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Eby visits qathet region for campaign stop

Vancouver-Point Grey MLA seeks NDP leadership, continues province-wide tour
PREMIERSHIP PURSUIT: BC NDP leadership candidate David Eby [left] visited the qathet region last weekend and was joined by Powell River-Sunshine Coast MLA Nicholas Simons at a local campaign event.

Until Wednesday, August 10, David Eby’s path to victory as leader of the BC NDP – and therefore premier – was widely seen as a “shoo-in.” He was initially the only candidate running to replace outgoing leader John Horgan, until news broke this week that Anjali Appadurai, a former federal NDP candidate and climate activist, would also launch a campaign.

By seeking the leadership, Eby had to resign from his post as attorney general and minister responsible for housing.

Several NDP MLAs initially floated by political watchers as potential leadership candidates declined to run, and some even joined the 48 BC NDP MLAs who endorsed Eby at the outset of his campaign in July. Other would-be competitors have until October 4 to enter the race, with the winner scheduled to be announced December 3.

At an August 7 campaign event in the qathet region, Eby told the Peak that the majority of MLAs who haven’t endorsed him only declined to do so for reasons related to their roles in the caucus.

“I think the reason why I have such broad support among the caucus is we all just want to get on with the work,” explained Eby. “We don’t want to spend our time on a divisive leadership race and focusing on our differences.”

Powell River-Sunshine Coast MLA Nicholas Simons is among those who have lent Eby their support.

Eby said his brief local stop was part of a province-wide tour to speak with NDP members, who are eligible to vote in the leadership election, and members of the broader community. He also met with Tla’amin Nation hegus John Hackett.

Community concerns

“I know there are issues of concern that have been raised within the community about the future of the mill site, the name of the town and issues around treaty implementation,” said Eby, adding that other dominant issues raised by community members have included housing, health care and sustainability of local services.

Asked about what was then only a potential Appadurai candidacy, Eby said: “It’s a democratic party, and it’s open to British Columbians to run for the leadership. The positive side of a race is it gives a chance to debate different issues and to expose the party to more British Columbians.”

However, in Eby’s view, the “downside” is that a competitive race means he will need to spend “more time away” from what he regards as his top priorities, which include housing, health care and affordability challenges.

Those issues are likely to be major concerns for many qathet residents. Rents continue to rise across many parts of the province, and a lack of vacancy locally has contributed to pushing housing costs upward over much of the past year. Meanwhile, an influx of out-of-town homebuyers gobbled up some of the already limited rental housing supply, particularly in 2021, forcing some low-income residents to seek out new rental units that many could not afford.

On health care, a shortage of family doctors recently forced a Victoria couple – who were among the approximately one million British Columbians without a doctor – to place a newspaper ad seeking a physician. Horgan responded to the problem by stating that he might place a similar ad to put pressure on the federal government to increase health funding.

In terms of affordability, the BC government raised the minimum wage in June to $15.65 per hour, an increase of 2.8 per cent tied to the rate of inflation for 2021. However, the pace of inflation this year has accelerated rapidly, with the latest provincial Consumer Price Index (CPI) showing that costs for basic goods were 7.9 per cent higher in June this year than in June 2021.

The NDP’s record on addressing the climate crisis has also been heavily criticized by activists, particularly in regard to its greenlighting of a liquefied natural gas (LNG) megaproject in Kitimat back in 2018 and the government’s ongoing fossil fuel subsidies.

Eby said he is not concerned that Appadurai, an outspoken critic of LNG and the BC government’s climate record, might bring these issues to the centre of the contest.

“I think Anjali represents the viewpoints, in particular, of a large group of young people, [concerned about] what the future of our province is going to look like and how we balance the economy and the environment,” said Eby. “It’s entirely appropriate that someone steps up to represent that in the leadership race.

“When I look at the performance of the government and the support of British Columbians for the government, we’ve been working hard at that balance, and I think British Columbians are recognizing that. We’re going to need to make some fairly significant strides on addressing the challenges around health care and access to family doctors in the province.”

Housing and health care

Eby said there is an urgent need to free up more housing supply, for example by legalizing more secondary suites. However, he added that “the only way to guarantee true affordability is if the government and the public are involved in some way,” and stressed that partnerships with private industry and First Nations, or directly building supply on government land, can create “access to attainable housing.”

In terms of specific measures on addressing health care challenges, Eby said he wants to “recognize and reward” physicians who choose to become family doctors over working at drop-in clinics, in addition to expanding capacity of the work family doctors can undertake by having them work with physicians’ assistants or nurse practitioners. He would also bring doctors from major hospitals across the province together to discuss what measures can be taken to improve the delivery of care.

“The opportunity is to get the people together in the room who are doing that on-the-ground work,” said Eby, “and have them identify solutions and to work with them on that.”

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