, he thanked the BC Roadbuilders and Heavy Construction Association, a group that has rarely had such close ties with the NDP.

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Like Bains, Fleming wants to spend more time with his family. In an interview with Cindy Harnett of the Victoria Times Colonist, he ruled out running for elected office at any other level.

Rather, he is expected to reappear in an industry-related capacity or in the area of ​​government relations.

The ministers leaving this week, Ralston, Bains and Fleming, were first elected to the legislature in 2005 and have held the office continuously since then. As a result, they have exhausted, or are close to exhausting, their entitlements under the provisions of the MLA pension plan.

Their departure leaves only three NDP MPs who have served continuously since 2005: Health Minister Adrian Dix, Speaker of the House Raj Chouhan and Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth. (Farnworth is the grand seigneur of the party, having served since 1991, with a break from 2001 to 2005.)

Despite the trio's somewhat belated announcements this week, the New Democrats said they were not worried. Their seats have not been vacated for a long time and each of them is considered safe for the NDP.

In the last hotly contested provincial election in 2017, Ralston won Whalley with 59 percent of the vote, Bains took Newton with 57 percent and Fleming captured Swan Lake with 54 percent.

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There is already a jockeying for the position. Lisa Helps, the former mayor of Victoria and now an adviser to Premier David Eby, is reportedly on the shortlist to succeed Fleming in Victoria-Swan Lake.

And while NDP circles keep saying there is no such thing as a 'no' here – apart from the exhausted ministers wanting to retire and the new faces rushing into office – the narrative within the governing party has changed.

At the start of the year, reporters were told that there were not going to be many resignations at Cabinet level. After all, why would ministers give up their posts when another term at the Cabinet table was almost certain?

Today, re-election is no longer so certain.

Moreover, there is more grumbling in government circles about centralised control by the Prime Minister's Office. Eby is far less likely to delegate than John Horgan.

While the odds of an NDP victory are still good, the prospect of another four years under the thumb of the new prime minister's office has probably made it easier for cabinet veterans to see the benefits of retirement.

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