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Nova Scotian Premer Darrell Dexter takes to the stage for his speech to the the New Democratic Party National Convention in Halifax. (tim krochak)
Nova Scotian Premer Darrell Dexter takes to the stage for his speech to the the New Democratic Party National Convention in Halifax. (tim krochak)

Folksy Dexter plays the hero Add to ...

If there is a hero of the NDP convention in Halifax this weekend, it is the unassuming and folksy Darrell Dexter.

The new Premier of Nova Scotia is the man of the hour, the guy that top officials in the federal party say may have created a template for their own eventual victory.

Mr. Dexter doesn't give lessons. But he is glad to talk about the experience of his provincial NDP who came to power with a majority here in June after defeating the incumbent Conservatives.

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The key, he said Saturday in an interview with The Globe and Mail, is to develop policies that appeal to a broad spectrum.

That may seem rather obvious. But there are many within the NDP who argue it is better to be the left-wing social conscience of government than to soften the message in pursuit of a win.

Mr. Dexter isn't one of them.

"We're not the party of a generation ago. We're not the 1960s NDP. We're the 2009-2010 NDP. And we are prepared to move away from this notion of strict party ideology and more willing to say that nobody has a corner on all of the best ideas," said Mr. Dexter.

"As long as you are grounded in the ideas that your party represents, then you can take initiatives from right across the political spectrum."

If the New Democrats continue to offer platforms that appeal to 15 per cent of Canadians, then they will get the votes of 15 per cent of Canadians, he said. The federal party has been mired near that level of public support since the 2008 election.

"Our responsibility going into government was to represent all of the people and to try to get as many of them as possible to agree to the platform that we put forward," said Mr. Dexter. "I have always said, right from the beginning of my tenure, that I don't consider losing to be a principle."

Mr. Dexter said the job of his party is to build a big tent and bring people into it. "I don't think you need a blood test to be a member of the NDP."

The good news, as he sees it, is that there is a coming alignment between the ideas of the NDP and practical needs of Canadians. What Canadians really want, he said, is economic stability, not just during the current recess but throughout their lives.

"Our demographics are such that we are moving more and more people into income security because, as our population grows, as more people retire, they are becoming increasingly concerned about income security issues," said Mr. Dexter.

"On the pension side federally there's a lot of political space there that's not being addressed or filled."

Among the resolutions passed at the convention on Saturday were proposals to increase Canada Pension Plan benefits, Old Age Security and the Guaranteed Income Supplement.

Those are policies that would seem to fit with NDP ideology.

But other ideas being tossed around by the NDP this weekend include such middle-of-the-road fare as tax cuts.

Pat Martin, the New Democrat MP for Winnipeg, said he agrees it is time for pragmatism.

"At this point it's all about forming government. It's all about more seats," said Mr. Martin. "It sounds crass but it's practical."

Peggy Nash, the former New Democrat MP who lost in 2008 to Liberal Gerard Kennedy in the Toronto riding of Parkdale-High Park, was elected the new president of the national party.

"There is a real sense here of momentum in the NDP," she told reporters, adding that the values of social democrats are values widely shared by Canadians.

But Ms. Nash also recognizes the importance of pragmatism.

"It's important to maintain your principles," she said, "but also to have the ability to act on those principles."

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