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British Columbia New Democratic Party leadership candidates Adrian Dix, Mike Farnworth and John Horgan appear at a debate in Vancouver. (Rafal Gerszak/Rafal Gerszak for The Globe and Mail)
British Columbia New Democratic Party leadership candidates Adrian Dix, Mike Farnworth and John Horgan appear at a debate in Vancouver. (Rafal Gerszak/Rafal Gerszak for The Globe and Mail)

BC NDP snubbed in wake of Christy Clark media frenzy Add to ...

Whatever became of the BC New Democratic Party?

It seems like ages ago now the NDP was making headlines almost daily, thanks mostly to an in-house coup that claimed the job of party leader Carole James. Sure, the coverage wasn't all that positive, but at least it was something.

Today the party's in the midst of a leadership contest that no one seems to care about. Coverage in the main newspapers in Vancouver has been almost nonexistent. Assignment editors at the big TV stations form a cross with their index fingers when you mention the race. Keep it away. Radio gives you dribs and drabs.

The contest was expected to be overshadowed early on by the BC Liberals' own leadership campaign, which was going to produce a new premier. Given what was at stake, it was understood the media would give it priority over the NDP battle.

When the Liberals' convention was over, however, focus was supposed to begin shifting to the New Democrats, who pick their new leader in early April. It hasn't worked out that way. Instead, the spotlight has remained firmly on the province's shiny new premier, Christy Clark. No wonder she can't stop smiling. She is the first celebrity-style premier the province has had since Bill Vander Zalm, who also rode a big, toothy grin and buckets of charm into office.

The media can't get enough of Christy Clark. (Tough questions in short supply.) Television adores her megawatt visage.

How are Adrian Dix, Mike Farnworth and John Horgan, three pasty-faced white guys, going to compete with that? They are the only three NDP leadership candidates with a hope of winning, and yet people in B.C. don't know much about them or their policies.

I'm not sure who's to blame here, my colleagues for gravitating to the glitzier, easier story in the BC Liberals, or the NDP for not working hard enough to get the media's attention. Either way, it doesn't seem right.

The B.C. public should want to know what these NDP hopefuls are thinking, even if it's only going to be party members who will determine the winner. The fact is, if Ms. Clark acts on her intentions, there could be a general election before we know it. And the policies of the next NDP leader are going to be suddenly very relevant.

Adrian Dix, for instance, has been banging a drum that could have some resonance during a general election: The rich are getting richer while the vast majority of British Columbians are working harder than ever to stand still. Think grassroots HST revolt if you wonder if that kind of overarching campaign slogan would make an impact on people.

Mr. Dix would eliminate the HST and raise corporate income taxes, something sure to induce corporate B.C. to contribute to the Liberals' election war chest in quantity.

But given that people across the province feel they are taxed to death, while many big corporations and banks continue to rake in record profits, there is probably considerable appetite for Mr. Dix's suggestion. B.C. has the lowest corporate taxes in the country. Why should corporations be exempt from tax increases in various guises that Sarah the nurse and Steve the plumber face every year?

Mike Farnworth has unveiled some thoughtful policy initiatives, including a proposal for a public commission on 21st century learning. It received some attention but not what it deserved. He would also appoint a cabinet minister responsible for poverty reduction. He's unveiled a comprehensive agricultural policy program that calls for more help for farmers. The amount of money B.C. currently reinvests in its agricultural industry is abysmal.

John Horgan, meantime, has called for a "fair tax commission," to examine the myriad taxes and fees British Columbians pay and then make recommendations on what those rates should be in relation to the rest of the country. That may or may not be a great idea, but it's certainly one worthy of further examination and discussion.

When I asked a television reporter friend of mine the other day why the NDP race was not getting any attention, he said it was because it was too boring.

"How would you have any idea?" I asked him. "You're not out there covering it?"

There are two main political parties in B.C. But you wouldn't know it at the moment.

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Follow on Twitter: @garymasonglobe

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