Written by Anita Zaenker.
The BC New Democratic Party (BCNDP) convention took place in Victoria November 17 to 19, and for members of the party that has governed for six years, it was a welcome opportunity to celebrate, deliberate, and build momentum towards the provincial election in October 2024.
Being the BCNDP’s first in-person convention since 2019, the weekend had the feeling of a family reunion for delegates and observers. It was also the first-time members could celebrate the achievements and accomplishments of the big, diverse team elected in fall 2020. The mood in the Victoria Convention Centre was positive and energized.
The convention also coincided with the one-year anniversary of David Eby’s premiership. This was his first time addressing the party membership directly; with the shortened leadership race in 2022, members didn’t have the opportunity usually provided in party processes to get out to communities for policy debates and giving members an opportunity to meet and hear from him.
Eby on plans for 2024
As premier, he’s been focused on that province-wide outreach since, increasingly demonstrating an ability to connect the concerns of everyday British Columbians with ongoing pressures for faster action, and to align government behind systemic solutions like housing and climate policies. The convention came amid a legislative session where the province was already gaining national attention on their flood of housing legislation intended to accelerate on the ground change on the housing crisis.
Premier Eby has said he wants to present British Columbians with clear choices when they head to the ballot box next year, and the convention set the stage for what will be a heated pre-election period. While polls show Premier Eby and the BCNDP leading in public support, and the BC United opposition feeling growing pressure from a Conservative Party of BC growth, the public is also showing they want to see more action on issues like housing, affordability, and health care.
With B.C. finding itself an outlier with recent changes in direction on climate policy like the carbon tax, Premier Eby used his speech to deliver a strong message that he was prepared to stand strong where other provinces are backtracking on climate goals. He also said that playing affordability off against fighting climate change is a dangerous path to go down. Canada’s NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, a B.C. M.P., reinforced these messages with a targeted speech on the importance of the work the BC government is undertaking for progressives across the country.
As Premier Eby builds his own brand and rapport with members and the public, the convention integrated some surprising moments that built that connection to his leadership. The first came when Premier Eby’s spouse Dr. Cailey Lynch delivered a powerful speech introducing her husband. It is rare to see a political spouse take centre stage, and Dr. Lynch offered delegates who may have been meeting the new leader for the first time important personal connections. The second surprise was when she used her speech to announce that she and Premier Eby are expecting their third child in June – much to the delight of delegates, including the many babies who joined their parents on convention floor.
Premier Eby’s positive influence on his caucus and the party shouldn’t be understated or underestimated. And it is well-received by party members; delegates voted 93.1 per cent in favour of Eby’s continued leadership, a higher level of confidence than Premier Horgan received at Convention 2021. At every juncture throughout the convention, Premier Eby showed that he is bold, thoughtful, and full of energy, and that he is firmly putting his stamp on the party and government priorities.
What’s next for BCNDP Caucus
The generational shift in leadership is also reflected in the government caucus. The majority government caucus elected in 2020 reflects the biggest range of generations, gender identities and sexual orientations, ethnicities, and occupations of any BCNDP caucus. Purposeful efforts the BCNDP invested into policies like their equity mandate resulted in a caucus that more resembles the diversity of the province.
This diversity is held together by a common unifying desire: to govern for all of British Columbia, to implement reforms that work for people, and to achieve a third electoral term. Several very skilled people in attendance at convention were openly talking about seeking nominations when they begin in the pre-election period – a positive sign for a premier looking to build his team.
The convention resolutions (where members set direction for the party) were bundled in key policy areas that are BCNDP key buckets: strengthening services and taking care of each other, building a sustainable economy for all and fighting the climate crisis, and helping people with costs. The inevitable tension that exists between the desires of party members versus the realpolitik of governing –especially after several years in government –played itself out in the debates, but overall, the mood of the membership was “right track, more to do,” and a focus on securing another mandate in 2024. New Democrats have not hesitated in the past to deliver messages to government through convention and this convention was low on those tensions. The premier addressed those dynamics early in his speech, saying “like you, I’m nowhere near satisfied.”
In addition to policy debates, the convention re-elected an executive slate, confirming a solid financial positioning and a reminder that it was the BCNDP that reformed electoral financing laws to “take big money out of politics.” The convention also offered a range of skills-training sessions, sending the message: election-readiness starts today. A biennial event, there won’t be another convention until after the next election, with 2024 focused on pre-election conferences.
Premier Eby and his government caucus now return to the Legislature for two more weeks before the year-end break, buoyed by an invigorated membership base and hyper-focused on delivering an ambitious change agenda.