British Columbia·Analysis

Premier David Eby? Ravi Kahlon's surprise endorsement simplifies B.C. NDP leadership race

The race to become the next premier of British Columbia might be over before it has even begun. 

Kahlon and Eby came from different support bases, making it hard for another candidate to find a winning path

Attorney General David Eby is now considered the front-runner for the leadership of the B.C. NDP after Jobs Minister Ravi Kahlon announced he would not seek the leadership and would endorse Eby. (Chad Hipolito/Canadian Press)

The race to become the next premier of British Columbia might be over before it has even begun. 

Jobs Minister Ravi Kahlon, who had been expected to run for the NDP leadership following John Horgan's retirement announcement last week, announced Wednesday he would not be mounting a campaign. 

That was surprising in itself. More surprising was what came next. 

"I have reached out to David Eby. I called him last night to let him know I am encouraging him to run for the leadership," said Kahlon.

"I think he would make a fantastic premier. He's compassionate, he's thoughtful, he's delivered big things for this province already, and I think he would be an amazing premier."

As if there was any ambiguity to Kahlon's statement, he then said, "I would support him 100 per cent." 

Eby, who has served as attorney general since the NDP formed government in 2017, hasn't announced his candidacy yet. In fact, nobody from the NDP has. 

But here's why many people now believe Eby is the overwhelming favourite to become B.C.'s 37th premier. 

MLA Ravinder Kahlon is pictured announcing he will be supporting David Eby for the leadership of the B.C. NDP in Vancouver, British Columbia on Wednesday, July 6, 2022. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

2-person race becomes 1

While Horgan only announced his impending retirement last week, many around the NDP had considered it a possibility for nearly a year, allowing for battle lines to be drawn and organizers to coalesce around potential candidates. 

Specifically, two of them. 

"Everyone's been planning for two main combatants," said Jeffrey Ferrier, a senior vice president with H+K Strategies and a longtime NDP insider. 

"And before the battle has even started, one front-runner has endorsed the other front-runner and given him his full support." 

Ferrier acknowledged the dominant chatter within the NDP: that Kahlon had more support from Horgan's inner circle, while Eby had more support from the louder, more activist wing of the party, who have supported him from his time with the B.C. Civil Liberties Association. 

He said Kahlon's decision to back out and wholeheartedly endorse Eby makes it difficult to imagine another candidate winning, given the length of time Eby supporters have been mobilizing and the support from the potential candidate most tied to Horgan supporters.   

Consider that before Kahlon's announcement, Municipal Affairs Minister Nathan Cullen admitted to Radio-Canada that Eby and Kahlon were the "obvious candidates" and he would "have to make a decision in the next couple of weeks." 

Kahlon's endorsement makes his potential path to victory — or that of any other potential candidate — that much more difficult to foresee. 

David Eby, B.C.’s minister responsible for housing, discusses the provincial government’s approach to providing emergency and long-term available and affordable housing.

No coronation?

Of course, there are still many dominoes to fall.

Eby needs to formally run for the leadership, and it's highly likely someone else will also run if only to prevent a coronation.

Ferrier said that could come from a candidate wanting to focus on environmental and climate issues, but it could also come from someone closer to the Horgan wing of the party, such as Josie Osborne or Adrian Dix. 

In addition, the same criticism potential Kahlon supporters had of Eby — that the attorney general and minister responsible for housing was too politically divisive and not personally approachable enough to appeal to enough voters — will likely be repeated by the B.C. Liberals should the expected come to pass. 

Still, what looked like a complex race between Kahlon and Eby, with multiple other candidates potentially hoping to come up the middle, won't happen now — which might be disappointing news for those hoping for a spirited battle among NDP partisans this summer and fall.

But it is likely to benefit the NDP's stability in the short term. 

"It's avoiding the kind of friction that parties have experienced in leadership races. You see today Conservatives in Ottawa sending in election cops, and Ravi Kahlon sent out virtual hugs to his chief leadership rival," Ferrier said.

"The big message that it sends out today is that any differences within the NDP are dwarfed by the collective sense that the work we do is important, and we need to take on the Liberals and beat them in the next election."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Justin McElroy

@j_mcelroy

Justin is the Municipal Affairs Reporter for CBC Vancouver, covering local political stories throughout British Columbia.

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