David Eby is generally the tallest, smartest person in most of the rooms into which he strides.
But he has another distinction that has become increasingly apparent. No one has ever run for party leadership and premiership of B.C. from a cabinet portfolio more fraught with problems.
It’s remarkable that someone directly responsible up until recently for a system that is so dysfunctional is the presumed front-runner in the leadership race.
The independent report on random stranger attacks and prolific offenders by consultants Amanda Butler and Doug LePard was commissioned by Eby himself as a quick response to placate mayors who were desperately worried about what is happening on their streets.
It turned out to be the most important report card the NDP government has received in the past five years.
“Extreme frustration … deteriorating community confidence … angst …” The report is full of alarming conclusions about assorted facets of the criminal justice system related to prolific offenders and random stranger attacks.
It’s not only a hard fail on a number of counts, it’s also a rebuke of Eby’s position on some key points.
They “emphatically disagree” with any attempts to downplay the severity by using crime statistics, something Eby tried this spring in the legislature.
They also rejected Eby’s argument in a recent letter to a mayor that Crown counsel resources are at historically high levels while police reports to prosecutors are the lowest ever.
They also noted the prosecution service contradicted itself in discussing staffing levels.
Butler and LePard delved into the matter and concluded that “the most obvious inference is that there are insufficient Crown counsel resources.”
There was yet another disagreement with the prosecution service’s view that its independence precludes any notion of taking direction on its policies.
Overall, they found that B.C.’s criminal justice system — federally mandated and provincially managed — is in big trouble. There are compounding, deep-seated problems and they set up a cascading series on ongoing chronic failures to the point where the word “crisis” loses all meaning.
Eby has some legitimate excuses for what happened to the system on his five-year-and-one-day watch. He was loaded up with a lot of urgent work when the NDP took over power in 2017. He grabbed the organized crime money-laundering ball at the outset and politicized it to the max, concentrating on how inept the B.C. Liberals were in dealing with it.
He also tackled campaign finance reform and orchestrated the referendum on proportional representation.
At the same time he was saddled with ICBC, a perpetual punching bag through the generations. Along the way he led the legal fight against the Trans Mountain pipeline, and the related skirmish with Alberta.
In his spare time, he shouldered responsibility for the monumental job of recasting the entire legal framework to recognize reconciliation with Indigenous people. After the 2020 election, he was loaded up with responsibility for another entirely separate crisis — housing.
Then the pandemic hit, just as the opioid crisis was spiralling further out of control, and put a fresh wave of stress on everything.
Something had to give.
Judging by Butler and LePard’s report, it was the criminal justice system.
A cabinet minister moving directly to the premier’s office is rarer than you’d think. It has only happened four times in the past 70 years. You have to go back 22 years, to Ujjal Dosanjh, to find a case where a minister transitioned to premier.
Mostly, new leaders from outside cabinet win the job, or opposition leaders take over. Eby isn’t making the move directly. He quit in July. But the lay-off is a brief one.
The resignation was appropriate, in order to separate the ministry from politicking. Given the past week, it turned out to be a genius move.
He would have been roasted for a week straight if he had to defend his ministerial record in the face of the report, let alone explain why the authors of the report didn’t buy his versions of key aspects of the story.
Eby galvanized a lot of public attention earlier when he described ICBC as a “dumpster fire.”
It was a colourful, apt description and set the stage for the major changes he made.
You have to wonder if opposition critics are going to start borrowing his own catchphrase to describe what happened to the law-and-order portfolio while he was juggling all those hot potatoes.
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