Adrian Dix could have found many backdrops for a media event alleging unwise government asset sales, but making the point in a muddy field in British Columbia's second-largest city on Thursday dovetailed with a larger ambition.
The B.C. NDP Leader was flanked by Surrey MLAs from the opposition benches, and candidates for other Surrey ridings, as he met the media at a parcel of land bought in the 1990s for the expansion of Surrey Memorial Hospital. The land is now being sold. Mr. Dix wants to see the four incumbents re-elected, and hopes the newcomers will join them in Victoria as part of an NDP government.
As the May 14 provincial election looms, the city of about 470,000 people will once again be a battleground.
Mr. Dix tallied the wins of his incumbents – such as 66 per cent for Bruce Ralston in Surrey-Whalley, and 68 per cent for Harry Bains in Surrey-Newton – and said he hopes that will buoy the prospects of new candidates seeking Liberal-held Surrey ridings. For example, he said the B.C. NDP has not traditionally held Surrey-White Rock, where Liberal Gordon Hogg won 62 per cent of the vote in 2009 against 27 per cent for the NDP, but that he sees hope in a recent packed meeting held by the NDP candidate there.
The NDP Leader has been touting a tactical approach of taking on Liberals in every riding across the province. "Our idea of running and giving people a choice to vote NDP in every one of the 85 seats is going to benefit us here in Surrey," he told reporters during a freewheeling scrum that ran more than a half hour.
The New Democrats have four incumbents ready to go in Surrey. Two candidates have been nominated in other ridings, and nomination meetings are pending in two others.
By comparison, a B.C. Liberal spokesman said by e-mail that the party has four candidates ready to go in the riding, and no nomination dates to report for the other ridings.
The NDP media event came on a day when a key Liberal candidate in the city ran into trouble. Sukh Dhaliwal, the former Liberal MP for Newton-North Delta now running in Surrey-Panorama, is facing six charges under the Income Tax Act.
Mr. Dix noted that Mr. Dhaliwal has not been convicted of anything, but will have to explain himself to voters if he remains the candidate in the riding, where Stephanie Cadieux won for the Liberals in 2009 with 54 per cent of the vote.
"These matters are a distraction from the real issues here in Surrey," Mr. Dix said. "We're gong to run on the issues here and we're not interested in this kind of distraction."
He said he was more interested in the package of issues he hopes pulls votes to the NDP. The city is relatively young, he said, so the NDP is hoping a focus on education will resonate.
Mr. Dix, who has talked about diverting carbon-tax revenues to transit projects and spoke Thursday of a fair hearing for transit-funding ideas advanced this week by Greater Vancouver mayors, is also planning to propose better transit and transportation policy. Mr. Bains is to push that agenda as the party's transportation critic.
Mr. Ralston, who has been reserving weekends to knock on doors in a bid to win re-election in his riding, said there are no plans for any kind of Surrey-specific platform, but that he's hoping pieces of the larger agenda will catch on. "The focus we have placed on education and training will resonate really strongly in Surrey," said Mr. Ralston, who has also served as finance critic. "People are prepared to listen to us and I hope they will judge us on the service the incumbent MLAs have provided."