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Baldrey: Money talks, and so has B.C. Premier David Eby. Here's why

Ottawa needs to rebuild its support for British Columbia, says columnist Keith Baldrey, especially if the current government wants to stay in power.
BC Premier David Eby THUMB
B.C. Premier David Eby. | Darren Stone, Times Colonist

Perhaps he’s bored over the soap opera that currently passes for his political opposition in this province, but for whatever reason Premier David Eby fired a series of salvos last week at another target: the federal government.

Eby attacked the Trudeau government three different times over various versions of the same issue — federal funding transfers to the provinces.

The first volley was delivered at the closing news conference of the Western Premiers’ conference in Whitehorse. On that same day, Ottawa announced it was giving $750 million to Quebec — and Quebec only — to help pay for a surge in temporary residents flooding that province.

Ottawa’s timing was cheeky to say the least, and it provoked an angry response from the B.C. premier.

Eby noted about 10,000 people come to B.C. every 37 days, a population surge that is putting continuous pressure on things like the housing needs and infrastructure requirements.

“I’ll say for British Columbia, how frustrated we are to see the money being showered down on Quebec and Ontario and use scrabbling around for what’s left over,” Eby told reporters. “It’s not acceptable.”

Two days later, back home in B.C., Eby doubled down on his criticism. After federal Immigration Minister Marc Miller said the premier was “confused” and mistook asylum seekers for regular immigrants, Eby released a media statement.

He said Miller was “disingenuous to say this is about asylum seekers” and added another shot: “Ottawa is spending billions to build car factories in Ontario and Quebec but has so far refused to put in their fair share to replace the Massey Crossing.”

The Massey Tunnel replacement project has a huge $4.1-billion price tag and the B.C. government has made getting federal funding for it a top priority.

But Eby wasn’t done yet.

The next day he slammed Ottawa for its Sustained Investment Fund allocations to the provinces, saying that on a per capita basis, Ontario and Quebec both get twice as much funding as B.C. receives under the program.

Now, a western-based premier attacking the central federal government is something of a time-honored tradition. But a B.C. premier has not been this critical of Ottawa for years.

Eby’s predecessor, John Horgan, had such a positive relationship with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau it was dubbed a “bromance.” But that occurred during the worst times of the pandemic, when many leaders put political differences aside to work together.

Those days are clearly over.

There are considerable political advantages to Eby in using this approach.

He is squaring off against a federal government and a prime minister that both appear to be deeply unpopular in this province and he can also be seen as fighting for B.C.’s interests against the big, bad folks from Ottawa.

It also separates him from his two provincial opponents. Being the premier, he alone gets to speak for B.C., while B.C. United leader Kevin Falcon and B.C. Conservative leader John Rustad can only watch from the sidelines.

It is not yet clear whether Eby’s pointed attacks will send more federal dollars B.C.’s way, but with a federal election set for next year the Trudeau government needs to rebuild its support in this province, and nothing quite talks like money.

Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global BC.