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Loss should not oust leader: B.C. NDP chief

Moe Sihota speaks to reporters after being elected B.C. NDP president at their convention in Vancouver on Nov. 29, 2009.

Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press

The surprising electoral loss of British Columbia's New Democrats this week should not trigger a leadership race, the party's president said Thursday as Leader Adrian Dix remained behind closed doors.

Moe Sihota said there were many factors in the electoral upset that saw the heavily favoured New Democrats lose ground in the legislature to the incumbent Liberals, and a "revolving door" on the leader's office is not the solution.

"I think it's fair to say that neither us nor the Liberals really expected the result that transpired," Mr. Sihota said.

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The former New Democrat cabinet minister said there have not been calls within the party for Mr. Dix to step down as leader. It was a team effort, and the entire team will be looking at the campaign, he said.

"We don't have an 801 Club in the party," he said, referring to media reports in the days prior to the election, when the Liberals were trailing in polls, that a small contingent of Liberals planned to call for Leader Christy Clark's resignation at 8:01 p.m. on election night – one minute after the party lost the election.

"I think that the challenges that we face are deeper and different, and we need to reflect on the totality of those.

"It's not simply a matter of saying 'let's replace the leader' and away you go."

Two years ago Mr. Dix took the helm after Carole James was pushed out in a party revolt.

Despite an expensive 28-day election campaign, NDP coffers could accommodate a leadership race but that is not what is needed, Mr. Sihota said.

A variety of factors were in play in the vote Tuesday, Mr. Sihota said, including complacency among party supporters.

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"People just thought we were going to win and didn't come out and vote," Mr. Sihota said. "And, to a lesser degree, I think the split with the Greens was a variable. But, again, more than anything else, I think both us and the Liberals underestimated the potency of the argument of fear."

The New Democrats were reduced to 33 seats, from the 36 they held before the campaign began. The Liberals gained five seats, to hold 50 of the 85 ridings in B.C.

There has been speculation that Mr. Dix's decision to oppose Kinder Morgan's proposed expansion of its existing Trans Mountain pipeline, in addition to opposing the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline, alienated working-class voters.

But Mr. Sihota said the New Democrats have dealt for decades with the challenge of representing both green and blue-collar supporters. "All of the empirical evidence – in terms of polling data, in terms of what you were hearing from candidates, in terms of what you were hearing from campaign managers, in terms of what you were hearing from voters on the doorsteps – suggested that it did not displace our lead in the polls," he said.

George Heyman, a newly minted New Democrat MLA who has served as executive director of the Sierra Club BC and president of the B.C. Government and Service Employees' Union, said he doesn't believe labour supporters stayed home on election day. And he said Mr. Dix has his support to remain as leader. "I did leave him a voice mail in which I told him how proud I was of the campaign he ran, the positive campaign, and the very clear policies that he put forward that I thought could be a great benefit to British Columbians," Mr. Heyman said.

"I'm looking forward to working with him."

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