3 questions with David Eby: B.C.’s premier on childcare, affordability and working with Pierre Poilievre

We caught up with the leader of the BC NDP after his speech at the Burnaby Board of Trade's Economic Address Luncheon

“Tough crowd,” said David Eby after one of his jokes elicited about 40 percent laughter at the Metrotown Hilton Hotel for the annual Economic Address Luncheon hosted by the Burnaby Board of Trade.

He was joking again, but there was likely some truth to that, too. After the NDP’s annual budget received some credit among businesses for raising the employer health tax exemption threshold to $1 million and some criticism for continuing to increase the government’s deficit.

His address to the crowd hit on how the newly announced budget was built to try and give British Columbians some semblance of affordability. Not everyone was buying it—there were some pointed questions from the crowd about the speculation tax, healthcare and ICBC. But Eby mostly deflected them with the poise of someone that had spent a lot of time researching the issues he was being pressed on.

After his speech, BCBusiness was given some one-on-one time with the premier. We asked him three questions. The answers have been edited for length and clarity.

BCB: I have a toddler and many of my friends have young children: daycare right now is a blood sport for the right to pay a large amount. When do you think we’ll be at the point where childcare is attainable and affordable for even 50 percent of the province? It’s so hard right now.

Eby: You know, it’s a great question. And the other piece that you’ll grapple with is before- and after-school care. There are two challenges we face; one is the straight up affordability piece and our ultimate goal of getting to $10 a day. The other is just the physical space. The space is dependent on two things, the actual physical space and the other is the staff. We’ve increased wages for childhood educators and our skills program includes training more childhood educators. That’s the short-term concern right now—the staff that can provide the services.

The medium and longer term is the buildings and the spaces. One of the challenges with childcare and housing too is the recent population growth we’ve seen. The resources and time and energy that we’re spending on childcare resources… we’re in a much better place than we were in, but it’s still very much a work in progress.  What you’re going to see us doing is leveraging staff and the spaces we do have to be able to provide more support— the physical schools we’ve already got as well as the education workers that work in schools. We have a pilot in Campbell River, where the school board there is doing before- and after-school care with the education workers who are already in the school. We’re looking to expand that pilot across the province.

And as far as newer developments, we’re not building anything without asking the question, Can we put childcare in it?

BCB: Affordability is a huge issue right now. [BC United leader] Kevin Falcon has been hammering your government on it in the lead up to this year’s election. If the election is run on the issue of affordability, is that a huge problem for you? Because it’s hard to deny things are unaffordable right now.

Eby: Yeah, I think the impact of inflation, rising interest rates and food costs have taken a toll on B.C., like many places. The question in the election will be, Who is best positioned to take on these challenges for us? And obviously, I’ll be pointing out Kevin Falcon’s architecture of tolls on bridges, the expansion of MSP charges that people had to pay, raising ICBC and Hydro rates, and the fact he was the champion of the HST that was roundly rejected by British Columbians. And he’ll blame me for global inflation and rising interest rates. We’ll have those debates and see where it goes.

But I think people are rightly aware of promises around election time. It was just last week that the premier of Alberta said that all the tax cuts she promised people during the last election aren’t going to be happening. So people need to judge on the record of the government.

Pierre Poilievre recently said that you have the worst housing record of any politician on Earth. Yet you do have some similarities in your housing platforms, along with some differences. Do you think you’d be able to work with him if both your parties get elected?

Regardless of who is in Ottawa, we’re prepared to work with them. There are clear differences between the federal Conservatives and our provincial government. For instance, I don’t understand why he would be proposing to sell public assets instead of using them to build affordable housing. But there are lots of overlaps in our housing proposals. I understand that when Mr. Trudeau says he likes B.C.’s housing initiatives, [Poilievre] has to say that he hates them, that they’re the worst he’s ever seen. But there are significant overlaps. Politics are politics. But I do have serious questions around selling those public assets. Please, let’s not do that. Let’s work together to build housing.