The leader of the B.C. NDP is working to maintain the spotlight with the starting line for the provincial election in view, offering tidbits about his long-awaited platform and adding his own bite to a comical ad countering Liberal attacks on his party's governing record in the 1990s.
Liberal Leader Christy Clark and B.C. Conservative Leader John Cummins had the media's attention last week with Ms. Clark holding three events across the Lower Mainland in 24 hours, while Mr. Cummins released a part of his platform. But after a week of private meetings and taking a break over the Easter weekend, Adrian Dix used a wide-ranging sidewalk news conference Monday to stake his own claim on voter attention.
One Angus Reid survey has his New Democrats 20 points ahead of the Liberals. And he came to the microphones with a relaxed tone – no tie, drinking a mug of coffee and jauntily declaring "HST-free coffee is tastier." But his tone turned serious as the NDP Leader accused the Liberals of tabling a budget lacking credible numbers, saying his New Democrats would have to cut through the spin before laying out their election agenda.
That means, he said, the NDP will release a fiscal statement as a prelude to the long-awaited platform, both expected to arrive soon. The Liberals are standing behind their budget as a credible, sound financial plan.
"We want to lay out for people what the deficit is and how we're going to respond to that," said Mr. Dix, standing by a café where critics of the harmonized sales tax used to gather.
"We're going to put forward a thoughtful platform that addresses the key issues but we're not going to be able to do everything right away because we're going to inherit a very difficult financial situation from the Liberal Party."
There's a new intensity and scrutiny around all party leaders this week because campaigning for the provincial election is set to begin in about two weeks, and the NDP is competitive against the governing Liberals for the first time in several elections.
Mr. Dix's media appearance came on the same day that his party released an online ad that wryly declares Mr. Dix the architect of a "decade of despair, destruction, disappointment and desperation" that included the Spice Girls, plaid shirts, bad hair, the destruction of the Brazilian rain forests and the federal GST. The ad, which is being distributed online, ends with Mr. Dix looking off camera asking, "They do know it's 2013 right?"
Mr. Dix has been the focus of ads by Liberal supporters raising questions about his conduct as chief of staff to former B.C. premier Glen Clark in the 1990s. Elected Liberals have also criticized NDP management of the province in that era.
Mr. Dix said the ad would resonate on social media, and his team was having a little fun with it. The NDP Leader said the point of the ad was gentle, but also said he was ready to debate the Liberals over the party's record.
"I feel fairly relaxed talking about [the 1990s] but I am also running for election in the here and now. If I were to give advice to the Liberal Party, I'd say a little more 2013 and a little less 1994."
The NDP Leader also seemed amused by apparent moves by the B.C. Liberals to play up the party's team of candidates over leader Christy Clark, including a new party logo that underlines a team approach. Ms. Clark, in her most recent Lower Mainland media appearance, also vigorously talked up the team of Liberal candidates and accused Mr. Dix of being "one guy making all the decisions" for the NDP – a bad tactic, she said, for team building.
In response, Mr. Dix noted that two of his former rivals for the NDP leadership – John Horgan and Mike Farnworth – have key roles in the NDP team and are seeking re-election, as is former leader Carole James. In an apparent jab at staff changes in Ms. Clark's office, he also noted that he has had one consistent chief of staff, communications director and press secretary. "I, from the beginning, have taken the position it's not about me. It's about the change we want to bring."
"I know that the Liberals think that change is changing their logo. I think change is operating differently."
Of the HST's demise, Mr. Dix blamed the Liberal mismanagement of the file that was detrimental to both supporters and critics of the tax.
"This was four lost years of tax policy in B.C."