Vaughn Palmer: Eby previews bruising election to come in 2024

Opinion: Premier stands firm on carbon tax, says backing down will mean loss of more homes to climate-change forest fires

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VICTORIA — The New Democrats welcomed Premier David Eby to the stage at the party convention in Victoria on Saturday to the strains of Don’t Stop, the late 1970s hit by Fleetwood Mac.

The choice was an in-joke by convention organizers. The song, with its “don’t stop thinking about tomorrow” refrain, is almost as old as the premier himself. It was used by Bill Clinton in his successful campaign for the U.S. presidency 30 years ago.

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However, Eby says he hates the chart-topping mainstream rock band — a holdover grudge from his less-than-successful career as a member of a fringe alt/indie band before he entered public life.

Nevertheless, on Saturday, the premier deadpanned: “I love that song.“

With self-mockery out of the way, he soon got to targeting a force he hates more than Fleetwood Mac: B.C. United and its leader Kevin Falcon.

“Those who have profited from the housing crisis, the climate crisis and the toxic drug crisis, they’re not going to go quietly,” Eby said. “Our opponents are going to throw everything they can in our way to keep everything that they want.”

On housing in particular, Eby accused the B.C. United leader of being the voice of the speculators and the developers.

“Homes are not for real estate speculators and wealthy investors,” he said. “Homes are for people.”

It was premier’s way of turning the tables on Falcon’s boast that he can get things done on the housing front because in his years out of politics, he worked for a development company.

Eby doubled down on another point of disagreement between his government and the B.C. United and B.C. Conservative Parties, the carbon tax.

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The Conservatives, like their Pierre Poilievre-led federal counterparts, would repeal the tax. Falcon would remove the carbon tax from all types of home heating fuel, expanding on the federal government’s recently announced relief for home heating oil, targeted at Atlantic Canada.

B.C. Conservative Leader John Rustad
B.C. Conservative Leader John Rustad Photo by Don Craig | GCPE Graphic Design /PNG

The premier vowed to maintain the carbon tax as part of B.C.’s nation-leading climate plan.

“We don’t want to do what the federal government did, which is protect certain kinds of heating,” he said. “We think there should be a price on carbon pollution.”

“The cost of inaction is our homes, our communities and the path of forest fires,” he said. “It’s our crops, our farms at risk of flooding. It’s our children who stand to lose the nature that surrounds us. They will pay the price and this place will never be the same.”

The premier slammed the Justin Trudeau government for its “ham-handed” meddling with the tax. He was silent on the federal NDP’s wavering on the issue — it joined Poilievre and his party in calling for countrywide tax relief on home heating fuels.

Whatever happens to the carbon tax nationally, Eby assured delegates that the B.C. NDP government “will not back down … God forbid, if the rest of the country abandons the fight against climate, B.C. will stand strong.”

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Falcon has already said that if the tax were abolished federally — a likely outcome if Poilievre is able to capitalize on his current lead in the polls — a B.C. United government would have to follow suit.

“I’m not going to allow us to be the only jurisdiction having our residents pay the carbon tax,” he said last month.

Under the B.C. Liberal government of which Falcon was a part, B.C. introduced its own, unique carbon tax.

bc united kevin falcon
B.C. United leader Kevin Falcon Photo by B.C. United party

Elsewhere in the speech Eby updated his vow, made at the outset of 2023, to show results that people could see, hear, touch and experience on the key issues of housing affordability, health care waiting lists, public safety and the cost of living.

“I’m nowhere near satisfied,” he told delegates, conceding that those problems won’t begin to be solved before the election scheduled for October 2024.

Yet, he hopes to provide “demonstrable examples of where we are headed so that when the election comes, people can decide.”

His biggest disappointment this year was on public safety, particularly the “wildly frustrating” lack of progress on bail reform. Blamed on Ottawa, same as the botch with the carbon tax.

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Outside the Victoria convention centre, about 250 protesters gathered to call for a “frack free NDP.” They want the government to end its support for LNG and other natural gas development, produced by fracking. A few waved signs to that effect in the hall as well.

Eby ignored them, having no concerns about enemies on the left. Arguably he doesn’t have much to worry about on the right either, what with the NDP comfortably ahead in the polls and raising almost twice as much money as B.C. United and the Conservatives combined.

But for a party that has seen its lead in the polls evaporate before, there’ll no resting between now and the next election.

The script is the same as in the 2020 election, when Eby’s predecessor, John Horgan, ran on the theme of “us versus them.”

The stakes are high, the prize another four years of governing B.C.

Expect a rough, polarizing year ahead.

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