David Eby was draped in a blanket by Musqueam tribal members and then swore his allegiance to King Charles III “his heirs and successors,” as the 46-year-old former civil liberties lawyer was sworn in Friday as British Columbia’s 37th Premier.
The combination of British colonial traditions and celebration of Aboriginal First Nations culture quickly gave way to the urgency of now. “We need to hit the ground running,” said Eby, who picked his first moments in office to make a trio of policy announcements.
The province will deliver a $100 (Canadian) credit to every electrical ratepayer in the province. It will deliver a modest “affordability credit” to low and middle-income households, beginning with $164 to a household with $36,601 in income, then on a sliding scale and phased out for those making $79,376 and more.
The newly minted premier said he will push a housing plan in the B.C. Legislature on Monday, aiming to open “thousands of units for rental and a path to ownership,” aiming for a province “where everyone can afford a decent place to live.” He added: “It is vital we protect British Columbians from speculation in our housing market.”
British Columbia is a popular place to live, whether for those from other provinces across Canada – Eby is a Kitchner, Ontario, native – or from China and South Asia. The average price of a home in the Pacific province is $736,000, higher than anyplace else in the Great White North, climbing to an average of $1,155,300 in Vancouver.
Once nicknamed Canada’s “Lotus land” for its relatively benign climate and laid-back lifestyle, British Columbia has been buffeted of late. The province was in the path of an atmospheric river a year ago, with massive flooding that breached dikes in the Fraser Valley and briefly blocked land access from the populous Lower Mainland to the rest of Canada.
The impact of climate change has been felt in massive wildfires, from Telegraph Creek near the Alaska border to Kootenay National Park in the Canadian Rockies. Outgoing Premier John Horgan has described summer fire smoke as “the new normal.”
The June, 2021, heat dome killed 619 people and burned the Fraser Canyon town of Lytton, which recorded Canada’s highest-ever temperature. The heat brought some flooding of a different sort, as water melted off already-receding glaciers in the Rockies, Selkirks, Purcell and Coast mountains.
As well, the province endured the COVID-19 pandemic which has killed 4,550 people, forced closure of sectors of B.C.’s economy, and for a time restricted travel between regions of the province. B.C. faces a critical shortage of family physicians.
Eby is taking over from Horgan, who has spent five years as premier but found his strength sapped by a recent bout with throat cancer. Horgan has been an ally of Washington Gov. Jay Inslee on climate and the environment, and he is in hopes of introducing high-speed rail to the Vancouver, B.C.-Eugene, Oregon corridor.
As the former director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Assn. Eby is promising action on crime and public safety. Law-and-order politicians were victorious in recent municipal elections, which turned out the mayor of Vancouver and much of the city council. There is, Eby said Friday, “a feeling that downtown cores are not as safe as before the pandemic.”
“Lots of people are doing well in the province, but those who are struggling are really struggling,” Eby told a news conference after being sworn in. The premier’s center-left New Democratic Party enjoys a comfortable majority in the legislature and does not have to face voters in a provincial election until October of 2024. Eby noted, however, that time passes quickly in government.
The new premier stands 6’7” and Horgan joked: “The first thing I did when assuming office was turn to the tallest person I could find and pile responsibilities on his shoulders.” Eby has served as attorney general, as well as minister of housing. He was also entrusted with reforming the Insurance Corp. of British Columbia, the province’s auto insurer, and investigating use of the province for money laundering.
Swearings-in of premiers usually take place at the ornate Government House in Victoria, presided over by the Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia, the British monarchy’s ceremonial representative in the province. With a prior commitment of Government House, Eby moved the Friday ceremony to the Musqueam Community Center, located in the premier’s home riding (electoral district) of Vancouver-Point Grey.
“David Eby is the first B.C. Premier sworn in at a First Nation – an encouraging signal that he is dedicated to reconciliation and authentic partnership with First Nations,” said Musqueam chairman Wayne Sparrow.
Premier Eby will swear in a new provincial cabinet on December 7.