B.C. NDP Leader Adrian Dix’s commitment to positive campaigning was a major liability for the party during May’s provincial election, which it lost in one of the biggest upsets in B.C. political history, a newly released report on the NDP’s defeat says.
Other issues were also cited as leading to what Cindy Oliver, the chair of the four-member review, on Friday termed a “perfect storm” of failings, including a lack of polling in target ridings, the absence of a “crisp, clear message” around the platform and failed outreach to ethnic voters.
One pointed observation is it was a “major mistake” not to poll ridings the party hoped to win beyond surveys in February and March, 2013 – a failure that left the campaign blind to the volatility of voter intentions and whether key elements of the campaign message were resonating.
The 19-page report is based on a survey of more than 3,000 submissions party members, written submissions from candidates and other officials, and interviews with Mr. Dix other campaign leaders. It raises concerns about the no-attack, positive approach to campaigning advanced by Mr. Dix, who will step down as leader after his successor is chosen.
As the May 14 vote loomed, New Democrats held a lead of up to 20 points in the polls, but lost to Christy Clark and the B.C. Liberals, who rode a jobs and economy-focused campaign to a fourth straight majority.
“If you look at our 47 recommendations, I don’t think there’s anything there that says we should stick with positive. There’s nothing that says we need to go on the attack, but we need to assess the situation and we need to prosecute the government,” Ms. Oliver said. “We didn’t bring our A-game to this.”
In the report, the panel members say there was confusion about what positive meant and “the bar on what staying positive meant” kept moving up as election day drew nearer, preventing the party from a necessary attack on the B.C. Liberal record.
“The campaign did not have a succinct, clearly articulated core message that resonated strongly with voters. That deficiency was further compounded by the constraints of staying positive, constraints that effectively barred both the provincial and local campaigns from using Christy Clark’s name in campaign literature.”
Mr. Dix said on Friday that he has acknowledged he did not effectively criticize the Liberals, but that a positive message can address voter cynicism about politics. “My view on that hasn’t changed.”
He said he accepted the findings of the report, calling it a valuable document given the wide consultations. “I don’t think it spares anyone, including myself, and that’s how it should be,” he said. “I take full responsibility as leader for our defeat.”
The report’s authors highlighted the failure to connect with ethnic voters, whether properly canvassing them in polling or reaching out to them through advertising and multilingual party spokespersons, an issue that is likely to become part of the debate over how to conduct future New Democrat campaign.
“B.C. will be a far more diverse province in 2017, and if the B.C. NDP does not have an effective and coherent ethnic outreach strategy in place by then, we are at risk of losing again in 2017.”
Campaign manager Brian Topp said he does not agree with the findings on polling. “I’m not persuaded of that, because when you look at the results, there weren’t a lot of ridings we lost that were close,” he said.
Mr. Dix said he was not able to comment on polling specifics.“That wasn’t really my field.”
Ms. Oliver, who is the president of the Federation of Post Secondary Educators, said she and panel members will make a presentation on the report next weekend at the NDP’s biennial policy convention – the first major gathering since the provincial election.
Other members of the panel included former Manitoba cabinet minister Eugene Kostyra, law student Pam Sihota, and Andy Ross, a former president of the Canadian Office and Professional Employees Union, Local 378.
Mr. Topp, as campaign director, submitted his own post-mortem of the campaign to Ms. Oliver. Among other points, he blamed strategic errors for the NDP’s defeat. They included a failure to counter the Liberal argument that it was too risky to change government, and a failure either to inspire current supporters or reach beyond the B.C. NDP base. He also said media access to the leader should be limited during a campaign and focused on repeating the message of the day.
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