Christy Clark's victory in the Liberal leadership race could compel the NDP to get behind a leadership candidate such as Mike Farnworth, who has appeal beyond the party's base, a leading pollster says.
"If you have Liberals moving to the left, it might make sense for the NDP to move to the right. Mike Farnworth is a good person to do that," said Mario Canseco, a public-affairs vice-president with Angus Reid Public Opinion.
"They have a tough choice, and it's basically either picking somebody who can conceivably have broad appeal in B.C., which would be Farnworth, and somebody, who is more likeable to the grassroots NDPers, such as [Adrian]Dix."
Polls by Mr. Canseco's firm have found Mr. Farnworth leading a field of five New Democrats as the candidate most popular with the party and the public - a position that Ms. Clark maintained in the same polls as a Liberal candidate.
NDP members face a choice similar to the Liberals' decision. The Liberals had to pick between Ms. Clark, who was returning to politics, and a series of recent cabinet ministers.
"You had somebody who was basically well known outside of the B.C. Liberal brand, but could grow the brand, and somebody seen as the heir apparent to Gordon Campbell," he said, referring to Kevin Falcon.
Ms. Clark, Mr. Canseco said, is more of a left-wing member of the Liberal party, so the NDP has to adjust. "If you have the Liberals moving to the left, it might make sense for the NDP to move to the right and try to talk about some of the issues they have been hammered with in the past, and Farnworth is a good person to do this."
But Mr. Dix said his competence as a critic would trump efforts to position him on a sliding scale of political ideology.
"I have been a substantive opposition MLA, who has made a real difference with substance, and I am tough. And that's what's going to be required on the NDP side. Christy Clark, on the substance, was a failed cabinet minister, and she is trying to recover with style," he said.
Ms. Clark was education minister after the B.C. Liberals were elected in 2001. Even she concedes her tenure was marked by confrontations with teachers. Afterward, she was minister of children and family development, but left that post in 2004 to spend more time with her family.
Mr. Dix said the NDP will triumph over Ms. Clark by highlighting substance on issues. "In that sense, it's a dream matchup. Someone who is a substantive opposition critic against someone generally regarded as a failed cabinet minister."
Mr. Dix said he had expected Ms. Clark to win the Liberal leadership. "She had the strongest campaign - the most support."
Mr. Farnworth said his broad appeal qualifies him to lead the NDP against Ms. Clark. "I'm the candidate who is best positioned in terms of uniting our caucus and presenting a positive alternative that can appeal to broadening our base of support, which is what we need to do if we're going to win the next election," he said Monday.
Mr. Farnworth, who has gone after the Liberals on crime issues as the party's public-safety critic, has talked of challenging the Liberals in areas such as the economy, where the governing party is seen as especially strong.