The Georgia Straight
Why Eby is well-positioned in NDP leadership race
The B.C. NDP is made up of several key groups that have traditionally played major roles in leadership races. They are not monolithic blocs, and some members belong to one or more of these wings of the party: organized labour (private and public sector, which don’t always see eye to eye); women’s-rights activists; people of South Asian ancestry; environmentalists; LGBT+ activists; Indigenous people; and student-movement leaders
In recent years, the party has been attracting more millennials, especially those who were upset over the B.C. Liberals’ handling of the housing issue. Plus, the B.C. NDP has been bolstered by a growing number of members who trace their roots back to the Philippines and Taiwan.
Meanwhile, the B.C. NDP has repelled some environmentalists who used to routinely be in its camp. The gung-ho support for fracking, LNG, and continued old-growth logging is reminiscent of the 1990s, when a previous NDP government’s logging and energy policies alienated those concerned about clean drinking water and rising greenhouse-gas emissions.
Several commentators feel that Attorney General David Eby may have a lock on the B.C. NDP leadership now that he’s been endorsed by Jobs, Economic Recovery and Innovation Minister Ravi Kahlon.
They are a formidable duo in NDP circles.
If Kahlon can bring along most of those of South Asian ancestry—which is highly likely, given his popularity—Eby will be in excellent shape. The attorney general is already very popular with some millennials and a fair number of housing activists.
Eby sometimes presents a green sheen, even if his party doesn’t; plus, he’s acceptable to some in the student movement.
But simply assuming that Eby is the premier-in-waiting overlooks a couple of things. First off, how will he fare with the large women’s movement within the B.C. NDP? Would a run by a high-profile woman siphon away a significant amount of support? What if Land, Water and Resource Stewardship Minister Josie Osborne were to declare her candidacy?
In addition, Eby might not get a boost from private-sector union members within the NDP, who like resource extraction and megaprojects. They loved John Horgan, and they might have liked Kahlon if he were a candidate. But is Eby really someone they can identify with? He’s no Glen Clark, that’s for sure, let alone a Don Davies, who represents Vancouver Kingsway in Parliament.
There are other unknowns at this point. Could a crack political organizer like Vancouver-Kensington MLA Mable Elmore enter the race? Even if she fell far short, she might be in a position to get behind another candidate who could stop Eby.
The same might be said of North Vancouver–Lonsdale MLA Bowinn Ma, who’s trying to urge the climate-conscious to take out memberships to influence the outcome of the leadership race. Over social media, some are telling her that she would be better off joining the B.C. Greens.
Eby has a few things in common with Tom Berger, a very articulate and polished lawyer who led the party to a disastrous defeat in the 1969 election. Berger cruised to victory in his party’s leadership race, thanks in part to the support of organized labour, but he didn’t have the mustard in blue-collar British Columbia, let alone in his own constituency of Vancouver-Burrard.
Is Eby going to be Berger 2.0? That’s a question that might emerge in the minds of some party elders who recall the 1969 election.
That said, Eby is still in an enviable position this early in the race. And he hasn’t even begun to show off his improving Mandarin. It will do wonders to offset any claims that in the past Eby might have pandered to yellow-peril fears for political gain.
Plus, he can play up the fact that he and Kahlon restored the B.C. Human Rights Commission.
Even better for Eby’s fortunes is the slowing real-estate market. It means he’s less likely to be dogged by criticism over relentlessly rising housing prices. So all things considered, perhaps the stars are aligning in his favour—and those commentators are correct in putting him far out in front of the undeclared pack.
But keep an eye on the women’s movement and the remaining environmentalists within the NDP. If they coalesce behind a candidate other than Eby, this race could turn out to be closer than some people might expect. Stay tuned.
Eby sometimes presents a green sheen, even if his party doesn’t.
– Charlie Smith