Martyn Brown: David Eby’s Towering Inferno—an NDP disaster film in the making?

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      At 6’ 7”, B.C.’s presumed NDP leadership winner David Eby is a towering figure—an imposing director of considerable talent who seems destined for acclaim as the creator of his own Hollywood remake.

      In this case, the disaster film Towering Inferno, qualified with a question mark.

      Certainly, no one should doubt Eby’s capacity for crowd-pleasing remakes, having already re-created himself as B.C.’s own formidable version of Buford Pusser.

      On both sides of the camera, he is walking tall and carrying a big shtick, banging heads as need be to fight corruption, crime, and no end of societal ills.

      Actor, director, and executive producer of so many big budget blockbusters, he is not one to be trifled with, discounted, or easily pushed off script.

      Community activist, lifelong flag-bearer for human rights and social justice, devoted father, and fun-loving family guy, B.C.’s top legal beagle is a compelling and capable premier-in-waiting who will literally dwarf B.C. Liberal Leader Kevin Falcon.

      For a glimpse into the sunny character that Eby hides so well behind his black-suited public persona, read this flattering profile by former Vancouver Sun reporter Rob Shaw.

      From the instant Eby was unexpectedly anointed by his assumed chief competitor, Jobs Minister Ravi Kahlon, as the B.C. NDP’s best choice to succeed Horgan, the media declared the party’s leadership contest over and gushed his praises.

      Tough to argue with that self-fulfilling prophecy, given how much more infinitely difficult it will now be for anyone else to enter and prevail in the NDP leadership fray.

      Indeed, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Eby become leader by acclamation.

      Just as three other acclaimed NDP leaders who became premiers all were, including Dave Barrett, Mike Harcourt, and John Horgan. Albeit from their respective perches in opposition.

      Given where we are today in B.C. with so many crises confronting us and with the media-authored inevitability of Eby’s ascendancy to the top job, the NDP leadership process now seems entirely academic.

      As such, Eby’s acclamation as leader/premier might actually be the best outcome for both his party and our province.

      John Horgan is the third B.C. NDP premier chosen as leader by acclamation. Will David Eby be the fourth?

      Rules of the race influence the outcome

      Watch for the next shoe to drop to advance that end, perhaps next week, when the party announces the ground rules for the leadership contest-that-won’t-be.

      In particular, keep your eye on the prescribed entry fee set for leadership candidates, as well as the cut-off deadline for announcing their candidacy.

      I expect those, too, will be aimed at further assuring Eby’s caucus-backed coronation by making it even more prohibitively costly and organizationally daunting for anyone who might be still thinking of throwing their hat in the ring.

      In 2014 the NDP set the leadership candidate entrance at $25,000 and the campaign spending cap at $350,000.

      Even those levels would be tough enough for most prospective candidates to contemplate and meet.

      Tougher still if they are increased or maybe even doubled for this hopelessly skewed no-contest “contest”.

      With the press corps already declaring Eby the winner, it’s hard to fathom anyone willing to gamble such a huge cash investment on such a likely losing enterprise.

      Least of all in the anti-rich NDP.

      It would be a very steep price for any sure loser to raise and pay, mostly in the hope of forcing a public debate on policies and concerns that Premier-select Eby will in any event ultimately address as he pleases.

      Most of which speak to Horgan government failures that were wholeheartedly supported and coauthored by every single member of caucus and cabinet.

      Sorry, Bowinn Ma, but you and all of your elected NDP colleagues are now deeply compromised by your voting records and meek silence on all those issues you now purport to champion as leadership hills to die on.

      Climate action that is predicated on reducing and eliminating fossil-fuelled growth, especially.

      Although you and Eby might prove me wrong by correctly answering the 10 simple questions I posed in my last article as a litmus test of truly progressive NDP leadership.

      Bowinn Ma talks a good game on the climate, but some of her votes in the legislature have left a lousy impression on some activists.

      Regardless, put up and shut up is the unspoken subtext of this leadership “contest” that now seems tailor-made for one contender.

      It is designed to discourage outsiders and dark horses, and destined to thwart its own ostensible democratic purpose.

      By contrast, the 2014 NDP leadership race afforded everyone who might have hoped to succeed Adrian Dix much more time to get their ducks in a row.

      He resigned as leader on September 18, 2013—fully four months before the NDP established the leadership contest rules in January 2014—and eight months before the May 1, 2014 cut-off date for leadership candidates to be nominated.

      The deadline to join the party as an eligible voter in that contest was set for a further two months later, at June 26, 2014.

      And that still left yet another three months for campaigning prior to the actual leadership vote that was scheduled for September 24 to 27.

      That would have been over a year, from start to finish, had Horgan not won by acclamation five months earlier as the only one still in the running by candidate cut-off date.

      Horgan’s instruction to the party to set a leadership vote for this fall means that luxury of time won’t be an option this time round.

      The entry deadline for leadership candidates to pay their entry fee deposits and announce their candidacy might be as soon as Labour Day.

      It’s not much time for anyone to raise the hefty sum required to formally enter the contest and to also muster sufficient support to risk plopping down that cold cash.

      The cut-off date for signing up new members eligible to vote for a new leader will probably be a month or so later, barely three months from Horgan’s June 28 resignation announcement.

      That’s nowhere near enough time for any lesser-known candidate to make a dent. Although Charlie Smith raises any interesting suggestion.

      With a scheduled leadership vote for sometime in late October or November, I would bet that no one outside of the NDP caucus would have much hope of winning, even before this week’s ground-shaking developments.

      No one, that is, except for the party’s most unlikely and unfathomably popular dream-star-candidate, Dr. Bonnie Henry. As per my previous tongue-in-cheek spec piece.

      Of late, she is nowhere to be seen. On holidays, we’re advised.

      With her erstwhile deputy provincial health officer having just moved on to a new job, I can’t help but wonder if Dr. Henry might also be soon moving on to some other new challenge. 

      Perhaps far from B.C. where her storied reputation precedes her.

      Fingers crossed, she might make that leap sooner rather than later in also clearing B.C.’s bloodied COVID deck for a new premier.

      Where might she land next if she jumps? Who knows?

      Is WHO’s next, perhaps what’s next for that never-would-be NDP leadership candidate and premier? Inquiring minds want to know.

      But I digress.

      Dr. Bonnie Henry is unlikely to run for the NDP leadership and it remains to be seen if she'll stick around after John Horgan's successor is chosen.

      High entry fee discourages competition

      If the NDP wants to attract and engage prospective leadership candidates and new members, it would start by cutting the candidate entry fee at least by half from the 2014 cash requirement.

      It would also set the leadership vote date for as far off into the fall as possible to afford new entrants a little more time to sign up members and raise their profiles.

      Conversely, if a truly competitive leadership contest is not in the cards, or not something that the NDP really wants to facilitate, including for many legitimate reasons, why not just acknowledge that fact and get on with Eby’s coronation?

      After all, the main reason Eby now seems to have a lock on the leadership is because there is no one else on the horizon who commands his level of caucus support and party member support.

      Which just might suggest he is demonstrably the best person for the job, whatever his shortcomings.

      If the NDP caucus were to unanimously endorse Eby as its preferred permanent leader and premier, what would be the point of going through the time and expense of a transparently futile leadership process that was over before it started?

      Especially now, in view of all the dire challenges facing the NDP government that beg for bold leadership, fresh thinking, and rapid and decisive action.

      Now is hardly an ideal time for the government to be in caretaker mode, distracted by an inherently divisive leadership exercise.

      If Eby’s bound to win, why temporarily sap cabinet of his and potentially other cabinet ministers’ expertise and input for even four months?

      Especially with COVID raging all the while in a new deadly seventh wave; with public sector labor negotiations now reaching the boiling point and strike actions now threatening; with contracts for almost 400,000 workers set to expire; and with our health care system literally dying before our eyes.

      If Eby is to eventually be the boss anyway, why prolong Horgan’s lame duck premiership any longer than necessary?

      Why not instead get on with the hard job of governing, with new leadership, certainty, and focus?

      If the NDP caucus were wholly united behind Eby as its unanimous choice for leader and premier, I’m guessing most New Democrats would welcome hastening that outcome.

      Particularly, in light of all the public policy challenges now burning out of control in B.C.

      With that unanimous caucus support for Eby, the party could probably get away with further compressing the cut-off dates for any contenders to declare their candidacy and pay the requisite entry fee.

      Democratic? Not so much.

      But then neither is paying lip service to that value while also undermining it in less transparent ways that play with the same rules and tools in service of the same desired outcome.

      B.C. has failed to put a serious dent in the number of overdose deaths over six years—and that's just one of a multitude of public-policy crises facing the incoming premier.
      Travis Lupick

      Devastating constellation of crises

      Which brings me back to my headline question: David Eby’s Towering Inferno—an NDP disaster film in the making?

      How that movie unfolds is really an open question of Eby’s presumed leadership. One that will only be answered by his responses as premier to the alarm bells now ringing on so many fronts.

      Sure, he’s been a fearless first responder in squelching the flames he also fanned in burning the B.C. Liberals to the ground on so many signature files.

      Yet, it’s one thing to initiate a public inquiry that ultimately threw cold water on the money laundering file, or to fuel racially charged fears about foreign investments in housing that were later not born out by the facts.

      It’s quite another thing to sit in the Towering Inferno director’s chair, also holding the title of executive producer, faced with the fires now blazing out of control across the entire political landscape.

      We’re not talking about an ICBC Dumpster fire.

      We’re talking about a fully involved conflagration that now threatens to burn us all where we live, with our heads still in the clouds.

      From top to bottom, our building’s ablaze and our cherished social safety nets are being reduced to ash.

      Witness Lytton.

      It’s as much a symbol of government failure as it is a metaphor for the firestorms now threatening our economy, the environment, our social support systems, and above all, real people.

      As I previously noted in other recent articles, a recent poll found that a vast majority of British Columbians feel the Horgan government is doing a variously poor job on virtually all of those issues.

      Never before has our province faced the type of multilevel, five-alarm public policy fire now engulfing B.C. with so many simultaneous crises.

      They include:

      • the deadly COVID crisis;
      • the frightening collapse of our public health system;
      • the opioid calamity;
      • the climate emergency and its related mitigation and adaptation challenges;
      • the urgent and thorny struggle for reconciliation;
      • the unconscionable destruction of B.C.’s remaining old-growth forests;
      • the affordable housing crisis;
      • the unprecedented hate and violence now running rampant in our communities;
      • the mushrooming blight of poverty and homelessness;
      • the crisis in long-term care, assisted living, and seniors’ in-home support;
      • the recession-in-progress, compounded by COVID, by unprecedented skills shortages and by our aging population;
      • the desperately needed infrastructure and seismic upgrades required in education, health care and transportation;
      • the affordable childcare crisis;
      • the chronic failures in child protection; and
      • the government-caused turmoil that is now hurting so many people with disabilities, and children with autism, ADHD, Down syndrome, and other issues.

      All of those problems are being further exacerbated by the worst inflation in over 40 years, rising interest rates, and a growing crisis of confidence in government and democracy.

      By any measure, it’s a disaster film in the making: a towering inferno of policy challenges, planning and investment failures, and piss-poor government leadership that will soon be Eby’s epic moving picture to remake.

      Whether he has what it takes to master that challenge, only time will tell.

      If his performance as the minister responsible for housing is any indication, he’s most likely to bomb badly.

      Still, what he lacks in comparison to Horgan’s apparent warmth and likability, he largely offsets by his superior intelligence, his street activist cred, his tireless work ethic, and his apparent courage and resolve.

      Can he unite and lead a cabinet and marshal its talents to tackle all of those pressing public policy challenges, with most of Horgan’s same cabinet team?

      Let’s hope so.

      With so many caucus members expected to soon to show they are solidly behind him, he will certainly be better positioned to do that than anyone else.

      However banefully confident Eby too often is in his own ideas and ability, he surely knows what it takes to lead.

      He will assuredly surround himself with many smart people, listen to B.C.’s brightest and best, and trust as Horgan mostly has in appropriately delegated authority.

      I’d be willing to bet that he won’t feel quite as encumbered by self-imposed fiscal constraints and opinion polls as Horgan has been.

      Nor will he be quite so beholden to the union honchos.

      Especially if Horgan's chief of staff, Geoff Meggs, is no longer quietly calling the shots.

      Which isn’t to suggest that Eby won’t be perhaps more generous than Horgan at the collective bargaining tables, to avoid strike actions at all cost, in the health and education sectors especially.

      He will also probably not hesitate to set his vision and ideas into action, whatever that requires or how much it costs, so long as it’s also widely popular with the NDP’s voting universe. His critics be damned.

      There will likely be no confusing his NDP government with the small-l liberal, quasi-labour government that Horgan has led.

      I expect Eby will be much more committed to the democratic socialist values that his current boss has largely sacrificed at the altar of political expediency and fail-safe evolutionary progress.

      No matter how hard he tries, he won’t be able to satisfy even a small fraction of the pent-up demand for public investments and dire need for radical redirection in public policy.

      Really, he will have been dealt an impossible hand to reverse the growing public malaise, born of decades-old systemic failure and Horgan’s too vanilla fudge governance.

      It will be a miracle if Eby is able to arrest the NDP’s recent slide in the polls.

      Whatever short-term bump he might get upon taking the reigns of power, he will need to prove himself one very masterful remaker, to prevent his heroic project from sending his party’s often divergent factions to the exits.

      Already they are twitching in their seats and shifting uncomfortably, anxious for the leadership intermission to end.

      Eby needs to get them cheering once again, and singing from his songbook: re-energized and newly motivated to follow his lead and enterprise.

      Although perhaps not like this.

      OK, so that was cruel.

      Eby’s come a long way from that painfully nerdy version of himself.

      Anyway, just because we’ve all seen Eby do his shtick on all those issues he’s led—most recently, his shared national success in winning a combined $150 million settlement from opioid manufacturer Purdue Pharma Canada—doesn’t mean we know him as he would like.

      And we’ve also seen enough of him by now to know him as a sometimes conniving, deceptive, and arrogant figure.

      The guy I watched manipulate and bungle the referendum on proportional representation sure gives me pause to doubt that he’s a man of wholly trustworthy principle who isn’t beyond sabotaging his own avowed ends for purely partisan purposes.

      Nor was I the least impressed with his lame, losing-legal leadership on the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Project, as I extensively critiqued on these pages.

      If and when he does become premier, Eby will have a chance to redefine himself yet again, not unlike John Horgan did.

      As Jordan Bateman noted, he will have until at least July 6, 2023 to do that before going to the polls.


      Because 14 NDP MLAs were first elected 2017, who are waiting to be eligible for their pensions and that’s the soonest date that fits the prescribed timelines.

      Many if not all of those MLAs will probably wind up publicly supporting Eby for leader.

      Indeed, some already have. One assumes, because they are pretty damn sure he won’t blindside them with a snap election before their pensions are secured.

      Better yet, Eby could commit that he will actually abide by the fixed-election date his party prescribed in law for October 19, 2024.

      It’s not much to ask. But it would sure be welcome news that would go a long way toward providing the stability and near-term certainty that our province desperately needs in coping with so many genuine crises.

      Doing that might also help prevent the NDP from crashing and burning by going to the polls too soon in trying to take advantage of Eby’s assumed “honeymoon” bump.

      By this time next year, as I previously wrote, the New Democrats will be in for a whole new world of hurt that won’t end well for them the way things are now headed.

      Eby might well be just the guy to turn things around for the better in B.C. 

      I, for one, think he’s probably the best person the NDP currently has to offer to fill Horgan’s too-comfortable oversized shoes in directing that movie.

      We sure could do a whole lot worse than Eby, notwithstanding his faults and apparent lack of economic vision.

      If he’s to be the guy to lead B.C. forward, the sooner he’s acclaimed or elected, the better.

      Martyn Brown was former B.C. premier Gordon Campbell’s long-serving chief of staff, the top strategic adviser to three provincial party leaders, and a former deputy minister of tourism, trade, and investment. He also served as the B.C. Liberals' public campaign director in 2001, 2005, and 2009, and in addition to his other extensive campaign experience, he was the principal author of four election platforms. Contact him via email at