NDP officially takes power July 18; inner circle packs experience, bite: experts

By The Canadian Press
July 6, 2017 - 2:00pm Updated: July 6, 2017 - 4:48pm

VICTORIA — The steep political mountain facing John Horgan’s minority government in British Columbia was apparent in the key appointments he made to his inner circle of close advisers, say political observers.

Horgan’s cabinet will be sworn in at a ceremony in Victoria on July 18.

But his government started taking shape this week with the appointments of a veteran bureaucrat, a key campaign organizer and a political pit bull to the backroom team that will guide Horgan’s New Democrats in a delicately balanced arrangement with the Green party to hold power. The two parties have a one-seat advantage over the Liberals in the legislature.

Carole James, a member of the legislature and the party’s transition spokeswoman, said Thursday those in cabinet will be the face of Horgan’s government but the inner circle appointees are the bricks and mortar of his government.

Don Wright will be Horgan’s deputy minister and head of the public service. He joins Horgan’s team after working as the CEO at Central 1 Credit Union, but was formerly president of the B.C. Institute of Technology and a bureaucrat in Liberal and NDP governments.

Former Vancouver councillor Geoff Meggs was appointed Horgan’s chief of staff. He served as a communications director for former NDP premier Glen Clark in the 1990s.

Bob Dewar, who was recruited last year from Manitoba to help run the NDP’s election campaign, will serve as special adviser to the premier.

“It’s really important to show John has chosen a leadership team that brings a depth of experience,” said James, who represents a Victoria riding. “I’ve already heard from folks in my community, who also work in the civil service, say it was reassuring to hear Don’s name, someone who has experience … is known to be fair.”

Despite the euphoria of the NDP election win, she said the reality that one vote could topple the NDP is a constant reminder of the party’s position and something Wright, Meggs and Dewar will make sure nobody forgets.

“I don’t underestimate the hard work,” James said. “It’s going to be a load on all of us in the legislature.”

Former NDP premier Dan Miller said Meggs will be pivotal in keeping the government working, which means limiting surprises and keeping everybody informed, including the three Green party members whose support is key to the NDP’s survival.

“It will be fairly tight in there and I think Geoff is a very good guy to interact with all of the parties that need to make this happen and make it work,” he said. “He’s a very cool guy, level headed.”

Meggs also has a reputation for being able to resolve difficult issues, said Miller, who worked with him in the 1990s and before that when Meggs edited a fishermen’s union newspaper.

“In many ways it used to be said in Vancouver that Geoff was the guy who did the dirty work on the city council,” Miller said. “He was the guy on the ground for Mayor Gregor Robertson.”

Prof. David Black said the NDP chose talent and experience in placing Wright, Meggs and Dewar in the top advisory posts.

“One person crosses the floor and it’s over,” said Black, a political communications specialist at Victoria’s Royal Roads University. “We have in the NDP and Green government one that is, of course, a precarious one. It’s going to be a stressful government because the one-seat majority doesn’t leave people feeling relaxed and comfortable.”

Dewar, who served as an adviser to former Manitoba NDP premier Gary Doer, will be Horgan’s go-to person, Black predicted.

“A large part of what he will be doing is talking to the Greens and scanning the political environment,” he said. “This is going to be a government governing as if an election is imminent and that changes how they behave and amplifies the importance of a special adviser like Bob Dewar.”

Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press

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