Faced with a campaign race that has dramatically tightened, the B.C. NDP is aggressively countering Liberal attacks, a marked shift in the NDP strategy with just days to go before the May 14 vote.
NDP Leader Adrian Dix has long maintained he would run a positive campaign focused on his party's ideas. Meanwhile, the B.C. Liberals have released a stream of attacks, drawing attention to an NDP candidate's allegedly padded résumé, tallying Mr. Dix's promises with a "spend-o-meter" and highlighting what they call inconsistent positions on heavy oil pipelines.
On Tuesday, veteran NDP MLA Jenny Kwan held a news conference after Kenneth Fung, chair of Christy Clark's Chinese Community Advisory Council, used a pseudonym to slam an NDP candidate on a call-in radio show. As speakers played the segment, staff handed out printed transcripts to media. Ms. Kwan blasted Dr. Fung's actions, pointing out the "long history of falsifying identities in calling talk show hosts and letters to the editor" by Liberals and Liberal supporters.
In the segment, Dr. Fung, who is identified as "Mike in Vancouver," suggests Richmond Centre NDP candidate Frank Huang has poor English skills, which makes him unfit to be an MLA. Mr. Huang has also been targeted for being a member of the Chinese Communist Party while he held a government job in Guangdong in the 1990s.
"Do you know the NDP is running a candidate in Richmond Centre by the name of Frank Huang who can't really communicate in English?" Dr. Fung asked the host. "So I suggest maybe you guys give him a call and do an interview in English and see how good it is, you know.
"There must be some English-speaking residents in the centre of Richmond, so how is Frank going to serve them? How is Frank going to stand up in the legislature and make any speech?"
In one of two news conferences with Mr. Huang on Tuesday, Mr. Dix condemned the attack as "nasty and inappropriate" and called on Ms. Clark to take responsibility.
"It's really the wrong way to behave, to pretend you're somebody else and attack somebody," he said. "The tactics here are disrespectful to the voters."
He added: "If you have something to say, you should say it in your own voice."
Mr. Huang said his membership in the Chinese Communist Party was necessary as a government employee. "Everyone who worked there in the government was expected to join the party," he told reporters. "It's the special political system in China." He quit the party before moving to Canada in 2000, he said. Ms. Kwan noted the Chinese Communist Party has more than 80 million members: "Whether you are a driver or you are a ballerina, you are expected to be a member of the Communist Party."
Mr. Huang also noted Dr. Fung had asked him in February to be the Liberal candidate in Vancouver-Fraserview. At around the same time, the NDP approached him.
While Mr. Dix has in past weeks refuted Liberal attacks, and the party has issued "reality check" news releases, these have been relatively low-key. But with less than a week left in the campaign and polls showing the party's commanding lead has been cut in half, the NDP is drawing attention to what it views as unacceptable tactics.
The Liberals received considerable heat earlier this year after the leak of a memo that outlined a strategy to woo ethnic voters using government funds– a practice that is expressly forbidden. The memo outlined "quick wins" to be had by apologizing for "historical wrongs" and developing a "stable of supporters willing to write letters to the editor or call in to open-line shows."
At a campaign stop in Kitimat, Ms. Clark would not condemn the tactics but criticized the NDP for complaining.
"I love the NDP's positive campaign here," she said with a laugh. She added that Mr. Dix is hoping to distract voters from issues of the economy, which have been her central campaign theme.
"He is trying to direct attention away from the real issues at stake here … He'd like to change the channel on that."
With a report from Justine Hunter in Kitimat, B.C.