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Rob Shaw: Public safety becoming a BC Liberal rallying cry at NDP’s expense

The province is trying – and failing – to spin its track record on crime and safety.
The B.C. government is clearly feeling the body blows from opponents that it is “soft on crime.”

B.C.’s attorney general surprised many on Monday when he stood in the house and announced incredible progress on the issues of crime, street disorder and prolific offenders.

“I'm very proud to announce that we secured a national commitment to address repeat offending,” Murray Rankin told the legislature.

A solution to the complex issue of mental health, addictions and crime that has plagued the province for months, and on Saturday played an outsized role in the ouster of almost three dozen mayors in the municipal elections?

Stunning news.

But alas, the excitement was short-lived. An accompanying government press release laid bare the terms of the “national commitment,” such as it was.

“In response to B.C.'s advocacy for federal action, the federal, provincial and territorial ministers unanimously agreed to an urgent followup meeting with the ministers responsible to consider concrete national proposals to address bail provisions for violent offenders and the challenges of repeat offending,” it read.

Basically, in summary: A second meeting between the feds and provinces, to follow up on the one that occurred last week in Halifax.

Important? Sure. Progress? Okay. A “national commitment to address repeat offending”? Not even close.

Still, it’s telling how hard the government tried to spin the issue Monday.

The B.C. government is clearly feeling the body blows from opponents that it is “soft on crime.”

New Democrats watched in concern Saturday as prolific offenders and violence on city streets manifested into voter discontent in municipal election campaigns.

Meanwhile, the Opposition BC Liberals sharpen their attack each day, pinning the whole mess on former attorney general David Eby, who is expected to win the NDP leadership race and replace Horgan in the coming weeks.

“The public finally had their opportunity to pass judgement on the former attorney general's failed approach to keeping our streets safe, and boy, did they ever,” BC Liberal leader Kevin Falcon said in the house on Monday.

“In light of that repudiation… if they're not going to listen to the opposition, will the NDP attorney general listen to the voters and get rid of the former NDP attorney general's failed catch-and-release policies, which are resulting in streets that are not safe, and finally implement policies that put the public's right to safety before a criminal's right to reoffend?”

Outgoing Premier John Horgan took a half-hearted stab at a defence, repeating claims the Liberals have reduced deep-rooted systemic problems on addictions, federal justice issues and court precedents into a “bumper sticker” slogan.

“We have been working diligently to try and make the best of a bad situation, which we inherited, quite frankly, from the former solicitor general and the former attorney general,” he said.

“No policy change has happened in the past five years – none, zero – except for our efforts to try and make the best of a bad situation.”

But as has been the case for several months now, the Liberals managed to easily cut through the NDP’s rhetoric with a harsh dose of reality.

“Just this weekend… the Vancouver police department received 1,500 calls,” replied Falcon.

“They were calls for assaults, weapons, property offences. We saw someone brutally stabbed. We saw a man that was shot in the chest with a crossbow. We saw a woman on the corner of Pender and Cambie sucker punched in the face, for no reason, by a random stranger. And yet another violent and random assault in Chinatown, where a 93-year-old gentleman, who had lived there for over 30 years, thrown to the ground, with a broken hip.

“These are not bumper stickers. These are British Columbians that are saying that the failed approach that this government has taken, being soft on crime, is failing communities.”

Horgan didn’t even bother trying to reply. Perhaps he, like most people watching, could sense the debate had already been won at his government’s expense.

Outside the house, Falcon began rehearsing to the media what will undoubtedly be lines in his next election campaign. They go something like this: The NDP is more worried about coddling the violent criminals who are high on drugs on city streets, smashing windows and screaming in your face as you walk by, than they are in keeping you safe.

“The NDP ideology is one that pits the rights of repeat violent offenders as having more rights than the right of the communities to feel safe,” Falcon said.

“And I think people are tired of that. They want to see that reversed. Community safety ought to be the priority. The repeat criminal, violent offenders, frankly, they can be detained, and too bad if they're unhappy about having the rights taken away for a while. It's time we protect the communities.”

It’s possible B.C.’s second meeting with Ottawa yields actual progress on bail reform, federal justice legislation and financial resources for provinces. Perhaps, with a united front, the provinces can force actual change from the feds.

For the province, any help can’t come quickly enough. Every day, the BC NDP loses more and more political ground on public safety.

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Rob Shaw has spent more than 14 years covering B.C. politics, now reporting for CHEK News and writing for Glacier Media. He is the co-author of the national bestselling book A Matter of Confidence, and a regular guest on CBC Radio.