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gary mason

While NDP Leader Adrian Dix ponders his future in the wake of May's devastating provincial election defeat, others in the party are getting antsy for change.

A group of like-minded New Democrats have organized themselves under the banner Forward BC NDP. Its intent is to take over the NDP executive in order to execute an agenda for change that would, among other things, remodel a party that is showing its age.

While proud of what the party has accomplished over the years, this restless faction of New Democrats acknowledges that nostalgia is not a winning strategy moving forward.

"To succeed," the group said in a statement issued Monday, "we believe the B.C. NDP needs to focus on building a winning coalition in a rapidly changing province and world."

Its goals? Renewing the executive council of the party (it is not taking a position on Mr. Dix's future); identifying and engaging the next tier of NDP voter; developing a modern message that appeals to the changing face of the province; and modernizing the party apparatus by investing in training, technology and staff between elections.

It's difficult to argue with any of it.

In recent years, the NDP has attracted a musty scent despite the best efforts of one-time leaders such as Carole James to do something about it. The NDP has always been a party deeply rooted in its ways, one firmly entrenched in its ideological positions, even in the face of evidence that suggests those policies might be at odds with the prevailing views of the broader electorate.

Centre-left parties around the world have been forced to adapt and rethink their philosophical mission statement, even at the expense of angering some of their old guard. But the B.C. NDP has been reluctant to burnish its stale image or update a sometimes hackneyed policy playbook.

This, despite an absolutely pitiful electoral record.

But blowing a 20-point lead in the polls and handing the governing Liberals a massive majority as the NDP did this spring, may have been the straw that broke the lefty's back. Many believe that the time for change in the party is now. That its very existence is at stake.

Sage Aaron, who is serving as the public voice for the Forward BC NDP movement, says the group isn't looking to force party veterans out.

"We're not looking to throw away that experience and institutional knowledge," said Ms. Aaron, 35. "Certainly we don't want to be in the position where we have to relearn hard lessons. But it's time to really dig down deep and decide what kind of institution we need to be in order to build a winning coalition."

To many, that will sound like just more NDP hand-wringing of the variety on display after most provincial elections in B.C. And yet nothing happens. That could occur again this time if those seeking shifts in the party's raison d'etre don't win the day at the party's November convention.

If the old hands now controlling the provincial executive remain in place, then there is likely little chance the NDP will introduce the kind of modernization efforts that Ms. Aaron and her associates are seeking. But if the NDP writes May's loss off as simply the result of a poor campaign it will be making a fundamental miscalculation.

Certainly, part of the problem was lousy messaging and an old-school approach to electioneering that modern political machines left behind years ago. But the graver issue for New Democrats is the emerging split in the party between its environmental wing and those who understand that building a strong economy is the ultimate key to the voter's heart.

Premier Christy Clark and the Liberals understand that implicitly. And they used that knowledge to power to another win. Mr. Dix caved into the pressure applied by the NDP's environmental lobby (saying no to Kinder Morgan) and was torched by the electorate as a result.

Somehow, some way, the New Democrats are going to need to resolve this fundamental ideological chasm that exists in their party. One that has become exceedingly more complicated by the presence on the scene of an elected B.C. Green Party member.

There have been few moments in the NDP's history more pivotal than the one it faces now. Forward BC NDP has shone a light on the massive challenges the party must confront.