David Eby is promising faster action on the province’s old-growth strategy, introduction of the long-promised renters’ grant and no quick election call as he takes over as BC NDP leader.
In his first press conference as leader, Eby promised that in his first 100 days as premier he would “launch initiatives” to address housing, health care, the environment and public safety.
A date has not yet been set for his swearing in as premier, but it is expected within the next few weeks.
“At the end of those 100 days you will have seen announcements, activity from government, focused on delivering results for British Columbians that set out the groundwork for how, in the next two years, we are going to deliver significant change for British Columbians,” Eby said.
There has been speculation Eby would call a snap election, including in a BC Liberal fundraising pitch, but he was unequivocal in committing to wait until the fixed date of Oct. 19, 2024.
“It is a short window, you all know that,” said Eby. “We have to move quickly and we have to address these issues for British Columbians. They’re counting on us to do that.”
He promised to expand the amount of affordable housing available, redirect fossil fuel subsides to clean energy, create safer communities and improve access to health care.
There were, however, few concrete details on planned actions.
Eby also didn’t set out a detailed plan in the leadership contest, which ended six weeks earlier than expected after the NDP disqualified his sole competitor, Anjali Appadurai.
“Like many of our members, I’m sure, I have mixed feelings about how the race ended,” Eby told reporters. While he’s excited to get to work on key issues, he said, it was a tough exit for a competitor who had generated a lot of interest.
“This is not how many of us expected this leadership contest to end,” he said, despite his campaign having made complaints and provided information to the investigation that led to Appadurai’s disqualification.
Eby said he sent an email to all party members to let Appadurai’s supporters know they are welcome to stay and that he wants to work with them. As premier, he said, he will be working for everyone in the province.
He wasn’t ready to talk about a potential cabinet shuffle. “We’re at the very early stages of discussing transition with the premier’s office and that work will continue,” he said.
When he entered the leadership contest in July, Eby signalled there would be no major changes under his leadership. The NDP holds 57 of the 87 seats in the legislature.
In a late September interview he expressed a bit more urgency. “I’m proud of the work our government has done, but I think anybody who lives in our province knows our work is not done,” he told The Tyee. “We need to keep going and we need to expand and accelerate that work in my opinion.”
The only major announcement Eby made during his campaign was a housing plan that advocates applauded as bold and that the Union of BC Municipalities gave a mixed review. The plan includes overriding local zoning in five major cities by allowing up to three units to be built on most single-family lots and making secondary suites legal everywhere in the province.
In the September interview Eby told The Tyee he was planning to release a climate and environment plan in early October. But the campaign ended without an announcement. In declining to answer a question about liquefied natural gas exports and fracking, he said an environment plan was on its way.
“It will address the real challenge we face in our province around maintaining a leadership position on climate, on reducing carbon pollution and showing the way forward for Canada and the world about how we can grow a sustainable economy that creates good family supporting jobs and also responds to our moral obligations around climate change,” he said.
The government was on the right track on protecting old-growth forests, but needed to go faster, he said. “I think we need to accelerate our work on the old-growth strategy, on implementing those recommendations.”
He said the government should work closely with First Nations on the forest plan and it will be important to provide the resources for meaningful participation in land-use planning.
“While we’re doing that work though we can’t let opportunities to slip past to protect what is an asset for all British Columbians for generations to come,” he said.
In that September interview Eby also provided more detail about his plans for health care.
His wife Cailey Lynch was a registered nurse who trained as a family doctor in the time that they have been together. She was one of only two in her class to take on a traditional family practice, Eby said.
It was an "eyeopener" to find out people trained as family doctors get paid more “to do basically anything except for traditional family practice,” he said, noting the extra work it takes to run an office and manage staff.
“Some of the solution is around aligning those incentives and encouraging family doctors to do the work that we want them to do and rewarding them for doing that work, but also it’s about surrounding those family doctors with support so they can take on more patients and expand the support that they have so they can just focus on what they’ve been trained for,” he said. He noted professionals like nurse practitioners and physician assistants could share the load in clinics.
There’s also a need for systemic change, and that will take wide consultation with the people involved, Eby said. “Health care is such a complex and massive system in our province, a significant part of the solutions we’re going to have to look to involve bringing key players together who work on a daily basis in our hospitals and making sure that we’re addressing the issues that are inside the system that are slowing things down.”
There are too few people working in health care and addressing that shortage will reduce the strain on people in the system, he said, adding solutions include finding ways for people who are already here who may have been trained outside Canada to work in their professions.
He said there’s a great opportunity for the promised new medical school at Simon Fraser University to help transition people with skills into the system. “We can’t have people with such skills doing maintenance at the local high school.”
Eby also clarified his position on a few housing-related issues that hadn’t been included in his platform.
He rejected the idea of preventing landowners from raising rents when one tenant moves out and another moves in. The province needs more housing and some of it will come from people in the private sector building rentals, something vacancy controls would discourage, he said. “At a time when our population is growing so fast we can’t afford to do that.”
One solution is for the government to build more housing, he said, including rentals available to the middle class, and buying properties to keep units in the market.
He also said he supports the idea of a $400 renters’ grant that the NDP promised in 2017 and 2020 campaigns. It’s “structurally unfair” that homeowners get a grant each year to help with property taxes when there isn’t similar support for renters, he said.
He promised that if he became leader and premier it will be a priority.
Overall, Eby said, there’s a need for smart policy that addresses multiple challenges.
“One thing I’m conscious of is the themes are artificial,” he said. “So much of the challenges we face in our province, for example, relate to housing. And so many of the solutions around climate change and challenges in our economy also relate to how those buildings are built, what they’re made out of and where they’re located.”
It’s helpful to break issues into themes so they can be communicated in a campaign, he said. “But it’s important to recognize as elected officials the connections between all these important challenges we face.”
The lack of a detailed plan during the campaign left Eby open to caricatures drawn by his opponent in the leadership race and opposition MLAs who anticipated eventually facing him in the legislature and the next election.
To supporters of Appadurai, Eby was an establishment figure who had been in cabinet for five years and who would avoid bold action. But to BC Liberals he was a left-wing radical who was soft on crime as attorney general and once wrote a handbook on how to sue the police.
“I think in politics people will always want to put you in a particular category or box,” Eby told The Tyee. “I have been committed through my whole career to delivering and getting results for people… I plan to continue to do that.”
He pointed to his work as a human rights lawyer in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, as an advocate, as an MLA in opposition and as the attorney general in government. He gave the examples of fixing the financial mess at insurer ICBC and attacking money laundering.
In September he also mentioned the First Nations justice strategy developed in partnership with the First Nations Leadership Council, the opening and expansion of legal aid clinics across the province and the government’s class action lawsuit against opioid drug manufacturers.
“There a lot of things I’m proud of,” he said, “but what I’m particularly proud of is that I’m part of the government that got big money out of politics and refocused government in our province on what people’s needs are instead of what major donor needs are, and I think we have shifted the discussion dramatically by doing that in the province.”
Eby, who defeated then-premier Christy Clark in Vancouver-Point Grey to become an MLA in 2013, considered running for the leadership when the job came open after that election but concluded it wasn’t the right time for him or his family.
He was still learning his way around the legislature and he and his wife had a new baby at home.
“Now I’m in a much better position to do the work that needs to be done and I’m really committed to delivering for British Columbians,” he said, acknowledging it would come at a cost of family and personal time.
There’s important work to do and he has the support of his colleagues to do it, Eby said. “The reason I got into politics in the first place was wanting to make a difference for people,” he said. “That hasn’t changed. I believe strongly in the ability and the responsibility of elected officials to make life better for people, meaningful change that they can see.”
On Friday Eby drew a comparison between his plans and the BC Liberal Party under its new leader Kevin Falcon, who he said would rip up the province’s climate plan and welcome speculators into the housing market.
Voters will have a clear choice in the 2024 election, Eby promised.
Read more: BC Politics