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Les Leyne: New Premier David Eby comes bearing gifts

David Eby’s swearing-in ceremony Friday was intensely focused on reintroducing a key cabinet minister as a premier.
David Eby at his swearing-in ceremony Friday at the Musqueam Community Centre in Vancouver. Jason Payne/ PNG

Premier David Eby is taking over from John Horgan in mid-term, and doing so by default, since the NDP disqualified his opponent. So he hasn’t been the subject of as much attention as a leadership contender would normally get.

His swearing-in ceremony Friday was an effort to make up for that. It was intensely focused on reintroducing a key cabinet minister as a premier. It included a number of personal touches and an extended series of tributes to him from various speakers.

Former NDP cabinet minister Joy MacPhail, who chaired ICBC during Eby’s overhaul of the corporation, lauded him as “considered, measured, open to innovative ideas, fearless.”

“When it comes to big problems that demand bold action, he’s the person you want on your side.”

Horgan said he piled things on Eby’s shoulders while he was attorney general, responsible for ICBC and housing. Horgan said he took the tasks with enthusiasm, commitment and compassion.

Various other speakers told the 400 guests of his qualities during the two-hour event.

And to help people warm up to him, Eby immediately committed $820 million in direct aid to nearly every taxpayer, with the promise of more to come.

The ceremony was in his Vancouver-Point Grey riding at the Musqueam First Nation’s centre rather than Victoria’s Government House. It emphasized the on-going Indigenous reconciliation theme and included a blanketing ceremony.

Chief Wayne Sparrow advised him that during heavy, sad and frustrating times, he can “remember that blanket … as a warm hug and embrace from the community … letting you known that you have their support.”

The NDP smoothed the way for his succession with two new benefits. He announced a $100 credit to all customers of B.C. Hydro and other power utilities (about $500 for commercial accounts).

Also coming is an automatic “affordability credit” to most low- and middle-income taxpayers.

The credit to power customers will cost $320 million and the affordability credit amounts to $500 million in additional benefits, government officials said. The credits will start rolling out next month and more direct aid is in the works, Eby said.

He also recommitted — without a specific date — to the annual $400 renter rebate that was promised five years ago.

After the leadership contest was cancelled, Eby gave a vague outline of a 100-day action plan. He filled in several details on Friday.

A major announcement is expected Sunday on public safety. Mayors from across B.C. have pleaded for help dealing with rampant street crime and random stranger attacks. But Eby’s first move looks to be concentrated on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, where the crisis is most acute.

Eby described what’s coming as a co-ordinated approach by every agency in and outside of government to tackle mental health, homeless and addiction crises.

The legislature, which adjourned for an extra week to give Eby time to take over, is scheduled to sit for four more days next week. It has a number of bills in process, but Eby plans to introduce major housing legislation as well.

It includes at least two pieces of legislation that will involve “opening up housing that should be available right now for rent, but isn’t, and making sure that we’re delivering that housing supply that we need.”

“It’s a remarkable thing, that by passing law, we can open up new rental housing for people. We’re going to do that.”

Also coming in the near future is another push to get foreign-trained medical experts certified in B.C., a chronic problem that no one has yet solved.

With an eye on the eco-wing of the NDP left disgruntled by the leadership race debacle, he’s also planning to close down more subsidy programs for the oil and gas industry.

The all-Eby focus will last at least until his new cabinet is unveiled in coming weeks.

Just So You Know: It’s unusual for departing premiers to show up at their successors’ launches. Eby joked about how Horgan fretted about whether he’d be welcome.

“Do I want the guy who introduced UNDRIP into law … who won a historic majority … laid the groundwork for child care … who took the tolls off the bridge?”

His answer was obviously yes. Horgan became premier in July 2017 after nine weeks of tense scheming by all parties angling to sort out the deadlocked election result.

Friday’s cheerful, friendly hand-off was a marked contrast, and the multiple rounds of warm applause he got were a tribute to how well he did after that fraught, uncertain kickoff.

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