The Cariboo region is extra represented in the new shadow cabinet announced Dec. 9 by Official Opposition leader Kevin Falcon.
Cariboo North MLA Coralee Oakes retained her position as critic for Advanced Education and is also the chair of the BC United northern caucus. The former position was a Falcon appointment, the latter a position elected by the opposition MLAs of the region.
Cariboo Chilcotin MLA Lorne Doerksen was named critic for the portfolios of Land & Resource Stewardship & Rural Development and also the party’s deputy whip.
“I’m incredibly proud to work with such a talented team of dedicated MLAs who will use their diverse skills and experience to ask tough questions, raise important issues, and work hard on behalf of their constituents and all British Columbians,” said Falcon.
The shuffle of the shadow cabinet came only a day after premier David Eby announced his new NDP government cabinet. Oakes’ counterpart in government cabinet is Selina Robinson.
Oakes told The Observer that she was excited to continue in the Advanced Education department, having lobbied for it about two years ago when Shirley Bond, a former Advanced Education minister herself, was the party’s leader. In what is being called “education’s age of disruption” for all the factors causing change in that sector, she knows it is a pivotal time to sit in that office.
“I think Kevin very clearly knows my passion for Advanced Education, so I very much respect the fact that he’s keeping me in this position,” Oakes said. “I love working with students. I first give credit to Shirley Bond, and then for Kevin to come in and say look, I trust you, I trust that you have a strong purpose, vision for this.”
Doerkson was also retained in his portfolios.
“There were some changes but not mine,” he told The Observer. “I am very happy to serve in this capacity. It gives me great pride to represent my constituents and the people of B.C. in these roles. They are incredibly important to the wellbeing of Cariboo-Chilcotin but also the province.”
Being an opposition member behooves an MLA to point out the problems and shortcomings of the governing party, but a member of a shadow cabinet must deeply research the nuts and bolts of policy improvements and pathways to better public service.
“I believe advanced education, post-secondary education, is foundational to all the challenges we have. It is one of the most critical and important ministries right now because there isn’t a sector in our province that isn’t feeling the effects, if not in crisis, because we need people. There are shortages (of qualified personnel) right across the province.”
In Quesnel she is especially proud of the North Cariboo Community Campus for the collaborative and integrated way it facilitates education. She would like to see more of that implemented across the province.
“There needs to be a far greater integration, when you look at Early Childhood Education, the K-12 (Kindergarten to graduation) system, to post-secondary,” she said.
“Right now you’ve got all of these silos. We need to be looking at education as a whole and how we are maximizing each individual’s potential, ensuring they have the opportunities to achieve that. We need to break down those silos.”
Broad policy improvements need to be lobbied for, which is part of her job, but so too is advocating on local needs, one of which is student housing for Quesnel.
She knows she has the reciprocal backing of Doerksen, whom she calls “my Cariboo brother,” as well as Bond, her MLA neighbour to the north.