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NDP aims to translate federal breakthrough into provincial wins

NDP leader Jack Layton is flanked by his fellow MP's as he waves after delivering a speech to open the party's 50th anniversary convention in Vancouver, B.C., on Friday June 17, 2011.


Federal NDP insiders, giddy over their new 103-member caucus, think they have a winning strategy to share - and many provincial and territorial New Democrats facing elections this year agree.

For that reason, the party's weekend biennial convention in Vancouver is not just a celebration of the party's 50th anniversary, but also a classroom for some New Democrats from across Canada.

"Everybody is here to learn a bit and to adjust to fit their own province," Moe Sihota, president of the B.C. New Democratic Party, said Saturday during a break in the proceedings.

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At least seven elections are expected this year in such provinces as Ontario, Newfoundland and British Columbia, where federal New Democrats picked up an extra three seats in the province in the federal vote.

That meant a total 12 of B.C.'s 36 federal ridings.

"You always take lessons from those who have recently been in the field, but you combine that with the lessons you have learned over the years and localize it to your own region," said Mr. Sihota, a former NDP cabinet minister.

New Democrats have been out of power in B.C. since a decade of government ended in 2001 with the election of the B.C. Liberals under former premier Gordon Campbell.

Christy Clark, the current B.C. premier, is talking about an early election, and the conventional wisdom suggests a fall vote is a safe bet.

Adrian Dix, the B.C. NDP leader, has spoken admiringly of the positive message that Jack Layton employed in the federal election campaign that saw the party become the Official Opposition.

Successful provincial and territorial NDP parties are in the interest of the federal party, says Brad Lavigne, the party's national director.

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It's also a more immediate issue for the party, which is four years away from a federal election that will test the party's drive to become Canada's next government.

In an election workshop for delegates, Mr. Lavigne ran over increases in the popular vote for federal New Democrats on a province-by-province basis.

"We have got to harness this, and make sure we translate the support we got on May 2 in the federal election into support for our provincial elections," he said in an interview.

"One of the best ways we can cement the support that we gained is by ensuring that we get it for the provincial elections coming up."

While he said there are distinctions between federal and provincial campaigning, there are common areas where ideas can be shared, he said.

That said, he conceded that not every NDP provincial party is in within sight of government, and the calculation varies across Canada.

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"We measure the success based on where we start," he said.

Darrel Dexter, the NDP premier of Nova Scotia, was talking up the winning ways that saw Nova Scotia New Democrats win power for the first time in 2009.

Indeed, the last biennial NDP party meeting was held in Halifax weeks after Mr. Dexter had become premier.

In a speech and news conference, he talked up the virtue of proactively and consistently advancing practical policies in balance to criticism.

"We reached out to new supporters through smart, achievable ideas," he said.

While the advice was aimed at the federal party, Mr. Dexter said it was also germane to other provincial New Democrats.

"The advice is sound wherever you are," he said. "Depending on where you are in the process, you're looking at either broader or narrower slices of the electorate.

"How you approach them, and how you pull them in may be different from province to province. The issues fundamentally can be different, but you want to make sure you're talking about and putting forward policies that people can grasp, that they can understand, and see the actual effect on them and their families in terms of what you're trying to achieve.

"That's what we did."

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