BC New Democrats looking to trumpet the early success of Premier David Eby have an embarrassment of riches to choose from with recent announcements on crime, housing, health care and affordability.
Unfortunately for them though, that embarrassment works both ways.
Experienced ministers are getting their portfolios kicked in the rear end by the new premier, as he pushes forward with policy reversals and new programs that his ministers appear to have been largely unable to shepherd into reality on their own over the past year.
The end result is enormous change, quickly.
But New Democrats patting themselves on the back should also consider the flip side of what this all means. The blistering pace of announcements by Eby – six bombshells in 10 days – underscores just how badly this government has drifted off course, and how hard the new boss is having to work to put out the many dumpster fires this cabinet has been seemingly incapable of addressing the past year.
Among the more jarring examples was when Eby emerged last week to announce $230 million to bring the RCMP up to full strength in B.C., so that rural communities could fill vacancies, and regional units could be fully staffed to investigate homicides and child exploitation.
Standing beside the new premier to celebrate the news was Solicitor General Mike Farnworth. He’s been in that job for more than five years – the NDP’s entire term of office. Did he only now realize the RCMP didn’t have enough officers? Why didn’t he try and solve this problem sooner, during the half-decade he’s held the portfolio?
These are especially perplexing questions, because the NDP government has been absolutely eviscerated on the issues of crime, repeat offenders and street disorder the past year. As many as 84 per cent of British Columbians polled by Angus Reid last month felt the NDP government was doing a poor job responding to poverty, homelessness, drug use, addictions and the opioid crisis – the underlying issues fuelling street disorder.
Adding to government’s woes have been the Opposition BC Liberals, which have drawn upon a wellspring of real-world horror stories from B.C. streets – people being stabbed by strangers, shot by crossbows, pushed down stairs and punched in random, violent attacks.
You’d think at some point during this year-long political drubbing, someone, somewhere, inside the NDP would have said: Hey, why don’t we fund some more RCMP officers?
New Democrats insist Farnworth tried. But apparently he couldn’t get the $230 million through treasury board, the 14-person cabinet committee chaired by Finance Minister Selina Robinson that must approve all funding requests. Once Eby became premier, however, he used the might of his office to push it through in days.
Same story for veteran Health Minister Adrian Dix, who announced Sunday a “historic” tripling of spaces to train internationally accredited doctors. He went on at some length about how important the change is. But he’s also apparently been struggling to get the $5.12 million expansion through treasury board. That despite the NDP government being in the middle of a family doctor shortage that polls show is infuriating B.C. voters.
Earlier this year, Dix wasn’t even able to even get his five-year health human resources strategy on Horgan’s agenda for approval – a key plank in the government’s attempts to tackle the health-care staffing crisis.
Dix offered only a hint of that frustration on Sunday, as he stood smiling beside Eby.
“A tripling of this program is a major investment by the province in the future of public health care,” he said. “I'm very proud, and I know the premier is, as he has been a consistent advocate on this question.”
Then there’s Eby himself, unveiling on his second day as premier reforms to repeat offenders – a file he had as attorney general for five years. Why didn’t he enact any of those changes during that time? It appears he couldn’t get approval for them either. His disagreements with Finance Minister Robinson were so frequent that Horgan removed Eby from treasury board entirely earlier this year.
It should embarrass New Democrats that much-needed reforms have apparently been sitting unapproved and neglected for months now. Solutions to the biggest crises the government has been facing have been caught up in red tape, infighting and the kind of slow government-itis that usually occurs before a party is hurled out of office.
Eby is now pushing through the many projects that were stalled, underfunded or languishing inside government as part of his multi-week action plan.
And he’s sent a signal he intends to spend the $5 billion surplus projected for this year on the things the previous Horgan administration was hesitant to fund.
All of these course-corrections are designed to make the new premier look good, and play into his carefully cultivated image as the “man of action.”
But they are also a tacit acknowledgement that the NDP government has been sitting idle for the better part of a year, and Eby is sprinting into action out of necessity to contain the many crises impacting British Columbians.
The rate of change is necessary because this government is in trouble right now. The numerous announcements are necessary, because a lot needs to change. And the accelerated pace is necessary, because Eby has to make up time for a year in which Horgan stood still.
Put that way, maybe NDP strategists should take steps to retire the “man of action” moniker for Eby. At every event, beside every smiling minister, it only serves to remind people that he’s rescuing New Democrats from themselves.
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.