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B.C. NDP Leader Adrian Dix addresses supporters after conceding victory to the Liberal Party. Mr. Dix struck an upbeat tone in his speech, despite his party falling well short of expectations.DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

Before NDP Leader Adrian Dix mounted the stage to offer his concession speech on Tuesday night, hundreds of stunned supporters were treated to a video that introduced him as "the next Premier of British Columbia."

Everything about the night had been built on the expectation that he would in fact be mounting the podium as premier-designate rather than the NDP Leader who would see the party's best opportunity in decades to slip through his fingers.

But Mr. Dix urged his party not to abandon its principles and objectives in the quest for a winning formula.

"If we do not lose our path, we will get on the path to government in the near future," he told the crowd.

The New Democrats, so confident of a return to power after 12 years on the outs, were denied by the voters once again and will now be asking themselves what should have been done differently to take advantage of the opportunity.

Speaking later with reporters, he maintained that his tactics were not wrong. "I believe running a positive campaign was the right approach," he said.

But his campaign did not rally voters to the polls at the end of the day. For the first three weeks, Mr. Dix mostly stuck to his talking points, and did not adjust to a more combative tone until the last week. In the final stretch, he campaigned at a furious pace, but mostly in ridings that the New Democrats had hoped to capture from the Liberals.

That 24-hour sprint was unique in B.C. politics, and produced some unconventional campaign moments. Mr. Dix said it was planned all along, a strategy to define the last crucial hours of the campaign with a relentless series of smiling photo ops in key swing ridings.

As the returns rolled in on Tuesday night, it appeared more like a desperate, 1,700-kilometre dash to recapture what just weeks ago looked like certain victory.

The NDP went into the campaign with the strongest lead they have seen in more than 20 years. But as the gap narrowed in the final two weeks, the B.C. Interior became the central battleground.

But voters there did not buy into the change message.

The essence of the NDP campaign, after weeks of outlining what a Dix-led government would or would not do, was to press the "time for a change" message, reminding voters of the scandals and gaffes that eroded the Liberal base over the past four years since the introduction of the harmonized sales tax.

For much of the campaign, the NDP seemed more concerned about the B.C. Greens than the Liberals. Mr. Dix made one major recalculation in the middle of the campaign, essentially saying he would veto the Kinder Morgan oil pipeline proposal. It was a tactical decision aimed at bleeding voters from strong Green candidates on Vancouver Island, but also to shore up support in the four seats in Burnaby, where the Liberals faced no threat of vote-splitting from the B.C. Conservatives.

The oil pipeline policy undermined two years of effort Mr. Dix had invested in developing a working relationship with the business community.

But the Greens still got a foothold in the Victoria, meaning the NDP opposition will also face a new dynamic when the Legislature returns.