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Moe Sihota will not seek another term as president of the B.C. NDP. (DARRYL DYCK/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Moe Sihota will not seek another term as president of the B.C. NDP. (DARRYL DYCK/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

B.C. NDP must work harder to win over small business, departing president says Add to ...

Adrian Dix got off to a good start making an economic case for voters to elect the B.C. New Democrats to government, but the party’s next leader will have to go further, says the departing party president.

“[Mr. Dix] worked hard at it. We made some gains, and I think we need to make more,” Moe Sihota said in a Sunday interview – a day after an announcement that he won’t seek another term as president, but instead leave in November. Mr. Sihota said he was planning to go whatever the outcome of the May election.

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“The party needs to heal the Achilles heel around economic and fiscal management. I thought we had done that with all the outreach we did to the business community. We didn’t quite get there.”

The party managed to reassure the “business elite,” said Mr. Sihota, notably in forestry, mining and other sectors. However, he said the party gained no traction with small business and entrepreneurs in the Interior of the province.

“We have to do a better job of explaining ourselves to small entrepreneurs, chambers of commerce and rotary clubs around the province,” he said. “We did a really good job in downtown Vancouver. I don’t think we did a good job in downtown Prince George.”

After months of reflection in the wake of the NDP’s failure to win the May provincial election, Mr. Dix last week announced he would step down as leader once the party picks a successor in 2014.

Mr. Dix’s decision has kicked off a debate in the opposition party, which has been shaken by its defeat even though it had a polling lead, at one point, of 20 points.

Mr. Sihota, a veteran cabinet minister during the 1990s decade of NDP government, said the next leader has to exude confidence on job creation, prosperity and wealth and also build bridges with both business and labour.

Mr. Sihota said the electoral successes of such past B.C. premiers as Bill Bennett, Mike Harcourt, Glen Clark and Gordon Campbell suggest charisma may be less important a selling point than a projection of competence.

The NDP is now in the early stages of a vigorous debate about the lessons of the past election.

In an interview last week, former leader Carole James was blunt in her assessment of the failings of the party to sell its platform “We obviously didn’t do a good enough job of it,” said Ms. James, ironically the platform co-chair. “There were people who had no idea what our platform was. We put too much information out too late in the campaign. We should have done information earlier. We gave information overload and expected people would absorb. There are all kinds of specifics in that area we need to look at.”

Victoria-area MLA Rob Fleming, who is considering a leadership run, said the NDP needs a strong, coherent message reflecting the lives of the B.C. middle class. “I don’t know why, but the Liberals were allowed to run away with the idea that they were the party of jobs and we weren’t,” he said in an interview. “The right message has to be short and succinct and it has to be the ballot question. It’s unfortunate we lost an election where we had a significant lead, obviously, but also one where, underneath it all, British Columbians did want a change in government.”

Campaign director Brian Topp, in a 20,000-word assessment leaked to the media in the past week, blamed “errors of strategy” for the opposition party’s defeat, including a “well-intentioned” commitment to positive campaigning that left the party vulnerable to Liberal attacks, complacency, poor internal polling and a leader averse to conventional photo ops.

Mr. Sihota said he thought it a “noble gesture” by Mr. Dix to try and go positive, changing the tone of politics.

He said he is not finished with his contributions to the NDP. “There’s always a role to be played. I’m not wedded to any titles.”

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