NDP candidate David Eby: advocating social justice and help for small business

BYELECTION 2011: Homelessness is an issue even in toney Point Grey, activist insists.

Photo by Jenny Uechi

For most Vancouverites, B.C. NDP candidate David Eby needs no introduction. His face and name have appeared in local publications on issues ranging from prisons to affordable housing. As a tireless advocate for social reform, he was the youngest of Vancouver Magazine's 2009 Power 50 list.

But despite his name recognition, can the young lawyer and political newcomer really win this by-election against Liberal Premier Christy Clark in Vancouver Point-Grey? 

In his dimly-lit, two-floor campaign office in Kitsilano, Eby predicted this week that he has a chance. He sees his opponent's recent attacks -- accusing Eby of supporting legalization for hard drugs and polygamy  --  as a sign that she views him as a genuine threat. His office has had to create a pamphlet clarifying Eby's position on these issues (for the record, he opposes both). 

"(Christy) Clark started off the campaign saying, 'David Eby’s a great guy, he’s generated some good discussion on provincial issues,' and now she’s saying Eby’s a dangerous radical. So that tells me we're doing something right in this campaign," he said.

Dressed in a jacket and tie paired with dark blue jeans and black sneakers, Eby seems to balance two sides to his persona: he's a lawyer with years of experience in the public eye, but has a common-man appeal that makes him accessible to students and struggling wage-earners.

Sitting at his desk, Eby explains how he decided to make the transition into politics. 

"My interest in politics was kindled by the fact that I see so many people getting into politics who don’t understand the power and importance of public policy," he said. "For example, at the City of Vancouver, I spent years trying to convince councilllors that they can use the Standards of Maintenance bylaw for landlords who weren’t keeping up with basic repairs, hot water, electrical service. How can you be in such an important role and not understand how you can use the laws?"

Since getting involved, a good part of Eby's campaign so far has been about dispelling myths, both about himself and his party, and Eby promptly shoots down the common view that the NDP is disliked among businessowners.

"I do media interviews and I always hear that business hates the NDP," he said. "But in this riding, business is looking to the NDP to be their advocate. It's small and independent businesses that the Liberals have overlooked for so long."

He notes how restaurant owners, in particular, were angered by the introduction of the HST, which he says "decimated their business during a recession".

He also talked about their anxieties about the proposed rapid transit plans for the area, which many compare with the Cambie Street SkyTrain construction that resulted in a large drop of sales for businesses in the area. On his website, Eby says he examine "transit solutions that involve the local community" such that businessowners in the area won't undergo the same experience as those in Cambie Street, who lost an estimated $112,000 each during construction.

While he says he represents the interests of small and independent business owners, Eby also wants to prioritize homelessness, which he views as a major issue for the wealthy Vancouver-Point Grey area.

"A lot of people live in Jericho Park and back lanes of Kits," he said. He blames the provincial government for the lack of plans in solving the housing issue. "Our plan to date has been, let’s just spend more money on policing and emergency health care, and homelessness will disappear on its own."

Eby calls public spending to solve homelessness a "no-brainer," arguing that B.C. citizens are indirectly paying for its poorest citizens through hospitals and police services. 

"Why are we not looking at the cost of people at the lowest level who are using police, ambulance and fire services every day? Why are we not treating people with dignity and respect they deserve? Christy Clark’s response to me in the media was, 'how are you going to pay for that David?' The answer is, we’re already paying for it." 

Education is another priority for the riding, which is home to a large student community. Contrasting himself with the Liberal candidate's support for private and faith-based schools, Eby said he supports more support for public schools. "We can’t have two-tier education systems where some students get a certain kind of education and others get an underfunded, public funded education," he said. Noting that his mother is a teacher, Eby argues that public schools have been "chronically underfunded," and becomes indignant when talking about Clark's alleged transfer of money from the Vancouver School Board to EnCana. 

"Christy Clark's government transferred money from school boards through carbon offset programs directly to EnCana -- $400,000 from the VSB alone," he said. "Encana’s CEO is the head of her transition team into premier. It’s shameless." 

At the end of the interview, Eby urged eco-conscious voters to cast a ballot for the NDP on Tuesday's by-election.

"If people are thinking of voting green," he said, referring to the B.C. Greens' candidate Francoise Raunet, "the best way to defeat Christy Clark is to vote NDP because I think we can win."

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