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British Columbia NDP leadership candidates Mike Farnworth, from left, Adrian Dix, John Horgan and Dana Larsen await the start of a taping of a television debate (Darryl Dyck / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
British Columbia NDP leadership candidates Mike Farnworth, from left, Adrian Dix, John Horgan and Dana Larsen await the start of a taping of a television debate (Darryl Dyck / THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Tips for a B.C. NDP victory: Project confidence, ditch the laundry list and smile a lot Add to ...

The sobering truth for the new leader of the B.C New Democrats is that he will be taking over a party that tends to lose provincial elections.

The party has won only three times in 22 elections as either the CCF or NDP - in 1972, 1991 and 1996.

It's not a great record by any standard.

The victories largely were the result of the centre-right vote in the province being split, allowing the New Democrats to triumph over their main rivals, either the Social Credit or the B.C. Liberals.

As an election looms - possibly this fall - some New Democrats joke the best way to improve their record to four wins in 23 elections would be to split the centre-right vote again by donating to the B.C. Conservatives, set to elect former Tory MP John Cummins as their new leader on May 28.

What will the party need to do to win? The Globe and Mail canvassed New Democrats, academics and other political observers for ideas on key tactical priorities.

We've skipped the obvious ideas like, 'Get more votes,' or 'Win more seats.' And we won't dwell on counselling either a move to the left or occupying the moderate middle. NDP members will make their choice on that point on Sunday by who they elect as leader.

But here are five other ideas that can serve as building blocks for an NDP victory:

Make a strong first impression

The new leader needs to get off to a strong start Monday by defining himself in a succinct way that resonates. There's no need for detailed policy right away, a senior party member says. Try that later when people are paying attention.

For now, the new leader has to declare himself the candidate of one important thing. Get that message out now because attention will dwindle with the federal election, Stanley Cup playoffs, Royal wedding, announcements by Premier Christy Clark and other distractions.

Promise access within 24 hours, anywhere in B.C., to detox and rehabilitation services

Compelling idea, no? Simple, and likely to resonate with voters in both urban and rural B.C.

Bill Tieleman, the former communications director for premier Glen Clark, says the New Democrats need a lot more ideas like that.

"It's decisive and clear and it speaks to the left and right of the political spectrum," says Mr. Tieleman, who raised the detox idea as an example of what the party needs to do to advance. "A successful political idea is one that people can instantly get and start thinking about. It's like a joke. If you have to explain it, it isn't funny."

Mr. Tieleman says such ideas have been in short supply from the NDP. "In my opinion, we haven't had many bold ideas. Basically the platform has been, 'Liberals bad; us good.' "

Pollster Mario Canseco suggests the party come up with ideas that build confidence in the party's ability to handle the economy because that was an area of weakness in the 2005 and 2009 elections. "Running a campaign against Premier Clark that is based on criticism of Campbell's record would not be the right course of action. Voters have left the Campbell era behind, and the B.C. Liberal base that briefly abandoned the party in 2009 and 2010 is back. Therefore, the next election will be won in the centre, and that's where a sound economic management proposal would help the NDP," says the vice-president of communications for Angus Reid Public Opinion.

Rip up the laundry list

The next B.C. NDP election campaign should revolve around no more than three or four big ideas, experts agree. One veteran New Democrat with abundant experience in winning campaigns says the new leader should then hammer that platform home on the campaign trail. There can be a long platform that appeases constituencies across the NDP universe, but the focus should be on tangible commitments that will resonate across the NDP and also appeal to swing voters.

"A boring laundry list of politically correct items would be disastrous," says the New Democrat, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Vancouver-Hastings MLA Shane Simpson agrees: "One of the things we didn't do well in '09 is the list was too long."

Project competence

It has been about a decade since the B.C. New Democrats have been in power, which means they haven't had a recent opportunity to demonstrate they can effectively run things, says the party's finance critic Bruce Ralston. Mr. Ralston says the NDP needs to find a way to project a sense of competence.

When Adrian Dix entered the leadership race, he tried to challenge the perception that the New Democrats were not competent managers. In particular, he said they had a better record than the Liberals of managing the economy.

Mr. Ralston says the only thing New Democrats can really do is project competence in their arguments and policies. There is no room for error.

Be nice about making Christy Clark's political life miserable

Even some New Democrats agree Ms. Clark is a charming, gregarious individual. Despite that, New Democrats will have to take her on to win office, but needs to do so without shrill political criticism that might backfire with voters charmed by the Premier. They have to argue she does not represent the change she claims to represent, and focus on key areas where this is so.

Doug McArthur, who served as deputy minister to premiers Mike Harcourt and Glen Clark (two of the three NDP wins), counsels the new NDP leader to wait for Ms. Clark to make mistakes and then pounce.

"You have to be opportunistic in politics. You can't look like you're attacking her," says Mr. McArthur, a public policy professor at Simon Fraser University.

Says one New Democrat: "You can't be mean or nasty. You have to be strong, but smile a lot."


Sunday's schedule

The schedule for Sunday's NDP leadership convention, which will be held at the Vancouver Convention Centre.

2:30 p.m. Introduction and welcome

2:55 p.m. Candidate speeches

3:30 p.m. First ballot begins

4:15 p.m. First ballot announcement

4:30 p.m. Second ballot begins, if necessary

5:15 p.m. Second ballot announcement, if necessary

6:10 p.m. Announcement of winner

6:15 p.m. Speech from winning candidate

Note: If a third ballot is required, it will begin immediately after the second ballot.

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