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Adrian Dix, Leader of the B.C. New Democrats, meets with The Globe and Mail’s editorial board on Oct. 16, 2012.Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

NDP Leader Adrian Dix says he is "proud, honoured and humbled" to receive the B.C. Federation of Labour's pledge of "mass mobilization" on behalf of the New Democrats in next spring's provincial election.

But Mr. Dix, in a keynote speech on Wednesday to the federation's biannual convention that was closely watched for clues about what goodies might fall labour's way if the NDP forms government, warily avoided making major promises to the party's long-time, faithful allies.

He made no mention of possible changes to the provincial labour code, which is the federation's number one priority for the coming campaign. Nor did he touch on workers' compensation improvements, also one of the labour movement's four election goals.

Instead, Mr. Dix addressed only two: employment standards and apprenticeship training. He pledged an NDP government would make significant improvements in both areas.

Speaking to 1,500 delegates in front of a large video screen with the message "Change for the Better. One Practical Step at a Time," Mr. Dix defended his relative caution.

"I believe it's better to run modestly and positively, show what you're going to do, and how you're going to pay for it."

He acknowledged that he has become an extremely careful politician. "Today, I bought two SkyTrain tickets," Mr. Dix joked, a reference to his embarrassment at being caught riding without a ticket. He was let off with a warning after vowing he had bought one but lost it.

Despite his platform reluctance, Mr. Dix made no effort to distance himself from organized labour, as some past NDP leaders have done in the belief that close ties with unions hurt the party politically.

"I want to make it clear that I am proud of the work I've done for years, side by side with labour unions," Mr. Dix said. "The labour movement and the NDP have done great things, but our best days are still ahead of us."

He noted the political perception by recalling one commentator's advice to shake hands with the labour movement, not hug them. "Do you need a hug?" a female delegate shouted, to loud applause. Mr. Dix grinned.

The NDP Leader said he will always respect the voice of the business community, and private-sector success is important to the economy. "But here's where I part company with the government. I think the labour movement should play a central role as well."

Afterwards, Mr. Dix told reporters that he had no intention of playing down his support for unions. "I am not here to use the labour movement as a backdrop to somehow prove I'm more moderate. I'm going to be who I am."

Before the NDP Leader's speech, delegates voted unanimously for a political action plan that committed the organization, which has more than 450,000 members, to all-out mobilization to help elect a New Democratic government.

Mr. Dix told the convention that the party intends to campaign "the hard way," without negative personal advertising. "I think politics has become too personal, too selfish in British Columbia," he said, evoking applause but no ovation. The federation has bitterly attacked the Liberal government since it was first elected in 2001.

Federation delegates said they had no problem with Mr. Dix's guarded approach to labour commitments.

"I'm new to organized labour. I thought he was being honest," said Lee Provost of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, who wore a "Stephen Harper Hates Me" button. "If the NDP and labour can come together to make us a better society, how can you object to that?" She said her job as an eye examiner at the Esquimalt Naval Base has been contracted out by the Harper government, and she will be laid off next April.

Sharon Brine, also a PSAC member, said she was pleased Mr. Dix is unafraid of association with the labour movement. "To discount the votes of union households in the next election would be the biggest mistake of all," she said.

Federal NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair will address the convention on Thursday, prompting Mr. Dix to observe: "Think of me as Gordon Lightfoot opening for Justin Bieber."

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