A “selectively aggressive” B.C. premier has wrapped up his first year in office having taken a hefty swing at the housing issue expected to dominate next year’s election campaign.
As Premier David Eby marked the one-year-anniversary of becoming B.C.’s 37th premier Nov. 18, UBC political scientist Stewart Prest said he believes provincial New Democrats have to be “pretty satisfied” with the premier’s performance.
“After something of a rough ride to get into the premier’s chair, we have seen Mr. Eby become comfortable in the office,” Prest said. “It speaks to the idea, perhaps, that Mr. Eby at his best is most comfortable with the job of governing and problem-solving more so than campaigning.”
Prest described Eby’s governing style during his first 12 months in office as “selectively aggressive,” pointing to two areas: his insistence the fast-growing municipality of Surrey transition to an independent police force, and above all, housing.
Eby and Minister of Housing Ravi Kahlon started rolling out new housing-related measures mere days after assuming power and have not stopped. This agenda has unfolded at a neck-breaking pace, reaching a temporary crescendo this fall with several pieces of legislation.
When all is said and done, Eby’s government will have severely restricted short-term rentals in almost every corner of the province; legalized secondary suites everywhere; increased density across most municipalities, including near transit and areas zoned for single family homes and duplexes; reformed municipal planning processes; and, given itself tools to crack down on homeless camps, while housing their residents in new forms of tiny homes.
Senior municipal leaders from Vancouver, Victoria and Kelowna have cheered these measures as necessary and long overdue with some leaders in rural B.C. asking how their municipalities can be included. But government has also heard grumblings from others concerned about the pace of change, lack of resourcing and undue interference.
BC United Leader Kevin Falcon, meanwhile, has likened Eby’s housing agenda to throwing spaghetti at the wall with the hope that something sticks.
Prest sees Eby’s housing agenda as evidence of “a willingness to take swings” but also as a sign of a government that “seems increasingly confident” of being around for the long-term by making investments that won’t pay off for some time.
But Prest also points out that Eby’s first year has seen what Prest calls a “real selectivity” of priorities. “(It) is not every file where we see this pace of action or this aggressiveness of action,” Prest said.
No plan survives first contact. In fact, Prest said he believes the government needs to find a different strategy when it comes to handling files connected to the Ministry of Family and Children Development.
Minister Mitzi Dean has faced multiple calls for her resignation from inside (BC United, BC Greens) and outside (the First Nations Leadership Council, among others) the legislature around her ministry’s handling of files involving Indigenous children, including a case that led to the death of a boy, while in foster care.
“It’s the sort of area where one mistake is one too many and we are seeing a pattern of neglect,” Prest said. “That’s the area where the government remains vulnerable.”
Others include its handling of the decriminalization trial currently underway and the on-going toxic drug crisis. Government, Prest said, has been unable to bring an effective end to the death toll connected to this crisis in addressing its root causes.
Another emerging issue concerns carbon taxation and the related issue of affordability.
“That’s another issue where the government may find itself in bit of a bind, created perhaps inadvertently by the federal government, by placing a pause on the carbon tax in some parts of the country, but not others, for some fuels, but not others,” Prest said.
That move by the federal government creates additional pressures on Eby’s government to do something similar, Prest said, adding that it might lead government further away from its environmental goals.
“That’s another area where the BC NDP can point to some successes, but it is something of a mix bag in terms of concrete results of moving towards a low-carbon economy,” Prest said.
B.C. is now 11 months out from Oct. 19, 2024, the last possible date for the next provincial election, with Eby having repeatedly said that British Columbians won’t face an early election.
Overall, Prest sees Eby’s government with the advantage heading into the next campaign. BC United, formerly known as BC Liberals, is still looking for traction under its new name. Opposition on the right side of the political spectrum has further divided itself with the emergence of the Conservative Party of BC. BC Greens, meanwhile, are treading water, Prest said.
So what will the ballot question be heading into that election?
Prest believes it will revolve around which party will receive voters’ trust to deal with affordability issues on topics like housing.
“I don’t know they (BC NDP) can guarantee that they are going to be able to bend the cost curve and make housing more affordable, but I think their goal in the context of the options available to voters is to really lock-in what I think is a pre-existing NDP advantage,” he said. “When people are looking for government to act, to provide help, then a left-of-centre party tends to benefit from that.”
He added that the current housing situation reflects policies of the last 30 years.
“It’s not going to change overnight and they (BC NDP) are going to do everything possible to get voters to understand that they are going to do more than anyone else to respond to these issues, even if we don’t see those efforts bear fruit right away,” Prest said.