British Columbia Attorney-General David Eby has formally entered the BC NDP leadership race, positioning the front-runner to be the province’s next premier.
Mr. Eby announced his intention on Tuesday evening in Kitsilano, in his Vancouver-Point Grey riding, after weeks of speculation. He is currently the only declared candidate in the race, which will be decided in December.
In an interview, Mr. Eby said that 48 colleagues are supporting his bid, which he believes is a reflection of their collective confidence in Premier John Horgan. Mr. Horgan announced last month that he plans to step down after a new leader is selected because two battles with cancer have left him without the energy to pursue another term.
Mr. Eby said he plans on continuing the work that Mr. Horgan has started.
“I think what British Columbians are looking for is that consistency and that stability, and continuing in the direction that we were headed, and delivering for them on the issues of the day: family doctors, the rising cost of fuel and groceries, and housing,” he said. “British Columbians shouldn’t expect any radical departures if I’m successful.”
Mr. Eby said he phoned Mr. Horgan early Tuesday to advise him that he would resign from his role as Attorney-General and Minister of Housing. His focus now is on introducing himself to British Columbians as a person and candidate for leader, he said.
A number of other potential candidates bowed out in recent weeks, including Minister of Jobs, Economic Recovery and Innovation Ravi Kahlon, who many viewed as Mr. Eby’s chief competition. Minister of State and Infrastructure Bowinn Ma, Minister of Finance Selina Robinson and Minister of Land, Water and Resource Stewardship Josie Osborne are among others who have said they are not running.
Stewart Prest, a political scientist at Simon Fraser University, said this suggests that the BC NDP is unified both as a party and in its support of Mr. Eby. But he noted that some people may be unhappy to have a premier “effectively picked by acclamation,” leaving no opportunity to debate the direction of the party.
Mr. Eby famously unseated then-premier Christy Clark in 2013 to become MLA for Vancouver-Point Grey. He was re-elected twice, and appointed by Mr. Horgan to his current roles as Attorney-General and Minister of Housing in 2017 and 2020, respectively.
He has tackled some of the province’s largest files, including launching a public inquiry into money laundering, leading the province’s response on housing and overhauling the Insurance Corp. of B.C. Legal action initiated by Mr. Eby recently resulted in a proposed $150-million national settlement with Purdue Canada to recover health care costs associated with the company’s opioid medications.
Mr. Eby began his career in 2005 as a lawyer with the Pivot Legal Society in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, where he focused his efforts advocating for the city’s homeless population. In 2008, he was named executive director of the BC Civil Liberties Association, where he became a vocal critic of police surveillance and use-of-force.
Dr. Prest said he is keen on seeing whether Mr. Eby leans into the reputation that the party has developed as a “cautious, incremental change agent” under Mr. Horgan’s leadership.
“Or is this a government that starts to take some bigger swings to really try to find areas where they can be more transformative, say, on environmental policy or drug policy?” he said. The BC NDP has faced criticism for its handling of issues including the Trans Mountain pipeline, the Site C dam and a toxic drug crisis that has killed thousands.
On the environment, Mr. Eby said his party is committed to meeting climate-action targets and balancing climate-change concerns with economic development. On drug policy, he said he has “huge confidence” in Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Sheila Malcolmson, who has put in place the pieces for drug decriminalization and safe supply.
“The place where I think there’s an opportunity for us to do more is around residential drug treatment and mental health treatment,” he said.
Jeffrey Ferrier, a former Ministry of Health communications executive director and long-time BC NDP volunteer, said Mr. Eby has proven himself to be smart and capable, and has demonstrated growth in cabinet.
“I think some of the sharp edges that he had early in his political career – that we all have when we’re younger – have been rounded out by working on complicated files and building partnerships,” said Mr. Ferrier, who is now senior vice-president at Hill+Knowlton Strategies.
“I think that if you asked him today, he would say the exact same thing as 2008 David Eby, that his job is to build a better and fairer and more just B.C. for everyone. It’s just the ways that you go about doing that.”