Former activist David Eby has 'a reputation for getting things done' and clear path to becoming premier

·4 min read
David Eby enters the race for the B.C. NDP leadership with no challengers. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)
David Eby enters the race for the B.C. NDP leadership with no challengers. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)

Barring some surprise announcements from outsider candidates, it's starting to look like a former indie band frontman and outspoken civil liberties advocate will be the next leader of the B.C. NDP — and the provincial government.

Attorney General David Eby announced his candidacy for the party's leadership on Tuesday afternoon, ending weeks of speculation that he would run to replace Premier John Horgan when he retires.

According to Stewart Prest, a political scientist at Simon Fraser University, Eby holds "quite a commanding position" as he enters the race.

"It would not be easy for anyone to mount a challenge to him," Prest told CBC.

So far, Eby is the only candidate for leader, and while the nomination period is open for another two months, his announcement comes after a string of high-profile New Democrats indicated they will not throw their hats in the ring.

In fact, nearly two weeks before Eby made it official, he was already receiving endorsements from his colleagues in the NDP. Jobs Minister Ravi Kahlon, a presumed frontrunner, announced on July 6 that he would not be running and said he'd called Eby to encourage a leadership bid.

Prest said the challenge for Eby, should he win the leadership, will be to hold together a "very united and drama-free coalition" of New Democrats nurtured by his predecessor.

As a longtime left-wing activist from Vancouver with an intellectual bent, Eby belongs to a very different wing of the party than Horgan, who represents a more rural riding on Vancouver Island and is known as a bit of an everyman.

"We do know that he has a reputation for getting things done and for trying to push for that progressive agenda when he's had the opportunity to do so," Prest said of Eby.

"There's going to be that need for him to reach out to those more pragmatic, centrist, perhaps less urban wings of the party while still maintaining the reputation he's developed for somebody who can take real, meaningful action."

From the Downtown Eastside to the legislature

Before Eby's campaign officially launched on Tuesday, the B.C. Liberals were already on the attack, issuing a news release that dismissed him as a "soft-on-crime" cabinet minister who is "too radical" to be premier.

When Eby entered politics, he was already well-known as an outspoken advocate on progressive issues from his years as a lawyer with the Pivot Legal Society in the Downtown Eastside and then as executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA). On the side, he was a singer for the indie rock groups Ladner and World of Science.

As a somewhat controversial figure, Eby fought for greater police accountability and limits on officer power and published a how-to guide on people's rights during arrests and suing police in small claims court.

He also advocated on behalf of the city's homeless population, warning a UN conference in 2007 that Vancouver was failing to provide sustainable, affordable housing ahead of the 2010 Olympics.

CBC
CBC

Eby's entry into the legislature was something of a coup for the NDP.

After challenging then-premier Christy Clark in a 2011 byelection in Vancouver-Point Grey and losing by just 564 votes, Eby ran again two years later and won. His victory forced the Liberal leader to find a new seat in Kelowna.

As an NDP critic, Eby pushed the Liberals on issues like money laundering, fraud, and misconduct in the real estate market.

He has served as attorney general since the NDP formed government in 2017.

During the last five years, Eby has become known for driving an investigation and inquiry into money laundering, a ban on corporate and union political donations and reforms at ICBC — which he famously called a "financial dumpster fire" after 16 years of Liberal stewardship.

He's also been at the forefront of some less fruitful efforts, including an unsuccessful legal challenge to the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project and a failed referendum on electoral reform.

In 2018, Eby also became the subject of protests in his own riding, which boasts some of the priciest real estate in the province because of an increase in taxes on homes valued at more than $3 million. It wasn't uncommon to see signs on the lawns of stately houses in Point Grey accusing Eby of trying to "confiscate your hard-earned home savings."

Right now, the B.C. NDP leadership vote is scheduled to take place on Dec. 3, but NDP regulations state that a new leader could be acclaimed earlier if there are no other candidates.

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