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Rob Shaw: Eby slowly but surely susses out his ministers' intentions

The election is a year away, but decisions on the cabinet will be made soon to prepare
B.C. Premier David Eby is pulling together the information he needs to determine who to position for next year's election. | Submitted

Will Premier David Eby shuffle his cabinet this fall to get his troops into fighting shape for next year’s provincial election?

It’s a question being pondered in the corridors of Victoria, as New Democrat strategists start asking MLAs whether they intend to run again in 14 months.

Former BC NDP campaign director Bob Dewar is stickhandling calls to MLAs to begin sussing out which ones intend to retire rather than stand for re-election on Oct. 19, 2024.

Mike Magee, who served as chief of staff to former Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson, is also helping in early pre-election planning. Plus, the premier himself is slowly gauging cabinet ministers, trying to figure out their intentions.

Usually, all of this is a prelude to some major changes on a government’s front bench. MLAs who aren’t running again normally get bounced from cabinet and replaced by politicians in battleground ridings to give them a higher profile for voters.

But nobody is quite sure if Eby plans to do this.

After all, the new premier just rolled out a complicated and ambitious agenda for his ministers when he took power a mere eight months ago. He has everyone working at a break-neck pace to show what he’s promised will be “visible results” on healthcare, housing, affordability and public safety next year.

Does it make sense to yank ministers who aren’t running again off priority files now and replace them with rookie backbenchers who will need months to get back up to speed on the reforms the premier has promised?

Then again, does it make sense to leave MLAs who have one foot out the door to retirement stickhandling key cabinet posts? Tradition says no, though former Premier John Horgan set new precedents by leaving ministers like Carole James in key cabinet positions even after they declared their intent to retire.

All of this is a bit of a conundrum for the premier. And it’s probably why, so far, no hard deadlines have been issued on when MLAs need to make final decisions.

That time, however, is coming soon.

Conventional wisdom would put a pre-election cabinet shuffle on one of two timelines: Next month, in September, before the fall session of the legislature; or December, when new ministers can use the slower holiday period to get up to speed on files and still influence February’s provincial budget.

All political parties will want to know the intention of their MLAs at some point this fall, if for no other reason than to know where to start recruiting new candidates over the coming year. Plus, electoral boundary changes and the addition of six new ridings mean parties need to shuffle some people around as ridings are redrawn.

There’s also the issue of setting fundraising targets for ridings to start building party election warchests — a task departing MLAs will have little interest in undertaking.

The governing New Democrats also haven’t picked their next election campaign director yet.

Dewar would be the safest bet, having already run successful campaigns for the BC NDP under Horgan in 2017 and 2022. His position is strengthened by the fact Eby doesn’t appear to have anyone from his sphere of influence waiting in the wings to take over the party reins.

But Dewar has previously expressed a desire to retire, and make way for new faces.

Another potential could be Marie Della Mattia, Dewar’s deputy in previous NDP campaigns and a key figure in reshaping Horgan’s image. She’s currently serving as Eby’s deputy minister of government communications.

The election may seem far off, but these are the kinds of discussions swirling through the capital these days. It all starts with a simple question: Are you in, or are you out? From there, all eyes are on the premier to see what he does next.

Rob Shaw has spent more than 15 years covering B.C. politics, now reporting for CHEK News and writing for Glacier Media. He is the co-author of the national bestselling book A Matter of Confidence, host of the weekly podcast Political Capital, and a regular guest on CBC Radio. [email protected]