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Dix promises compensation for institution survivors if elected premier

<137,2013/02/04,pmremote11><137>B.C. NDP Leader Adrian Dix promised that as premier, he would compensate pre-1974 Woodlands School survivors.

Darryl Dyck/The Globe and Mail

NDP Leader Adrian Dix made a campaign-style announcement Monday, saying he would widen compensation for former residents of a notorious and now-closed residential facility if elected premier this May. However, the commitment was as much about the unofficial provincial election campaign that's now under way.

Although the official race won't begin for at least two months, Mr. Dix on Monday used the the Woodlands School, closed in 1996 after more than a century of operation housing people with developmental and physical disabilities, to focus on what he would do as premier. Within a week of taking power, Mr. Dix said that an NDP government would cut through red tape that has denied compensation to hundreds of residents – many of whom suffered sexual and physical abuse – who lived in the facility after 1974.

Compensation to date has covered those who lived at Woodlands before 1974.

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"People sometimes ask me: 'What will you do on Day 1?' " said Mr. Dix, referring to his agenda if he is elected premier. "This is the first thing I'd do."

But there are other points on the NDP's to-do list and Mr. Dix seems to be becoming more comfortable about laying them out. A tide of government ads on the economy provided an opening for the NDP to announce its own advertising policy. Mr. Dix said an NDP government would allow the provincial auditor-general to review ad materials in development and remove partisan content.

Upon returning from a recent fact-finding mission to Los Angeles, Mr. Dix said he wouldn't rule out deeper tax credits to help the embattled B.C. film and TV production sector.

In the wake of his Woodlands announcement on Monday, he said more such announcements are planned before the official campaign begins.

"We're going to be saying some of the things we'll do," he said after speaking to the media under a tent in the park where the school was located before being torn down in 2011.Positioned over Mr. Dix's shoulder during the media event were Dawn Black and Judy Darcy – Ms. Black the departing NDP MLA for the riding of New Westminster and Ms. Darcy, who hopes to win the seat for the opposition party. Mr. Dix said his party is taking the initiative because the Liberal government and its supporters have essentially been campaigning for quite some time with a mix of ads trumpeting government policy and negatively targeting Mr. Dix.

However, he disputed Liberal suggestions – most sharply levelled by Premier Christy Clark in recent weeks – that the NDP are being evasive about what they will do to manage the province. Ms. Clark has referred to it as need-to-know politics.

Mr. Dix said he has revealed more about his plans than previous opposition parties, pointing to his long-standing commitment to bring back the corporate capital tax on financial institutions to fund non-refundable student grants. "Most oppositions are very unclear about issues such as taxation, where I've been clear for a long time."

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Transportation Minister Mary Polak noted that the Liberals released their 1996 platform three months before the provincial election and their 2001 platform a year before that election. Ms. Polak, given the task Monday to speak for the Liberals, said governments inevitably talk about their priorities through various announcements, with a detail she said Mr. Dix has not provided voters. Ms. Polak said she was not sure when the Liberals would release their platform for the coming election.

While Mr. Dix said there is an opportunity to talk about such modest measures as the Woodlands commitment, he said a broader NDP platform won't be completed until the provincial budget is out on Feb. 19.

Political scientist Norman Ruff said the current shadow campaign reflects the realities of political campaigning in the era of fixed election dates, instituted by former premier Gordon Campbell after he came to power in 2001.

Before that change, governments exploited opposition uncertainty around election timing and the opposition tried to second-guess the government. Now both sides can make tactical decisions calculated around the same timeline.

"It means you can pace yourself," he said.

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