British Columbia Attorney General David Eby has announced his bid to become the province’s next premier, saying he has secured the support of a large majority of New Democrat members of the legislature.
Eby’s announcement ends weeks of speculation as other high-profile New Democrats have bowed out of this fall’s leadership election, with the winner set to be announced on Dec. 3.
Premier John Horgan announced last month he would resign due to health reasons, following two bouts with cancer, paving the way for a new leader.
Notable cabinet ministers, including Jobs Minister Ravi Kahlon, Finance Minister Selina Robinson and Municipal Affairs Minister Nathan Cullen, have said they will not be vying for the top job, making Eby the contender to beat.
Eby is so far the only candidate running to replace Horgan, who has said he no longer has the energy to seek re-election.
In announcing his leadership bid, Eby told supporters at the Kitsilano Neighbourhood House on Tuesday that more housing, affordable childcare and family doctors are needed for communities.
“Building public housing for middle-class families was something government never had to do when I was growing up,” he said, adding that’s needed because pressures in the housing market are pushing people onto the street.
He said rent-to-own, long-term lease and co-operative housing could be built, and not just by the private sector.
Eby, who was born in Kitchener, Ont., and will turn 46 on Thursday, said he strongly urged Horgan to run for the party’s leadership in 2013 and co-chaired his campaign after the NDP’s tough loss to the BC Liberal party.
He won his Vancouver-Point Grey riding in 2013 over then-premier Christy Clark, forcing her to run in a byelection in Kelowna.
The timing for his chance at the premier’s job wasn’t right then, Eby said, adding: “I was just recently elected. I didn’t even know where the bathrooms were in the legislature. My wife and I were expecting, and she was in school.”
Now, he represents a “generational shift” in the legislature, Eby said.
“I think if I’m successful, I’ll represent a new generation of leaders in British Columbia. I’ve got a young family and will be able to bring that experience to the legislature with me.”
He plans to spend the next two months touring the province with this wife, Cailey Lynch, who is a family physician, and their eight-year-old son Ezra and two-year-old daughter Iva.
Eby’s role in the legislature has included launching an inquiry into money laundering, calling on municipalities to take action on affordable housing and moving the Insurance Corporation of B.C. to a no-fault vehicle insurance model after comparing its financial state to a “dumpster fire.”
Pivot Legal Society founder John Richardson said he hired Eby in about 2004 for his first job after the now-attorney general was called to the bar.
Richardson, speaking earlier Tuesday, said Eby advocated tirelessly as a human rights lawyer for the homeless and under-housed residents of the Downtown Eastside and was “clearly talented and very smart.”
Eby would go on to write “The Arrest Pocketbook: A Guide to Your Rights,” for the B.C. Civil Liberties Association and become its executive director before embarking on a political career.
Pivot’s efforts to shift public policy on issues such as poverty, homeless and drug use seem to have been a natural extension of his later work, Richardson said, although Eby did not articulate any intention to enter politics at the time.
“There are certainly a lot of issues that haven’t really moved,” he said. “We still look at the Downtown Eastside and see it’s still in the same dire straits as it was 10 and 20 years ago. So, perhaps with the power of a premier he’d be able to take some steps to address it.”
Eby said his work as a community advocate is now supported by every member of the legislature when it comes to services such as supervised consumption sites and prescription opioids to help those struggling with addiction.
“I think my experience working with people with serious mental health and addiction leads me to believe that we can do a lot better,” he said. “But it’s also an opportunity for us to respond to the crisis in many downtowns across the province. It can and should include mental health treatment in a more aggressive way.”
By Camille Bains