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B.C. NDP Leader vows moderate, incremental approach if elected premier

B.C. NDP Leader Adrian Dix.

Chad Hipolito for The Globe and Mail/chad hipolito The Globe and Mail

B.C. NDP Leader Adrian Dix, looking to the 2013 provincial election, says he will fight governing B.C. Liberals for power in every riding, making the case for an NDP government with a no-surprises platform.

In a boisterous hour-long speech to the party's biennial convention – the last such meeting before the provincial vote – and subsequent remarks to reporters, Mr. Dix said he is taking his pragmatic approach right across B.C.

"I have targeted seats. There are 85 of them. We are going to take the fight to the Liberal party in every single seat," he told about 700 delegates, including current members of his caucus and nominated candidates in Liberal-held ridings.

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Mr. Dix's New Democrats had a seven-point lead over the rival B.C. Liberals in the last notable public-opinion poll: an Ipsos survey released in October.

The fight begins with by-elections next year.

Former Port Moody mayor Joe Trasolini is running for the NDP in Port Moody-Coquitlam, an area once represented by Premier Christy Clark. Mr. Dix also promised an all-out fight for the Chilliwack-Hope seat of Barry Penner, now open with the former attorney general's resignation to return to practising law. Mr. Penner won by more than 20 per cent of the vote over the NDP in the 2009 election.

Speaking without notes, Mr. Dix recalled that when the NDP came to power in 1991 after 16 years in opposition, they began passing the first of more than 200 pieces of legislation before their ouster in 2001.

"The reality is – and it's one of our weaknesses – that when you do that much; when you try and solve every problem right away, sometimes on the implementation side it doesn't work as well as it should," he said.

He promised a more incremental, focused approach, if elected premier in 2013.

He suggested that part of the NDP approach would be A-to-B policy, such as a commitment to bring back the corporate capital tax on financial institutions to fund non-refundable student grants.

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"We generally haven't been as focused on saying how we are going to pay for things. So here we are, 18 months before an election. I've been specific in important ways about how we are going to pay for things. That puts a frame around what you can do in politics."

Mr. Dix talked generally about such matters as better skills-training opportunities, a more respectful relationship with teachers, and better access to prescription drugs, but promised more details in an in-the-works platform of proposals.

"Every one has to be important. Every one has to be focused on issues of equality and giving everyone access to the opportunities they want in life and that may mean not doing things," he said.

"So what I am going to proceed to do before the election is tell people not just what I am going to do but what I would like to do, but aren't going to do in the first four years so we exceed expectations."

He said the ballot question in 2013 will be change on inequality "and the fact that the middle class is increasingly squeezed in British Columbia," citing, as an example, cuts in corporate taxes at the same time as medical premiums have been increased.

"We need a government that supports a strong middle class. We've got a government that sees the middle class as a savings account for their friends."

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Mr. Dix mocked B.C. Liberal attacks on him, which have included a website alleging $15-billion in spending promises. The NDP leader, labelled a "Dour Stalinist" by a newspaper columnist, quipped "I'm worried they discovered I skipped school at 16 to see Reds."

The former chief of staff to ex-premier Glen Clark verbally embraced his former boss, who left office in scandal, hailing "My friend Glen Clark," for his struggles to build transit, advance the rights of working people and raise the minimum wage.

The convention comes about a year after the caucus was fractured into warring camps over the ouster of former leader Carole James. On Saturday, she was rewarded with a standing ovation when Mr. Dix saluted her from the podium.

Fraser-Nicola MLA Harry Lali, a member of the so-called baker's dozen of MLAs who had spoken out against Ms. James, said the caucus had come together soon after Mr. Dix was elected party leader in April largely because Mr. Dix focused on giving members specific responsibilities. "He's brought the caucus together," he said.

"Every MLA has an important role to play."

The B.C. Liberals tasked parliamentary secretary John Les to respond to Mr. Dix's speech, and he said Mr. Dix was trying to position himself as far more moderate than he is.

But Mr. Les said the Liberals are not underestimating Mr. Dix.

"He's a dyed-in-the-wool political campaigner. He's to the left of his party, but presented as a moderate, middle-of-the-road premier."

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About the Author
B.C. reporter

Ian Bailey is a Vancouver-based reporter for The Globe and Mail.  He covers politics and general news. Prior to arriving at The Globe and Mail, he reported from Toronto and St. John’s for The Canadian Press.  He has also covered British Columbia for CP, The National Post and The Province. More

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