Vaughn Palmer: David Eby takes a page out of John Horgan’s play book

Opinion: The B.C. premier has adopted a populist bent this week, much as his predecessor did

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VICTORIA — Premier David Eby indulged in a flurry of John Horgan style populism this week after his embarrassing ouster of cabinet minister Selina Robinson.

He started, two days after deciding that Robinson had to go, with a blast at a trucking company that is going to court to overturn an operating suspension after one of its vehicles hitting an overpass.

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Chohan Freight Forwarders claims that the most recent accident was perpetrated by a rogue driver, who defied instructions and has since been fired.

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The company’s record was six overpass strikes, Eby said Wednesday. “My only hope is that, on the way to court, they don’t run into a bridge. I encourage them to take the bus or some other form of public transit on the way to the courthouse.”

Laughs all around.

A second opportunity presented itself when the premier was asked about the National Parole Board’s latest decision to grant leave to high risk sex offender Randall Hopely.

Eby said he couldn’t fathom the board’s series of decisions to release someone who’d abducted a three year old.

“This guy was told: stay away from kids, a very straightforward condition. Where was he arrested? Metres away from kids in a public library.

“After breaching that condition, he was then released back to community with nothing more than an ankle bracelet protecting kids from him. He broke that bracelet off, wandered off into community and terrified parents across the province.

“I am one of those parents,” added Eby.

“And now we find out he’s been released again with the same conditions.

“Clearly there is a problem here, and the problem is definitely Randall Hopley, but is also a system that allows him to continually be released back into our community to put kids at risk. I’ll be reaching out to federal counterparts about this.”

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Both comments were reminiscent of the tell-it-like-it-is style of Eby’s predecessor, Premier John Horgan. Horgan also kept staffers busy clarifying “what the premier meant to say.”

Sure enough, next day Eby had to clarify that he wasn’t mounting a direct assault on the parole board, which is independent.

“The parole board is necessarily independent,” Eby acknowledged Thursday.

However, it is “applying the policy that is set by the politicians,” said Eby, “and that’s where my role is, to reach out to the federal government and say that the fact that … it’s theoretically possible that he could be released again, clearly there is a problem here.”

Eby had started off that same Thursday news conference by taking a swipe at Bell Media over the news that the communications giant was laying off thousands of workers and selling radio stations, many of them in B.C.

“Bell and corporations like Bell have overseen the assembly of local media assets that are treasures to local communities,” declared Eby.

“They bought them up like corporate vampires, they sucked the life out of them, laying off journalists, they have overseen the “encrapification” of local news by laying off journalists, and now they say it’s no longer economically viable to run these local radio stations.”

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Yes, “encrapification.” Leastways that is how the government transcribed the comment.

“They made almost $3 billion last year,” the premier continued. “The fact that they cannot find it possible, with all of their MBAs, to operate a few local news stations in B.C. to ensure that people get accurate, impartial, reliable information in an age of disinformation and social media craziness is such an abandonment of any idea of corporate responsibility.”

“On behalf of all of the families of the journalists, the media outlets, on behalf of all British Columbians that have watched their local news stations slowly turned to garbage by these companies who now say, unsurprisingly, that there’s not a lot of support for them, I just want to say shame on you.”

The premier’s attack was honed as a crowd pleaser, not least with the assembled media multitude. Three reporters thanked Eby for his comments before asking him questions during the news conference.

One asked the premier whether his sympathy was anything more than talk. Would he offer any relief to local media in the provincial budget?

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Eby deferred to the federal government.

“They have authority over monopolies and competition law as well as media regulation law,” said the premier.

“Previous administrations at the federal level allowed companies like Bell to buy up all of these local outlets and slowly, over time, turn them into one consistent outlet that is not responsive to local communities and then react with shock that people are not as interested in watching. It cannot be allowed to continue.”

Yet, he could do something more immediate within provincial government authority.

Three years ago, a legislature committee unanimously recommended a labour tax credit to underwrite made-in B.C. content in the broadcast sector, similar to what the province already provides for the moviemaking industry.

The New Democrats ignored the recommendation. But there’s nothing stopping them from reviving the credit as a way to sustain employment in a broadcast industry that is in more dire straits than movie production.

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