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Column: B.C.’s new premier faces tough challenges, makes big promises

David Eby has promised to tackle housing affordability and social problems of DTES.
B.C. Premier David Eby at his oath of office ceremony Nov. 18, 2022.

B.C. is facing several serious crises — housing, healthcare, inflation, opioids — and strong leadership is needed to get us through.

The province’s new Premier, David Eby, promised to deliver a stronger, better, cleaner and fairer British Columbia for generations to come during his swearing-in ceremony. The ceremony was held at the Musqueam Community Centre, in Eby’s riding of Point Grey — the first-ever hosted by a First Nation in B.C.

Eby is known as a man of action, with a history of advocacy, particularly for vulnerable people. Before unseating then-premier Christy Clark in Vancouver’s Point Grey riding in 2013, Eby was a lawyer who worked for the B.C. Civil Liberties Association and before that for Pivot Legal Society. He’s 46 and is married with two young children.

At Eby’s swearing-in ceremony outgoing Premier John Horgan joked that he’d given the toughest jobs to “the tallest person I could find,” referring to Eby, who, Horgan said, always handled those challenging tasks with enthusiasm and compassion.

Eby paid tribute in return, saying, “I’m not as tall as I look because I’m standing on the shoulders of John Horgan.”

Musqueam Chief Wayne Sparrow called on Eby to make reconciliation more than a buzzword.

“We want action that creates substantial, positive change for Musqueam and all Indigenous people in B.C.,” Sparrow said. “We will be looking to Premier Eby to provide the leadership needed to truly implement Indigenous rights and create a prosperous future for every British Columbian.”

A prosperous future for every British Columbian won’t be easy to achieve and Eby will have to listen to many, while acting boldly, but carefully to make progress.

During Horgan’s NDP government, Eby served as Attorney General. He also had responsibility, at various times, for housing and the Insurance Corporation of B.C. He spearheaded two of the NDP government’s biggest investigations — one into ICBC, which he called a “dumpster fire” and another into money laundering, a strategy for which became internationally known as the “Vancouver model.”

Eby has promised to tackle two of B.C.’s thorniest problems, which happen to be linked: housing affordability and the social problems of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

On housing, his promises are ambitious and there are so many of them, it’s hard to keep track. They include doubling funding to non-profits to build housing, expanding government’s role in building middle-class homes, and using public lands and favourable lending rates to build both rental and purchased homes. He’s going to create a standalone housing ministry.

He also promised to bring in a flipping tax, to stop people from buying houses and selling them within a short period for a much higher price, to seize properties bought with the proceeds of crime, to curtail large corporations buying up rental real estate and to require short-term rental companies to disclose information to cities and regions about rental units.

That seems like a lot, but he didn’t stop there. Eby also promised to allow homebuilders to build three units on single-family lots in urban centres, as long as they meet existing requirements. He pledged to make secondary suites legal throughout the province and to remove age restrictions on strata properties (except those for seniors).

If Eby can make all of those changes, one can only hope that it will make a dent in our province’s astronomical housing costs. The young people need a chance to make a life here, with secure housing.

Eby has also said the province will take on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, a neighbourhood that has grown absolutely desperate in the past decade, facing homelessness, mental health problems, addiction and crime. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of people living in tents on the sidewalks along Hastings Street, struggling every day to survive. It won’t be easy to ameliorate the issues facing Vancouver’s oldest community, but I hope Eby is successful in a way that honours the people living there.

As if those weren’t enough challenges, B.C.’s healthcare system is in a crisis, reconciliation with Indigenous people is precarious, yet essential, the global economy is fragile and the world is facing an increasingly dire climate crisis. It doesn’t look like the next few years are going to be a walk in the park.

“These are massive challenges. If the pandemic taught us anything, it’s that we can’t solve these problems alone. We need to solve them together,” Eby said at his swearing-in ceremony.

Given the divisive nature of politics these days, it’s going to be a tall order to work together, but Eby’s right. Working together is the only way progress is made, and it’s a two-way street. Eby will also have to listen carefully and collaborate to reach his goals.

Tracy Sherlock is a freelance journalist who writes about education and social issues. Read her blog or email her

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