Can David Eby be trusted not to play majoritarian politics in the future?
Later today, his only rival for the leadership of the B.C. NDP, Anjali Appadurai, will officially launch her campaign in downtown Vancouver
No MLA in Surrey or North Delta would likely dream of conducting a study on the number of homeowners in a small pocket of their city with nonanglicized Punjabi names.
But something along these lines happened in Vancouver in 2015—only this time, the study concerned homeowners with nonanglicized Chinese names.
The data was provided by David Eby, then the NDP housing critic, to Andy Yan. At the time, Yan's star was rising as a researcher on empty homes and the like. After the study was completed, Yan landed a prestigious job at SFU.
Eby, the MLA for Vancouver–Point Grey, supplied him with information on 172 property sales on the West Side of Vancouver.
To date, it's never been revealed how Eby chose those particular properties or whether he was supported in his efforts by NDP caucus researchers.
One thing is clear, however: that study contributed to a racial bonfire in B.C. over "foreign" buying of real estate and "foreign money" in the housing market in subsequent years. This occurred even though Yan has insisted that he never looked for "levels of foreign ownership".
In years following the study, Eby conflated money laundering in casinos with rapidly rising real-estate prices and the deadly fentanyl crisis.
"The nature of these allegations, that this money-laundering activity is actively influencing our real estate market and is connected to the sale of life-destroying fentanyl, underline the critical importance of addressing money laundering urgently and not ignoring it," Eby said in 2018 statement, according to CBC News.
In those days, Eby focused the media's attention on "shadow flipping" and money laundering in casinos. And his party embraced demand-side measures to address the high cost of housing, including a speculation tax and surtaxes on expensive residential properties.
Meanwhile, a major Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation study pointed to supply shortages as a primary factor driving up housing prices.
But that didn't seem to matter much to Eby back then. And what he said about money laundering and shadow flipping resonated with those in the media, generating massive coverage, paving the way for the NDP taking power in a minority government in 2017. Many journalists believed that a mainland Chinese buying frenzy—and not sustained low interest rates, lack of supply, a ballooning money supply, intergenerational wealth transfers, municipal zoning or other factors—was at the root of the affordability crisis.
Here's what CMHC found in its study:
"Our analysis has found that investor demand and speculative activity (both domestic and foreign), as measured by currently available data, have had a limited measured impact on prices. This not to say that speculation is of no concern. While investors look for opportunities for returns where demand is growing and supply is fixed or slow to respond, increased speculation is more likely to amplify the impact of persistent market imbalances rather than serve as a key cause. Although policy measures aimed at purely speculative demand that doesn’t serve to increase supply could mitigate those effects, current evidence suggests they are not likely to have a substantial impact on affordability in high-priced markets like Toronto and Vancouver."
During the pandemic, home prices in Metro Vancouver continued skyrocketing even as immigration declined and foreign buying remained a fairly negligible factor in residential real-estate sales.
Eby, who became the minister responsible for housing after the 2020 election, then changed course on housing, much to the disappointment of some of his earlier admirers.
He is now a champion of adding housing supply. As I noted in a column earlier this year, it's too bad that about five or six years were wasted by the NDP focusing so heavily on demand-side measures.
Eby has also expressed regret over his role in the 2015 study on nonanglicized names of homebuyers.
This revelation came at a provincial inquiry into money laundering. Eby claimed in his testimony to have apologized in an "article" for his participation with Yan.
"I was supportive of trying to get to the bottom of international money in our real estate market," Eby told the inquiry under cross-examination by B.C. Civil Liberties Association lawyer Jessica Magonet.
"I was insufficiently sensitive to the impact on the Chinese community of the sociological marker that Mr. Yan used based on other research in terms of the sense that a person's name is a really important personal marker," Eby continued, "and to be described as a foreign investor based solely on what your name is was incredibly problematic for that community and completely understandably so I apologized for my participation in this by providing Mr. Yan with those studies."
After Eby's testimony, the Georgia Straight asked the Ministry of Attorney General and lawyers appearing at the inquiry for the "article" that Eby had referred to. Nobody was able to furnish a copy of it. It couldn't be found on the Internet, either.
Does that "article", which Eby testified about at a provincial inquiry, actually exist? The Georgia Straight has been unable to confirm this.
The Straight has confirmed, however, that Eby appeared on an Omni TV show hosted by Ding Guo after Ding had heavily criticized the Eby-Yan study.
At the time, Eby told Ding that he was unhappy about the study being used to advocate discrimination against Chinese Canadians. They later became friends, according to a preface that Eby wrote for one of Ding's books.
If Eby's interview with Ding is the "article" that he referred to at the public inquiry, that escaped the notice of the inquiry commissioner, Austin Cullen, who did not pay much attention to this episode.
However, Cullen did say that he could not conclude that money laundering was a significant cause of unaffordable residential real-estate prices.
In comments to reporters, Cullen stated that it was "overly simplistic and unfounded" for anyone to say that "criminal money from China" flowed freely into the housing sector, according to a Times Colonist article.
Why rehash this history right now?
Eby now wants to become premier of B.C. But does he have the character for such an important position, given the sweeping powers that first ministers have in this country, given the history of B.C. politicians playing up the yellow peril to pander to the majority, and given his willingness to participate in a study focusing on nonanglicized Chinese names?
It's a question that those still upset about the 2015 study and Eby's relentless focus on casino gambling—and the impact that this has had on our neighbours of Asian ancestry—might want to ask themselves.
Later today, his only rival for the job, B.C. NDP leadership candidate Anjali Appadurai, will officially launch her campaign in downtown Vancouver.
So far, she's been silent on Eby's flip-flop on the major cause of high housing prices since revealing her intention to challenge him for the party leadership.
We'll see if that continues throughout the campaign.
But as an immigrant herself from India, where demagogue-driven majoritarianism has led to some horrific communal violence, it can't have entirely escaped her notice. Especially after her city of Vancouver was dubbed the "Anti-Asian Hate Crime Capital of North America" in 2021.