B.C. Attorney General David Eby launched his B.C. NDP leadership bid on Tuesday, positioning him as the most likely successor to Premier John Horgan.
Eby — a civil rights lawyer and activist for affordable housing and police reform — could lead a generational shift of younger New Democrats that moves the party further to the left. His opponents portray him as a left-wing radical who is anti-police and soft on crime, but his supporters say he’s a principled workhorse who knows the challenges facing young families.
Addressing a room of supporters Tuesday night at Kitsilano Neighbourhood House in his Vancouver-Point Grey riding, the 44-year-old father said: “It is because of your confidence in me that I will be putting my name forward as the next leader of the B.C. NDP.”
No other candidates for leader have been announced.
Speaking to Postmedia News before his announcement, Eby said the next NDP leader faces the challenge of bridging deep societal divisions caused by the pandemic. “It’s not a right-left issue. I look at the old-growth protesters blocking highways and anti-vaxxers smashing windows and blocking hospital entrances. And I also look at the rise in racism and anti-Asian racism, in particular. And I know that we have a lot of work to do to heal those divisions, to heal the social fabric in British Columbia.”
After Horgan, 62, announced in June that he wouldn’t seek a third term due to health concerns, political watchers predicted a coronation for Eby, similar to the acclamation for Horgan as NDP leader in 2014.
That year, Eby abandoned his own ambitions to lead the party after he and his wife, Cailey Lynch, a family physician, found out they were expecting their first child, Ezra, now seven. The couple have since welcomed a daughter, Iva, who is two.
In 2014, Eby told Postmedia News that “the kind of father I want to be, and the kind of leader I’d need to be, these two things are not compatible.”
Eby said the situation is different now after nine years in the legislature and five years as attorney general.
“I’m in a much better place to be able to be the kind of leader that I want to be,” Eby said, “which is someone who knows how the legislature works to deliver results for British Columbians and that’s something that’s also important to my colleagues who know me best.”
Eby said he has the support of 48 of the 57 NDP MLAs.
Former NDP premier Glen Clark, who in 2019 called Eby the “future of the NDP,” said Tuesday by email that Eby has been an “excellent cabinet minister and is not looking to be premier to warm the seat.”
“I think he is exactly what the province needs to tackle some serious issues,” Clark said, citing health care, housing, and climate change.
Eby has earned a reputation as the fix-it guy on difficult issues — banning corporate donations in politics, launching the inquiry into money laundering, overhauling ICBC and pushing local governments to approve affordable housing.
He shook the political landscape in the 2013 provincial election when he defeated the then Liberal premier, Christy Clark, in the Vancouver-Point Grey riding, forcing her to call a byelection to win a seat in Westside-Kelowna. In opposition, Eby was housing critic, pushing for affordable housing and better protections for renters.
Eby’s aggressive style has earned him political foes. He’s not shied away from calling out municipal councils for dragging their feet on affordable housing or trial lawyers who profit on drawn-out ICBC claims.
Eby said when he makes a commitment to British Columbians on affordable housing, it’s important that he follows through with results. “And sometimes that means saying things that are true, that local governments have to approve more housing, they have to be faster.”
Former NDP political strategist Bill Tieleman, who worked on Eby’s past political campaigns, said Eby may face challenges connecting with a broad base of voters since he lacks the down-to-earth style Horgan used to charm voters across the political spectrum.
However, being in his mid-40s could work to Eby’s advantage, Tieleman said, allowing him to connect with young families. And the cabinet minister isn’t all business, as Tieleman reflected on the time he heard Eby belt out Bon Jovi’s Livin’ on a Prayer a cappella during an NDP convention, a nod to his younger days singing in an Indie rock band.
Eby’s opponents, including B.C. Liberal Leader Kevin Falcon and Liberal jobs critic Todd Stone, have seized on Eby’s criticism of law enforcement during his time with Pivot Legal Society and the B.C. Civil Liberties Association to portray him as anti-police and soft on crime.
They accuse him of not doing enough to fix the “catch and release” system which allows prolific offenders to be released on bail after arrest for serious offences.
In May, Eby appointed two experts to study how to deal with prolific offenders, which he said at the time was the same evidence-based approach he took to fixing the financial “dumpster fire” at ICBC and tackling money laundering in B.C.
Elenore Sturko, a Surrey RCMP officer on leave who is running for the Liberals in the Surrey South byelection to replace Stephanie Cadieux, said on Twitter Tuesday: “By his own admission, criminal charge approvals in B.C. have decreased under Attorney General David Eby. This means criminal investigations forwarded to B.C. Prosecution (Service) are not put before the courts in our province.”
“The B.C. Liberals and whatever they end up being called under Kevin Falcon are going to say all kinds of things about me,” Eby said in a dig at the official Opposition’s rebranding efforts. “And the answer is always going to be the work I intend to deliver in terms of public safety and communities across the province.”
Residential care, not policing, will help solve the serious issues of mental health and addiction and the root cause of crime, Eby said.
“And that’s not an anti-police position,” Eby said. “The police themselves will tell you that. That’s supporting the police so they can focus on serious crime instead of on health issues in downtown cores.”
Some have speculated that if Eby becomes premier, he could call an early election in 2023, well before the fixed election date of Oct. 19, 2024, to solidify his mandate. Eby dismissed that, saying in speaking to British Columbians, “It’s very clear to me that (an election is) the last thing they want right now.”
In the past few weeks, numerous cabinet ministers announced they aren’t running including Ravi Kahlon and Bowinn Ma, who have thrown their support behind Eby. Selina Robinson, Josie Osborne, Lana Popham, Nathan Cullen, Rob Fleming, George Heyman and Melanie Mark have also ruled out a run.
No one outside caucus has announced any leadership intentions, but candidates have until Oct. 4 to enter the race.
The mail-in voting period will begin Nov. 13 and the results will be announced Dec. 3.
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