Rob Shaw: Eby's trade mission aims to find partners in alignment with B.C. businesses and policies

Eby finding companies abroad with B.C.'s interests and ideas in mind

David Eby is on a two-week trade mission to Japan, Korea and Singapore. | Province of BC/Flickr

Premier David Eby says he’s keenly following up on two affordable housing ideas he’s uncovered during his Asia-Pacific trade mission, and has already connected B.C. ministry officials with overseas counterparts to explore the opportunities.

One Japanese company he met, Daito Trust Corporation, started out as a conversation about how B.C. could provide wood products for the construction arm of the company, before it pivoted into discussion of Daito’s real estate rental practices.

“They have a very interesting business model where, if you own land, they partner with you, build rental housing for you, and then lease out that building from you, providing you with fixed payments, and they operate the building for 30 years,” Eby said in an interview Sunday from Singapore.

“They, using this model, have 1.2 million units under management in Japan. And they're looking at British Columbia as a potential place to operate this model, which would be a very positive thing for rental housing development in our province.”

Daito recorded more than $14 billion in revenue in 2022. Eby said he’s connected the company with B.C. trade representatives. “I’m very optimistic following our meeting that they’ll be following up on that,” he said.

Eby left on the two-week trade mission to Japan, South Korea and Singapore May 27.

In South Korea, he met with the Seoul Housing Corporation, a non-profit owned by the City of Seoul. The corporation helps construct affordable housing for a city that has almost twice the population of the entire province of British Columbia.

“They have a BC Builds-like model where they build middle income housing for people in Seoul, Korea, who have very similar issues around housing affordability as we do,” he said.

And we've connected their policy people with our policy people in British Columbia to ensure that we're not repeating any mistakes they may have made, and in learning lessons from their work, they develop thousands of units for people in Seoul.”

He said the Seoul Housing Corporation will have “a direct influence on our housing policy.”

Eby has previously promised a “BC Builds” program, that would dramatically increase the government’s role in direct involvement building affordable housing, through the use of public land, upzoning properties with partner municipalities and provincial lending rates.

Full details have not yet been released, though Eby currently has former Victoria mayor Lisa Helps developing some of the early stages of the idea, like a fulsome list of available public land.

In his final days of the trade mission, in Singapore, Eby has also said he’ll research Singapore’s public housing system, which is a combination of building units near transit hubs, heavy government subsidies, low-interest loans and varying rights of ownership depending on your citizenship. Almost nine out of 10 Singapore citizens own homes.

Eby said he’s also spent a fair amount of time on the trip so far trying to boost the profile of British Columbia hydrogen. B.C. is home to Ballard Power, one of the largest hydrogen fuel cell providers in the world, and Eby has pivoted sharply to promoting that sector since becoming premier.

“I think a pleasant surprise for me is that our existing LNG partners are likely to be our partners on critical minerals and hydrogen as well,” he said.

That includes Mitsubishi, currently part of a nickel mine proposal in B.C., and COGAS, which Eby said “is all-in” on hydrogen.

On LNG, though, the premier remained muted. Although part of the trade mission involved meeting with companies that have a stake in LNG Canada near Kitimat (at $40-billion, the largest private-sector project in Canadian history), when asked if he had sold any companies on extra LNG shipments, Eby pivoted the the province’s climate plans that will put sectoral targets on LNG Canada for emissions and force it to electrify for future phases.

“I’m glad to meet with these companies and discuss our clean energy framework with them because certainly our proposal of carbon caps and our commitment to decarbonizing the energy supply of British Columbia could cause uncertainty for major investors,” he said.

“And so the chance to meet with them and hear that their plans are very consistent with ours, is reassuring for me that we're on the right path. But also reassuring to know that engaging with these companies and making sure that we're strong partners, knowing that that's going to pay off in terms of hydrogen production and a shift in British Columbia, is reassuring as well.”

Environmental groups say there’s no way for B.C. to hit its climate targets and allow additional LNG terminals.

“People often suggest that there's sort of a binary choice between the LNG project and clean fuels, but it's been pretty clear to me in Korea and Japan that there's a huge desire to decarbonize and accelerate hydrogen investment as quickly as possible, and the same firms are doing that work are seeking energy security for their home countries,” said Eby

“So building those relationships has been really important.”

Eby said he also arranged for a fall visit to B.C. from officials at POSCO, a South Korean steelmaker who is one of the largest global players in the sector and who the premier said is interested in decarbonizing its operations with B.C. hydrogen.

Trade missions by premiers are often criticized by opponents and useless trade junkets that waste public funds.

BC United critic Peter Milobar said Eby’s trade mission to Asia-pacific countries shows the NDP’s decision to shut down standalone BC trade offices in South Korea, Singapore, India, China, Japan and other countries in 2018, to relocate them into existing Canadian offices, was short-sighted and wrong.

“This is a government that all but walked away from the Asia-Pacific, and Asian trade over the last several years and they’ve got a lot to rebuild to get it back to anything close to what it was,” he said.

Milobar also said Eby could have better used his time to visit locations in British Columbia, such as the community of Lytton, which has been stuck in rebuilding limbo for almost two years following wildfires that destroyed the town.

Eby dismissed the criticism.

“I believe strongly that if our province is going to be successful, we're going to have to engage internationally, especially in a time of growing geopolitical risks we have to diversify our trade relationships,” he said. “It's not optional.”

Eby returns to the province June 7.

Rob Shaw has spent more than 15 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, host of the weekly podcast Political Capital, and a regular guest on CBC Radio. rob@robshawnews.com