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The Globe and Mail

Liberals declare readiness for election fight

British Columbia Premier Christy Clark greets delegates as she arrives to present volunteer awards at the B.C. Liberal Party convention in Whistler, B.C., on Oct. 26, 2012.

DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

Bold election predictions are being made at the opening of the B.C. Liberal party convention, the final major gathering of Liberals before next May's vote.

Party vice-president Bill Belsey started off the convention telling the estimated 1,000 people gathered in Whistler that the party is ready to fight the election.

"Our goal is to ensure the re-election of one of the most successful, free-enterprise coalition parties in Canada, our party," Mr. Belsey said. "It's so important that you get out there and tell the rest of the province how ready we are."

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Mr. Belsey, a former MLA, said the Liberals are poised to "deal a devastating blow to the New Democrats."

The Opposition NDP is well ahead of the Liberal government in public opinion polls and NDP Leader Adrian Dix has lately been suggesting openly that he and the NDP are anticipating forming the next government.

Liberal members, who acknowledge the party currently trails the NDP, say there are signs the party has bottomed out and has been on the upswing.

Bill Bennett, the Liberal election platform co-chairman and Minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development, said British Columbians are tuning into Premier Christy Clark's jobs and families message.

The internal battles among members of the upstart B.C. Conservatives have solidified the Liberal Party brand as the free enterprise choice in the province, he said.

Party delegates were saying at a pre-convention soirée Thursday night that the Liberals want to move on after weathering the inroads Conservatives were making before leadership issues derailed that potential right-wing split.

Former Conservative stalwarts John Martin and Ben Besler were at the Thursday social event in Whistler, shaking hands and mingling with the Liberals.

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Mr. Martin, the Conservative Party candidate in last spring's Chilliwack-Hope by-election won by the NDP, recently bolted from the Conservatives to join the Liberals and plans to run in the Chilliwack riding formerly held by long-time Liberal John Les.

Mr. Besler, a former Conservative vice-president, has also joined the Liberals.

Opening day of the Liberal convention has been dubbed "Free Enterprise Friday" as the party brainstorms and seeks to re-energize members in the seven months before election day.

Agenda items on Saturday include a campaign overview and campaign training sessions, as well as a speech by Stephen Carter, the man credited with helping Alberta Premier Alison Redford defeat the Wildrose party in April.

Observers see many parallels between the last Alberta election and B.C.'s situation, because the latest polls show a wide gap between the opposition New Democrats and the trailing Liberals.

Members of the B.C. Government and Service Employees Union were waiting for some Liberal delegates as they arrived at the convention. The union members were carrying placards supporting community social services workers.

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Ms. Clark addresses delegates late Saturday afternoon.

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