The Okanagan has not been friendly territory for the B.C. New Democrats, but Adrian Dix has made his third campaign visit there hoping to crack the Liberal stronghold when voters go to the polls next Tuesday.
The NDP Leader devoted Wednesday to campaigning in Liberal-held ridings in Summerland, Kelowna, Vernon, Armstrong and Kamloops – areas represented by, among others, three cabinet ministers, the government whip and a former Liberal speaker.
He toured a cheese shop in the Shuswap riding of George Abbott, a long-time cabinet minister, who is leaving politics.
Most pointedly, in Kamloops, Mr. Dix promised an NDP government would follow through on a long-awaited upgrade of Royal Inland Hospital, a key regional health facility. "We will get it done," he told supporters.
In the 2009 election, New Democrat Tom Friedman said he had a tough time rallying volunteers in his bid to win Kamloops-South Thompson. He lost by about 4,400 votes. But the English professor at Thompson Rivers University said, in an interview, that even Liberal voters are receptive to hearing out the argument for change.
Mr. Dix told reporters the region has been neglected even though it was reliably Liberal. "The Liberals have taken it for granted."
Also Wednesday, Mr. Dix launched an aggressive attack on the Liberals to counter a tough YouTube attack ad aimed at him.
The ad mocks Mr. Dix's assertion during the only televised leaders debate of the campaign that he was only 35 when he backdated a controversial memo – a mistake that cost him his job as chief of staff to former NDP premier Glen Clark. Mr. Dix is 49.
The ad, which used copyrighted debate footage, features Liberal candidates 35 and younger chiding Mr. Dix.
Mr. Dix used his opening remarks during a sidewalk news conference in Kelowna to contrast his re-announcement of a $13-million expansion of co-op positions for B.C. students to the Liberal YouTube ad.
"What are [the Liberals] doing today while we talk about the future of young people? … They're running more misleading smears," he said – comments he repeated in subsequent events.
Mr. Dix said he takes responsibility for his mistakes. "It is time we had a government that took responsibility."
The visit also coincided with the debut of a blunt NDP radio ad – Mr. Dix characterized it as more informative than offensive – taking Liberals to task over the harmonized sales tax.
Dave Way, a journeyman cabinet maker who crashed Mr. Dix's Kelowna event to ask about the NDP's skills development policy, said he was switching from voting Liberal to voting Conservative next week because the Liberals have lost their way.
Asked about NDP prospects in the Okanagan, he said he thought the party will do well because the province is ready for a change.
But pollster Mario Canseco of Angus Reid Public Opinion said the NDP will need to connect with Green voters in ridings where there are no Green Party candidates such as the two Kamloops seats and one of the Kelowna seats.