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Les Leyne: As reality intrudes, Eby changes his views about police

Premier produced $230 million and announced that B.C. is providing funding for about 277 more RCMP officers
David Eby presides over his first cabinet meeting as premier on Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2022, at the B.C. legislature. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

Civil libertarians and others who make it their business to ­watchdog police must be bemused about Premier David Eby’s latest move.

He produced $230 million out of thin air and held a hurried news conference on Thursday to announce that B.C. is providing funding for about 277 more RCMP officers.

Picture them asking each other quizzically: “David Eby wants more police officers?”

The same David Eby who ran a civil liberties group dedicated in part to keeping cops on the straight and narrow, and wasn’t shy about criticizing them?

The same David Eby who wrote a manual on how to sue the police and organized ­independent monitors to keep an eye on them during the 2010 Olympics?

He was an idealistic young lawyer back then, firmly on the side of the underdogs whose dealings with police were ­usually negative. That meant being in police departments’ faces more than a few times. He was very effective at it.

Now he’s premier and ­realizing that B.C.’s crime ­problem is one of the make-or-break issues that will determine how long he holds the job.

There won’t be much ­criticism of the funding, or ­questions about the need for more police. But there will be some marvelling at how ­different his full-court law-and-order press is from his lines of thought in years gone by.

The “defund the police” crowd — what’s left of them — must be aghast.

As a 33-year-old, he was a high-profile advocate when he was director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, as well as a law professor.

Now his former outfit is ­raising concerns about one ­element of his crime ­crackdown (seizing the proceeds of ­“unexplained wealth.”)

And it “condemned” him last summer for musing about detaining drug users in secure care against their will.

Every politician has moments like this, where old beliefs or promises smash into hard new realities.

The badly needed crime crackdown is to Eby what the Site C power project was to former premier John Horgan. It’s that moment where you have to adjust your thinking, to put it mildly, suck it up and change course.

Horgan criticized the idea of a giant power dam on the Peace River for years. He used to say that opposing Site C was a condition of membership in the NDP. He appointed an environment minister who hated it and an energy minister who paddled a canoe down the river as part of a protest against it.

Yet the three of them held a miserable, downcast news conference in 2017, after reviewing the project, to announce it was full steam ahead.

Former premier ­Gordon Campbell had a similar moment when he decided to run ­deficits again during the ­economic ­meltdown in 2008, after ­practically swearing a blood oath those days were gone.

Several details were provided about the RCMP funding top-up. It will bring the force’s B.C. contingent up to its designated full strength of 2,602 officers. The new hires will be slotted into short-staffed rural detachments and various specialized units.

“Historic commitment,” said Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth. “Massive undertaking that took two years to achieve.” (It was announced on 45 minutes notice, which makes you wonder.)

The one detail left out is the one that has cropped up in nearly every one of Eby’s major announcements since he was sworn in last week.

What took so long?

He was attorney general for five years. How did that many RCMP vacancies develop on his and Farnworth’s watch?

What stopped Eby from funding the shortages earlier?

Opposition Leader Kevin ­Falcon said it was an issue for all that time. “Instead, they do nothing until David Eby becomes premier and ‘Now we’ll make an announcement because we’re getting a lot of heat and there’s chaos and crime everywhere.’ ”

Falcon accused Eby of coming from an “anti-police background” and being biased against policing.

Circumstances have changed, and so has Eby.

Just So You Know: The $230 million put up to hire more Mounties doesn’t exactly kill the idea of switching to a new provincial police force. But it pushes it even further out in the future.

An all-party committee recommended last spring transitioning to such a system. Farnworth said Thursday that the RCMP will police B.C. for a considerable amount of time to come.

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