BRITISH COLUMBIA

NDP leader gets hoot out from Penticton candidate during Okanagan stop

05/08/2013 02:01 EDT | Updated 07/08/2013 05:12 EDT
SUMMERLAND, B.C. - New Democrat Leader Adrian Dix has been welcomed in many ways during his election campaign through British Columbia, but the latest "hoot-hoot-hoot" greeting is probably the most unique.

Okanagan New Democrat candidate Richard Cannings is a well-known bird expert and welcomed Dix on Wednesday with a loud owl call.

For his part, Dix said he's having a hoot on the campaign trail.

But with just six days left to go before the May 14 election, Dix is reminding his supporters that they must work hard to get enough votes to defeat the Liberal government.

Dix is making his third campaign swing through the Okanagan, visiting eight Liberal-held ridings from Penticton to Kamloops.

He targeted the area and the Lower Mainland's Fraser Valley — often referred to as the province's Bible Belt — as available NDP territory even though those areas have been longtime Liberal strongholds.

"Six more days to work really hard," Dix said in downtown Summerland. "We don't want to leave any stone unturned. We don't want to wake up on the 15th with a Liberal government after the last four years of deception. We want change. These are the days we can bring it."

In Kelowna, Dix received a more traditional Okanagan political welcome as a local store manager complained the NDP campaign team was crowding her store's entrance and a local resident raised concerns about skills training, one of Dix's primary campaign issues.

"We've put on a very determined effort over the last couple of years," he said. "People want a change here. I think this region has been neglected. After just voting Liberal for a time, I think they desperately want change."

But Dix's message for change was lost on a downtown store manager who said the NDP news conference was scaring away customers.

"You are completely blocking traffic for my business," said the manager. "I don't think that's respectful."

NDP campaign officials politely said they would clear the area as quickly as possible.

Dix told the gathered Kelowna supporters that an NDP government will expand skills training for students and promote job creation. He said an NDP government will spend $13 million to expand co-op positions for students to help provide up the 6,500 students with job skills over two years.

"We're going to expand the B.C. training tax credit to small and medium-sized business," he said. "We're going to expand opportunities under that program and under another program for co-op students to ensure young people get access to skills they need for the jobs of the future."

But Dix's skills training initiatives didn't sit well with one college vocational instructor from Kelowna who followed Dix down the sidewalk saying current skills training programs are not providing skills to students.

Dave Way said the Liberals botched skills training over the past decade, but he can't bring himself to vote NDP.

Wade, 43, said he will vote for the B.C. Conservatives on May 14.

He said he was concerned that apprentices are not learning enough skills because when they get on job sites employers only want them to do repetition-type jobs.

"Take a look at our plan," Dix said. "Our plan says more spaces, raise standards and support apprentices as they go through. What we've said is this is going to be the No. 1 issue for four years and we're going to work with business to make it happen.

"You've got to vote NDP," Dix said.

"No, I'm not," Way said. "I'm voting Conservative, but it's a protest vote."

The street corner conversation ended with Dix suggesting that whatever happens in the election, he would do what he can to support more skills training for young people.

Dix also stopped in Vernon near the local hospital, saying it is chronically overcrowded. Then he visited a cheese-making business in nearby Armstrong, a farming community located within the Shuswap riding and formerly held by longtime Liberal cabinet minister George Abbott.