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Leaders hit road for launch of second half of B.C. election race

New Democrat leader Adrian Dix has thrown a bone to the province's mayors, saying if elected premier, he would establishing a standalone ministry for local government.

While addressing the mayors caucus in Prince George about his platform Tuesday, Dix fielded questions from the municipal leaders about things like infrastructure funding, engagement with small and rural communities, and the downloading of responsibilities to municipalities.

Dix and Clark hit the road Tuesday, taking their election campaigns out of the Lower Mainland and into the province's Interior as the mid-point of the campaign passed.

Dix was the only provincial leader to accept the invitation to attend the mayors caucus meeting.

Dix said a separate ministry for municipal affairs would allow the government to work more closely with local governments, prompting applause from the 70 mayors around the room.

However, the NDP leader remains uncommitted to matching federal funding for infrastructure projects.

"It's absolutely critical that we have federal, provincial and local governments contributing on infrastructure projects and there are a lot of those behind schedule," said Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson. "We need the province to step up."

Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts also said Dix's promise of using existing carbon tax revenue to fund transit doesn't go far enough to meet regional needs.

Clark spent the day in Vancouver, Cranbrook and Kimberley to drive home her theme that a Dix New Democrat government means out-of-control spending, endless deficits and more taxes.

She toured a major metal fabrication shop in Cranbrook that employs between 60 and 100 workers. Fab-Rite Services Ltd., builds metal structures for the forest, mining and oil and gas industries.

At one point in the factory tour she spoke with machinist Adrian Plant, who explained how he operates a metal press machine.

Plant said he was thrilled to meet the premier, but said he rarely votes.

"That was a first for me," he said. "She seemed very down to earth."

Clark held a news conference on the factory floor surrounded by about a dozen workers. She said the NDP is sending danger signals to investors and businesses with unfocused strategies on industry growth, with some candidates suggesting a two-year moratorium on natural gas expansion which the party is forced to deny.

During a visit to local trades school New Caledonia College, Dix outlined his plan to invest in skills training for the mining and natural gas industries.

Dix also said he would reduce the wait times for environmental assessments and Notice of Work permits. He said under the Liberal government, wait times for Notice of Work permits sat at 55 day in 2007, ballooned to 110 days, and currently sit at 88 days.

"We've said as a specific item in our platform we would be reducing wait times to 55 days by investing in these ministries (involved) to ensure bureaucratic delays don't stand in the way of economic development," Dix told reporters.

Dix brushed aside suggestions his intent to create a new ministry and expand existing ones plays into Clark's allegations that an NDP government would mean a big government.

"The (current) government cuts staff to resource ministries, the results for business is doubling of wait times," he said. "We need wait times in the mining industries to be reduced, we need to get to yes quicker and that's precisely what we're doing here."

Clark plans to visit 10 cities over the next three days — Penticton, Kamloops, Williams Lake, Cranbrook and Kimberley among them. She assured her supporters "it's all going to go well."

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