VICTORIA — On the first day of the 2022 NDP leadership race, suspected frontrunner David Eby did not judge himself as a candidate.
“I will of course hold talks with my family, with my friends and colleagues, with the party, with British Columbians about how we move forward together,” said Secretary Eby when asked about his plans now that Prime Minister John Horgan is stepping down. down.
“Today, however, I am very focused on doing the job,” added Eby, who wears two hats to Horgan’s cabinet table as Attorney General and Housing Minister.
Wednesday was a working day for Eby, marked by another success on his activist agenda. Eby called a press conference to announce progress in BC’s government-led effort to recover health care costs from manufacturers of opioid-based pain medications. Opioid maker Purdue Pharma Canada has agreed to jointly pay $150 million to all 13 Canadian provinces and territories, “the largest settlement of its kind in Canadian history,” Eby said.
“BC’s efforts to negotiate this unique settlement with other Canadian governments pave the way for additional settlements in the pending lawsuits against other manufacturers and distributors of opioid products,” he said.
“We know that no amount of money can bring back those who have died, but we are committed to holding companies and others accountable for alleged abuses committed in the manufacture and distribution of opioid products.”
The announcement added to Eby’s record as one of the most talked-about members of Horgan’s government.
It was Eby who exposed the garbage can fire that the BC Liberals left at ICBC.
It was again Eby who remade public auto insurance based on a lighter variant of the flawless model that the NDP government of the 1990s tried and failed to implement.
And it was Eby, third, who got off to a flying start in improving ICBC’s financial picture, allowing the once troubled Crown company to pay significant discounts to customers.
Eby exposed the extent to which BC’s previous liberal government failed to stem the wave of illegal cash pouring into BC’s casinos.
He dealt another devastating blow to the liberals when he led the passage of legislation banning big money from financing political parties in BC. Liberal finances have still not recovered from the end of the flow of easy cash from major individual and corporate donors.
However, not everything has gone according to plan for Eby.
The public money laundering investigation, despite a budget of $18 million, has not yielded the hoped-for findings of corruption on the part of liberals. The disappointment meant that Eby devoted most of his attention to the findings of the money laundering investigation about the shortcomings of the federal government and its agencies.
Lately, Eby has been devoting a lot of energy to the housing issue as the prime minister appointed him as minister after the 2020 elections. Eby’s emphasis on the housing issue marks a significant departure from that of Selina Robinson, housing minister in the first term of the Horgan government. She placed the greatest emphasis on demand-side measures (taxes, regulatory changes), tenant protection and social housing development. On the supply side, Robinson, a former member of Coquitlam City Council, pledged to work primarily with local government to encourage development.
While Eby says the biggest challenge to housing affordability is a lack of supply of the right kind of housing. He is not a veteran of municipal politics, but has taken a more aggressive approach than Robinson has ever taken in his dealings with local government. The housing secretary has worked out his own version of a good cop/bad cop act, praising mayors and municipalities for expediting approvals, blaming others for faltering.
He has expressed the threat that, in the fall of the legislature, the government could enact legislation to nullify municipal powers over the development of needed housing. When I was recently asked by a local government leader whether Eby was serious about the waiver legislation, I suggested that he might ask the trial attorneys that question. They thought they could reverse Eby’s drive to implement error-free auto insurance. So far they have failed to do so.
Recently, the housing minister has speculated about capping rent increases below inflation. Never mind that it would hurt small landlords, for whom inflation is as real as it is for any renter. Never mind that it would discourage investment in much-needed rental housing.
Take it as a possible sign that Eby may be considering a leadership bid, recognizing that appeals to tenants will likely mobilize more than a few votes among NDP members.
But he has valid reasons to hesitate. He has a young family. Nor does he have Horgan’s easy way with the public.
The road for BC’s next prime minister is fraught with challenge after challenge: inflation, the health care crisis, public sector negotiations, climate change, provincial finance and the return of competitive politics.
And if Eby or anyone else has any doubts about the office’s high toll, there will soon be an ex-Prime Minister from Langford who can provide some details.
If Eby runs for office, other candidates would have a hard time claiming as much performance as calculated to appeal to NDP voters.
He is controversial to be sure. But the rival candidates might have to band together in an all-but-Eby movement to stop him.
Who’s in the running to become BC’s next prime minister and leader of the NDP?
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