B.C. New Democrats tried their best to blow into Nanaimo this week, talk tough on crime, and get out of Dodge before anyone realized they hadn’t actually done anything substantial. But the governing party got a harsh dose of reality from angry citizens, fed up with the violence and fear on city streets, who weren’t in the mood for the spin and bafflegab that Premier David Eby and his ministers were peddling.
Nanaimo’s Clint Smith, who was shot last month while trying to recover allegedly stolen belongings from a homeless encampment, got right in the face of Solicitor General Mike Farnworth at a Wednesday press conference, shattering the carefully-scripted illusion of positivity that so many New Democrat strategists had tried to manufacture.
“Do something,” he said angrily, as the cameras rolled.
“Do something about it. A whole lot of less lip service and a whole lot more action is required, Mike.”
Farnworth offered some platitudes about coming to the community to take action. They were tossed back in his face.
“You’re doing it because of public pushback,” said Smith. “You aren’t doing it of your own free will. You’re doing it because it’s publicly in the good optics of your political party to be able to keep your seats. Let's be honest.”
The event was a disaster for the NDP government.
The public has a pretty good BS detector when it comes to political gobbledegook. And it was registering off the charts in Nanaimo during the visit.
The community has suffered through escalating shootings, stabbings, random attacks, fires and violence in recent months. Government-created modular housing units for the homeless have become epicentres of neighbourhood complaints of crime and drug use, with little provincial response. Tent encampments remain.
Yet the NDP rolled into town with mystifyingly empty hands to respond to a public safety crisis that had been making headlines for months. It was as if the government expected just the mere presence of the premier, his attorney general, his solicitor general and the local missing-in-action Nanaimo-area NDP MLAs would be enough to impress people.
Eby offered a paltry $75,000 to help continuing funding Nanaimo’s existing public safety programs — which clearly have not been up to the task. The amount of funding was so small as to be insulting.
He also touted an agreement with Nanaimo council “to commit to working together going forward to customize and ensure the responses for Nanaimo will work with the services and needs that are here in the community.” It was the political equivalent of nothing. And people knew it.
“Revolving door criminal justice has failed the citizens of Nanaimo,” said a man, who gave the premier a piece of his mind after the event. “It’s failing the citizens of British Columbia.”
That kind of unenthusiastic reception is probably why NDP officials refused to tell the press where and when Eby would be attending a guided tour of downtown Nanaimo earlier in the day.
It’s also why reporters weren’t allowed to attend a roundtable discussion on public safety with Nanaimo council.
God forbid anything be witnessed that offers an honest perspective into what the premier is hearing or seeing. The NDP seem to think putting Eby in a bubble and shuttling him around secretly is the way to go. He emerges briefly to read talking points, before his handlers whisk him away again. It does an immense disservice to the guy, who is trying to introduce himself to the public and is more than capable of handling his own.
The province has argued that most of the crime issues are federal, including much-needed reforms to bail rules. B.C. has boosted RCMP funding to try to clear a shortage of police officers. And it has promised future investments into mental health and addictions treatment — though not the kind of involuntary addictions treatment advocated by Nanaimo’s mayor.
If Nanaimo is emblematic of the crime, addictions and public disorder crisis gripping B.C.’s urban centres, then the NDP’s response Wednesday was emblematic of a government that seems to be flailing on the public safety file.
It was a profoundly unimpressive outing for the Eby administration, from inception to execution. It should think twice before it tries such a vapid event again.
Rob Shaw has spent more than 15 years covering B.C. politics, now reporting for CHEK News and writing for Glacier Media. He is the co-author of the national bestselling book A Matter of Confidence, host of the weekly podcast Political Capital, and a regular guest on CBC Radio.