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Liberal Don McRae disrupts Adrian Dix’s announcement in park

NDP Leader Adrian Dix, left, talks with Education Minister and Liberal candidate for Comox Valley Don McRae after McRae showed up at Dix’s campaign stop in Comox, B.C., on April 18, 2013.

Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press

B.C. NDP Leader Adrian Dix's tactic of campaigning in Liberal-held ridings to shake the perception of safe seats took a twist when a Liberal cabinet minister showed up for one of his announcements.

So far, Mr. Dix has pointedly travelled to the ridings of B.C. Liberal Leader Christy Clark and Finance Minister Mike de Jong to say they should be specifically ousted by voters in the May 14 election.

Education Minister Don McRae didn't quite crash Mr. Dix's announcement of the NDP's public-education and childcare planks Thursday. Instead, he stood just outside the gazebo in a park in this Vancouver Island city. As Mr. Dix spoke, Mr. McRae's presence lured reporters away.

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Eventually, Mr. Dix came over to Mr. McRae and wryly declared, "an undecided voter!" before Mr, McRae, in turn, joked that he had come looking for the NDP platform Ms. Clark has claimed Mr. Dix is hiding.

After more banter, the pair went their separate ways, but there were still hostilities over the platform announcement, notable for a new promise to reduce fees by 20 per cent for existing licensed infant and toddler care.

New Democrats say the plan would save families an average of $2,000 per year.

"People are facing significant costs. It will leave significant costs in place, but it's a start," Mr. Dix said of the promise as Mr. McRae showed up.

The NDP said the plan will cost $100-million over the next three years.

The party also announced a new commitment to spend $265-million by 2016 to hire new teachers, teaching assistants, librarians and counsellors.

Asked about Mr. McRae, who was just to his right, Mr. Dix said, "I like Don. He's a good guy."

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But Mr. Dix faced persistent questions from the media about his proposal to redirect about $300-million from the Liberals' B.C. Training and Education Savings Grant program into an Early Years Innovation Fund that would finance programs in early learning and childcare.

Asked why he could not say more specifically how the funds would be spent, Mr. Dix said an NDP government, if elected, would develop programming in consultation with stakeholders and experts.

"We're going to involve the community and experts and say, 'How could that money be best used to address the issue of inequality and childhood development,' and we will use the fund over the next number of years to do that."

Mr. McRae was fuming at the prospect of Mr. Dix being in his riding, and some of the measures he'd proposed. On childcare savings, Mr. McRae alleged that citizens would lose elsewhere given planned NDP tax hikes.

B.C. Liberal promises on childcare include a registry on the availability of childcare spaces, "significant funds" to address classroom size and composition, and a push for a 10-year collective agreement with the teachers' union to ensure extended labour peace.

Mr. McRae denied that showing up for Mr. Dix's event was a desperate move. Liberals are running far behind the NDP in the polls. "Desperation is when you come to the Minister of Education's riding to make an announcement," said Mr. McRae, who won the Comox Valley riding by 1,378 votes in 2009.

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