Frank Bucholtz

AND FRANKLY: Surrey’s NDP MLAs given plenty of seats at the cabinet table

Education portfolio a nod to importance of B.C.’s largest, fastest-growing school district

The prime minister may not recognize the importance of having a Surrey voice at his cabinet table, but new B.C. Premier David Eby certainly does.

Eby’s new cabinet now has four representatives from Surrey, and Delta North MLA Ravi Kahlon has taken on the key and challenging role of housing minister. He will also serve as government house leader, a demanding task in itself.

Surrey-Green Timbers MLA Rachna Singh is the new minister of education and child care. Surrey-Fleetwood MLA Jagrup Brar, the longest-serving Surrey MLA, is minister of state for trade. Surrey-Whalley MLA Bruce Ralston moves from energy to forests, and will also be responsible for the B.C. consular corps. Surrey-Newton MLA Harry Bains remains as minister of labour.

Singh’s appointment is particularly noteworthy. She is one of two South Asian women given prominent positions in the cabinet. Vancouver-Hastings MLA Niki Sharma is the new attorney-general.

While South Asian politicians have held many cabinet roles in B.C. governments of different political stripes over the past 30 years, very few of them have been women. Eby’s new appointments help to rectify this imbalance.

It is also important to have a Surrey MLA as minister of education. Surrey is the largest and fastest-growing school district in the province, and needs plenty of attention from ministry officials in Victoria.

Currently, the school district’s five-year plan calls for eight new schools, replacement of one elementary school and expansion of a relatively-new secondary school. The school district welcomed 2,200 new students in September – far more than the 900 projected.

The new schools will require 40.2 hectares of land, which is estimated to cost taxpayers just under half a billion dollars – $447 million.

Two Surrey MLAs have been minister of education before. Surrey-Newton MLA Penny Priddy, a former Surrey school trustee, held the position for eight months in 2000. It was the last of six cabinet positions she held in the NDP governments of Mike Harcourt, Glen Clark, Dan Miller and Ujjal Dosanjh.

Prior to that, Bill Vander Zalm held the position from 1981 to 1983 in the Bill Bennett government – first assuming the role more than 40 years ago.

As Surrey has a larger number of young people than any other B.C. city, including Vancouver, attention at the cabinet level to child care, K-12 education and post-secondary education opportunities in this region are extremely important. It is good to see the new cabinet appointments recognize that.

Surrey residents will also note that Port Coquitlam MLA Mike Farnworth remains as the solicitor-general and minister of public safety. He is also deputy premier, but has passed on his government house leader responsibilities to Kahlon.

Farnworth will soon be receiving a report from the City of Surrey, asking him to stop the transition to a Surrey Police Service and have the RCMP continue as Surrey’s police force of record. His decision on that request will be very closely watched by Surrey residents.

Cabinet ministers work hard and have many responsibilities. Surrey and Delta MLAs taking those positions will be very busy in the coming months and years.

Frank Bucholtz writes twice a month for Black Press Media.

BC politicsColumn

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