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Incoming premier David Eby likely to shuffle cabinet, craft 'activist' budget, pundits say

David Eby will be sworn in by Lt.-Gov. Janet Austin at Government House. While no date has been set, many are expecting the transition to take place in the first half of November.
Premier John Horgan and premier-designate David Eby at a caucus meeting at the B.C. legislature on Monday. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

As premier-designate David Eby was making his first visit to the legislature since being named B.C. NDP leader, political experts were predicting a speedy transition with new cabinet ministers and an “activist” budget that moves on Eby’s big promises on housing, crime, climate and health.

Standing side-by-side with outgoing Premier John Horgan, Eby walked into the caucus room Monday to applause from his fellow MLAs, the majority of whom endorsed him as NDP leader.

The 46-year-old MLA for Vancouver-Point Grey became NDP leader on Friday after his challenger, Anjali Appadurai, was disqualified over what the party’s chief electoral officer called “improper co-ordination” with third party groups and fraudulent memberships.

Eby has promised action within the first 100 days on housing, health care, the environment and public safety. He’ll have to appoint new cabinet ministers to follow through on those goals.

Lt.-Gov. Janet Austin will swear Eby in as the new premier at Government House. While no date has been set, many are expecting the transition to take place in the first half of November.

“At the best of times, government transitions are really complex,” said Jeff Ferrier, a public affairs expert for Hill+Knowlton Strategies and a longtime B.C. NDP volunteer.

“That’s especially true for David Eby right now coming after a bruising leadership campaign, in the middle of a [legislative] session and becoming premier when there’s strong public pressure for action on a whole host of issues.

“If he’s going to be a man of action, he’s got to get acting and fast.”

In his housing platform released in September, Eby promised to establish a flipping tax to deter real estate speculators, legalize secondary suites in every region in B.C. and allow developers to replace a single-family home with up to three units in major urban centres.

He also doubled down on his pledge to override municipalities in order to fast-track affordable housing.

Eby must appoint a new attorney general and housing minister, portfolios he held before resigning to run for the NDP leadership.

Murray Rankin has taken on those two files in addition to his post as minister for Indigenous relations and reconciliation. He’s been hammered during question period by B.C. Liberal MLAs who accuse the government of being soft on crime and prioritizing the rights of repeat offenders over victims of random violence.

Hamish Telford, a political scientist with the University of the Fraser Valley, said given Eby’s clear vision on how to create more affordable housing, “he’s going to be his own housing minister.”

Telford predicts housing priorities will be set by the premier’s office and a relatively junior minister who is loyal to Eby will carry out that mandate.

The public should expect a cabinet table filled with younger MLAs, Ferrier said.

“David will want to have a cabinet that reflects the generational change that he’s bringing to the leadership of the party.”

Eby said last week he wants climate activists who became NDP members to support Appadurai to stay in the party, promising to redirect fossil fuel subsidies to clean energy and be more aggressive in hitting B.C.’s emission reduction targets.

Telford said Eby might extend an olive branch to climate activists by appointing Bowinn Ma to a key cabinet position.

Ma, an engineer who is currently minister of state for infrastructure, released a thread on Twitter on July 6 that laid out ambitious climate-change priorities — including a “sunset to the fossil fuel industry” — which she said can only be achieved by a premier who is a “climate champion.”

She made those comments before anyone had declared their candidacy for the leadership race.

The current environment minister is George Heyman, the former executive director of the Sierra Club. He has been instrumental in creating the Clean B.C. climate action plan but the province is nowhere near meeting its legislated target of a 16 per cent reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions from 2007 levels by 2025.

Finance Minister Selina Robinson has been working on the budget since June and said Eby had a say on budget priorities until he stepped away from his cabinet post on July 19 to seek the leadership.

“David’s already outlined his four priority areas. That mirrors very much what cabinet has been discussing and we’re continuing along that path,” Robinson said Monday. “As soon as we have a new premier in place, we’ll certainly carry on the work that we’ve started, frankly, in 2017.”

Ferrier said the truncated leadership race, which was originally set to wrap up Dec. 3, will allow Eby to have some say on the February budget.

“I suspect it will be an activist budget,” Ferrier said, with major investments on the priorities Eby laid out for his first 100 days.

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