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Business group intensifies attacks on B.C. NDP leader

The Independent Contractors and Businesses Association has launched an aggressive attack-ad campaign against NDP Leader Adraian Dix.

Rafal Gerszak for The Globe and Mail/rafal gerszak The Globe and Mail

A prominent B.C. business group has launched an aggressive attack-ad campaign against NDP Leader Adrian Dix while Premier Christy Clark decides on when to call by-elections in Port Moody-Coquitlam and Chilliwack-Hope.

Once the writs are issued, political advertisements will be tightly controlled by provincial law. Third parties must be registered with Elections BC and their spending is limited to $3,000. But before the by-elections are called, special-interest groups can spend whatever they like on advertising.

The Independent Contractors and Businesses Association began a 30-second ad campaign on radio about 10 days ago and "upped the buy" this week to include more radio stations and more frequent broadcasts, association president Philip Hochstein said Monday in an interview. Seven radio stations are now broadcasting the ads.

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The group will spend "less than $100,000" on the campaign, Mr. Hochstein said. The cost of the campaign will depend on how long the group can run the ads. "When the by-election is called, all rules change. So we'll stop whenever a by-election is called," he said.

Ms. Clark has to call a by-election in Port Moody-Coquitlam on or before April 7. The constituency has been without representation in the legislature since Liberal MLA Iain Black resigned almost six months ago. The Chilliwack-Hope by-election must be called on or before July 30. Liberal MLA Barry Penner resigned in January. The vote is held 28 days after the writ is issued.

During the election, candidates are limited to spending $70,000 and registered political parties can spend an additional $70,000.

Although the B.C. Liberals currently hold both Port Moody-Coquitlam and Chilliwack-Hope, observers have said the Liberals face serious challenges to retain the seats.

The radio ad says Mr. Dix, who was chief of staff in the late 1990s to former premier Glen Clark, was fired after forging a memo to cover for his boss amid a casino kickback scandal. Although he was fired, he still received a $70,000 severance package.

"If that is what Dix did when he worked for the premier, imagine what he will do if he is the premier. Adrian Dix, he can forge a memo but not the truth about his record," the ad says.

Mr. Hochstein said the attack ads were not co-ordinated with the Liberals. "It's our own gig," he said, adding that the association routinely becomes involved in public issues and political campaigns.

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The ads are not targeted specifically to help the Liberals, he added. "I think we are helping the free enterprise side. … We are not saying vote for Liberals."

Attacking Mr. Dix was "fair game," Mr. Hochstein said. The episode was "a defining moment" for Mr. Dix and so it is legitimate to question whether his response reflected a fundamental flaw in character.

Although not mentioned in the ads, the association believes the former NDP government hurt small businesses by requiring public-sector contractors to be unionized and by taking away an employee's right to a secret ballot during certification, he said. "For the construction industry, we need a growing vibrant economy, not a growing, vibrant public sector," he said.

NDP critic Shane Simpson said the highly personal attacks in the ads, without referring to NDP policies or public issues, were unprecedented in B.C. "We've never seen anything quite like this. These ones get particularly deep in the gutter," he said. "They attack something that happened over 13 years ago, that Mr. Dix has accepted full responsibility and apologized for, and gone to the electorate a couple of times pretty successfully," he said.

Mr. Simpson said he does not believe the ads would resonate with voters. "They are so crass, so over the top, so distasteful, I think more voters will reject them outright, and react negatively to people who are responsible for them," he said.

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