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British Columbia NDP leadership candidate Mike Farnworth checks his watch as he waits for the taping of a television debate to begin in Vancouver, B.C., on Saturday April 9, 2011.

Darryl Dyck/ The Canadian Press/Darryl Dyck/ The Canadian Press

British Columbia New Democrats risk defeat in the next election by veering too far to the left in choosing their next leader, former BC NDP premier Mike Harcourt says.

Mr. Harcourt, making a rare return to participation in provincial politics after largely occupying the sidelines since leaving in 1996, made the point when asked about the wisdom of the party embracing Adrian Dix, one of four candidates for the party leadership.

"You go left, you get left out. It's not complicated," Mr. Harcourt told reporters, elaborating on his decision to endorse Port Coquitlam MLA Mike Farnworth as the best leadership prospect.

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The winner will be announced on April 17 at the party's leadership assembly.

"Just appealing to your base is not enough."

Mr. Dix has called for the party to move left to generate enthusiasm among British Columbians who may not have bothered to vote in previous elections.

But Mr. Farnworth has occupied Harcourt territory, suggesting the election will be won in the centre.

Mr. Harcourt, who has focused on sustainability issues since leaving politics, called for the broader appeal that Mr. Farnworth proposes.

"You have to appeal to your strong supporters and the passion they feel as social democrats, plus a broad range of British Columbians who feel it's time for a change of government or like the fact that Mike Farnworth has a good grounding in the issues that are important to this province," he said.

Asked whether the base might stay at home if the leader were out of sync with their values, Mr. Harcourt was unequivocal.

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"They won't. They have a real interest in this election."

He described Mr. Farnworth as an "experienced, capable" leader, savvy and thoughtful in his role as a critic on crime issues, whose roots in Port Coquitlam would allow him to appeal to the suburbs across B.C. that are home to about 60 per cent of the population.

He noted that the BC Liberals have a moderate populist leader in Premier Christy Clark, and that the NDP needs a moderate populist of their own in Mr. Farnworth.

Mr. Dix said on Monday that Mr. Harcourt's participation in the leadership race was a "good announcement" for Mr. Farnworth.

He said he was offering a practical agenda that would appeal to people who have been marginalized by the political process, including pledges to roll back corporate tax cuts to pay for education programs.

"When you make proposals, as I have, and say how you will pay for them, I think that makes the proposals more serious. If anything, it's more fiscally conservative to do that than to simply make proposals and not say where the money is coming from," he said.

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"I don't pass judgments on anybody. I believe that people in B.C. deserve a choice, and that's what I am offering in this campaign."

Mr. Harcourt said he had planned to stay neutral, but reconsidered when asked about the issue by the media and three of the leadership candidates called to discuss the race.

"I said, 'Okay. Maybe I should have a look at this,' and so I did."

He said he did not act because he thought Mr. Farnworth's campaign was in trouble. "I just wanted to help Mike put it over the top," he said.

The former Vancouver mayor said he will vote in the leadership race, but not attend the party meeting in Vancouver and has no plans to linger in the political fray after endorsing Mr. Farnworth.

On Monday, NDP caucus chair Shane Simpson said he was backing MLA John Horgan for the leadership.

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