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B.C. NDP Leader Adrian Dix speaks during a provincial election campaign stop across the street from Penticton Regional Hospital in Penticton, B.C., on May 3, 2013. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)
B.C. NDP Leader Adrian Dix speaks during a provincial election campaign stop across the street from Penticton Regional Hospital in Penticton, B.C., on May 3, 2013. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

Surging B.C. Liberals press NDP to mount more aggressive election campaign Add to ...

With polls indicating the incumbent Liberals making a late charge in the B.C. election, look for the front-running New Democrats to become notably more aggressive as the campaign hits the backstretch.

The signs are already apparent. On Friday, NDP Leader Adrian Dix arrived in Penticton to talk about the planned hospital there. A day earlier, Liberal Leader Christy Clark had said at a campaign stop that the NDP intended to kill the project if it got elected – a charge that was completely false. At a news conference, Mr. Dix said the Liberals were trying to scare people into voting for them. Moreover, he said, his opponents had 12 years to build the hospital and did nothing. An NDP government, he said, would get it done.

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Until now, Mr. Dix has run a mostly positive campaign, focusing on policy over politics. Ms. Clark, meantime, has led an unmerciful attack on the NDP, gaining traction with an insistent message that the New Democrats will destroy the economy.

It’s a strategy not unlike the one Rob Ford used in his unlikely journey to the mayor’s office in Toronto. In fact, Mr. Ford’s campaign manager, Nick Kouvalis, is working on the Liberal campaign. The Toronto mayor, you may recall, pledged to “end the gravy train” at city hall. It didn’t matter that many of the claims he used to substantiate his slogan didn’t hold up to scrutiny, his message got through.

Ms. Clark is applying very much the same approach. She has promised a debt-free B.C., even though the pledge is based on shaky assumptions and wouldn’t be realized for 15 years at best. She has touted herself as a debt slayer, even though she has racked up financial obligations at a faster rate than any other premier in B.C. history. She has stumped on a balanced budget, even though a legion of reputable analysts has voiced doubts about the veracity of her numbers.

But questions about the shakiness of her claims have merely been an annoyance for the Liberal Leader. Instead, she has led a populist, right-wing crusade that doesn’t let facts get in the way. Like Mr. Ford, Ms. Clark’s ability to focus exclusively on her one, overarching message has been impressive. At campaign stop after campaign stop, she has been unyielding: The Liberals will free the province from debt, the NDP will paralyze the economy by adding to our fiscal liabilities.

Mr. Dix spent the first 10 days or so of the campaign setting out his platform. Then he got ready for the leaders’ televised debate. Along the way, he allowed Ms. Clark to hit her slogan hard. He did nothing to remind voters why, not that long ago, polls showed the Liberals to be one of the most despised governments in the history of the province.

That passivity appears to be ending.

Don’t be surprised, for instance, to see Mr. Dix pop up at some place like the Tim Hortons in New Westminster that in March, 2011, had to be turned into an emergency ward to handle the overflow at Royal Columbian Hospital. This is what the Liberals believe a good health-care system looks like, you could imagine Mr. Dix saying. There will almost certainly be more talk about the Liberal-introduced tax that led to a citizens’ revolt. To this point, the NDP Leader has barely uttered a word about the HST, which many thought would be one of his big weapons going into the race.

The Liberals will claim that Mr. Dix is reneging on his promise to carry out a high-road campaign. The NDP Leader will counter that he has a duty to highlight the differences between the two parties; what his stands for today versus what theirs has represented over 12 years in power.

A new poll released Friday by Ipsos-Reid shows the gap between the two main parties at 10 points – with the NDP at 45 per cent and the Liberals at 35. That is down from a 19-point hole that the same pollster had the Liberals in at the start of the campaign. A day earlier, a survey by Angus Reid had the difference between the two parties at seven points. Split the difference and call it 8.5.

It’s still a lot of terrain to make up in just over a week. But clearly the New Democrats don’t want to see it get any closer and are now shifting gears to ensure that doesn’t happen.

Follow on Twitter: @garymasonglobe

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