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B.C.'s New Democratic Party leadership candidate, John Horgan, gestures to the crowd during the NDP leadership debate in Vancouver on Tuesday (Rafal Gerszak for The Globe and Mail/Rafal Gerszak for The Globe and Mail)
B.C.'s New Democratic Party leadership candidate, John Horgan, gestures to the crowd during the NDP leadership debate in Vancouver on Tuesday (Rafal Gerszak for The Globe and Mail/Rafal Gerszak for The Globe and Mail)

NDP leadership hopeful Dix challenges Liberals to try a tougher audience Add to ...

Having survived two hours of pressing questions from a business audience of more than 200 people, NDP leadership hopeful Adrian Dix dared premier-designate Christy Clark to similarly leave her own ideological comfort zone.

His point? If New Democrats could cheerfully engage on Tuesday in a leadership panel organized jointly by the Business Council of B.C and the B.C. Chamber of Commerce, why couldn't British Columbia's next premier do the same with, say, the B.C. Federation of Labour?

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"The NDP is open to discussing [issues]with everybody, and the BC Liberals have been open to discussing [them]with their friends," Mr. Dix said.

He had just appeared on a panel with Mike Farnworth, John Horgan, Nicholas Simons and Dana Larsen to take questions on subjects from the harmonized sales tax to health spending, trade with Asia and the minimum wage.

"The difference between us [and]Ms. Clark and the Liberals is we go everywhere," said Mr. Dix, referring to the willingness of the candidates to talk to a business group.

"I am happy to come here and meet with business all the time. I don't agree, but I have frank discussions with them. Sometimes we agree; sometimes we don't," said Mr. Dix, who stepped down as NDP health critic to run for the party leadership.

Tuesday's answers held few surprises. Participants articulated their opposition to the HST, and their support for raising the minimum wage

But participants said larger issues were at play beyond policy specifics.

Mr. Horgan, speaking after the event, was particularly blunt.

"The key of an event like this is to demonstrate to the broader public that New Democrats understand the economy and New Democrats are prepared to do the hard work to find compromise where we have policy divides," he said. "I wanted to say to the business community that an NDP led by John Horgan would respect their desire to make a profit, would encourage them to invest in our land and people and they should not fear a B.C. NDP government."

Mr. Farnworth said it's his view that business wants to know it could work with an NDP government. "My message is, 'Yes, we can,'" Mr. Fanworth said in an interview.

In a view largely echoed by the other participants, Mr. Farnworth said economic success and social success are linked.

"We need to have a strong economy, and that means stability. That means predictability. That's what I am about."

Mr. Farnworth joked that it was his impression many in the audience were signed up for BC Liberal leadership rivals Christy Clark and Kevin Falcon.

"It's like if the Liberal leadership candidates went to the B.C. Federation of Labour. I don't think they would find many votes there," he said.

Greg D'Avignon, president of the Business Council, said the business community is eager to assess the New Democrats for future consideration, whether they remain in opposition or secure power.

"At the end of the day, British Columbia has a government in power and an Opposition. It's important we understand the views of people seeking either to be the premier of the province or seeking leadership as leader of the Opposition."

He said he was struck by how some candidates wanted to be more collaborative in their approach.

"Others, I think, were a little more strident in their opinions, based on philosophical experiences."

B.C. New Democrats choose the party's new leader on April 17.

 

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