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Opinion: No 'slowing down' B.C. health minister amid COVID-19

Adrian Dix now in fifth year as health minister
dix hospice
B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix.

As we enter 2022, it is worth noting that those who held the leadership roles in the BC NDP government at the beginning of the pandemic are by and large still there as we approach its third year of existence.

Just before he left to be treated for throat cancer, Premier John Horgan and I had a social chat in his office and he remarked how unusual it was for a government to govern more than four years without making a lot of changes around the cabinet table.

Indeed, other than some changes necessitated by a few retirements (notably former party leader Carole James), the big horses are still there.

Mike Farnworth is still the public safety minister and the government house leader (and has now added deputy premier to his titles). Rob Fleming, the former education minister, is now transportation minister, a portfolio whose importance has grown in the wake of a partially destroyed highway system.

Lana Popham is still agriculture minister, another portfolio whose stature has increased after record flooding of farmland in the Fraser Valley.

But perhaps most notable and impressive of all is that former party leader Adrian Dix is in his fifth year as health minister and continues to help lead the province through this seemingly endless pandemic.

Unlike any other previous health minister in B.C. history, Dix has had to ensure the health system actually continues to function while an extraordinary public health emergency menaces it at every turn.

He has overseen the rescheduling of thousands of non-emergency surgeries, an overhaul of the ambulance service, a massive and unprecedented vaccination program, the hiring of thousands of health-care workers, among many other things.

His team has remained largely intact since the beginning: Dr. Bonnie Henry and her own team at the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, Dr. Penny Ballem, the head of the vaccination program, and long-time Deputy Health Minister Stephen Brown.

Despite the pressure, Dix shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, he genuinely seems to thrive under the circumstances, rarely taking a day off and never shying away from a challenge (of which there have been many).

“This (the pandemic) is in Adrian’s wheelhouse,” Horgan told me when the pandemic began in March 2020. I agreed with him, and partly as a result B.C. has taken more positive steps than negative ones under Dix’s watch.

Dix wisely, at the beginning, made it clear that Henry and the health experts – and not he, a politician – would be calling the shots. As a result, political considerations have often taken a backseat to public health measures (and that cannot be said of all jurisdictions).

He has also taken partisan politics out of the mix and has brought the political Opposition into the tent, offering it briefings and even getting BC Liberal MLAs, at times, to represent public health in meetings and town halls.

Until the pandemic hit, Dix was chiefly known for leading his party to a gutting election loss in 2013 and indeed for a while he seemed deeply scarred by that experience.

The pandemic, however, has allowed him to stage a remarkable political comeback and to put 2013 in the rear view mirror, a great distance away.

Dix has proven to be one of B.C.’s chief assets in this pandemic. There is no reason to think that assessment will change in 2022.

Keith Baldrey is Global BC’s chief political reporter.