11/16/2013 04:00 EST | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

B.C. NDP: Ethnic Groups, Aboriginals Are Party's Future, Says Outgoing President


VANCOUVER - British Columbia's outgoing New Democratic Party leader said on Saturday that he made two election campaign mistakes last spring that helped inspire the B.C. Liberal campaign.

Adrian Dix didn't admit his campaign statements about the proposed Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion project and an NDP plan to use a Liberal retirement fund to fight poverty lost the election for the NDP.

But he came close.

Dix's New Democrats started last spring's campaign with a 20-point lead over Premier Christy Clark's Liberals in the polls, but ended up losing on May 14, the fourth straight NDP loss to the Liberals.

"Our defeat on May 14 was a significant one in our political history and it requires a response from us, all of us in the B.C. NDP," he said during a speech to the almost 800 delegates attending the B.C. NDP's post-election convention.

Dix said the NDP campaign did a poor job of telling British Columbians why the Liberal government should not be re-elected, but he didn't stop there.

"Two significant mistakes were made in the campaign: one, around the decision we took to place the Registered Education Savings Plan scheme by the government. We failed to adequately communicate on that point," said Dix. "We failed to adequately communicate on the issue of Kinder Morgan."

On the retirement plan mistake, Dix said he did not do a good job explaining the NDP's plan to take $300 million from the Liberals' education savings account and use the money to fund NDP government anti-poverty programs.

But the Liberals, who planned to use the money to give families with young children a one-time grant of $1,200 to start education savings accounts, were able to use the NDP plan to essentially accuse the New Democrats of stealing money from families.

On Kinder Morgan, Dix chose Earth Day last April, near the mid-point of the campaign, to outline the NDP's opposition to the proposed pipeline expansion and the proposed plan to increase oil tanker traffic in the port of Vancouver.

Prior to the Earth Day announcement, the NDP had voiced concerns about pipeline expansion and proposed increases in oil tanker traffic, but Dix had chosen to say the party would await the outcome of an environmental review and permitting process before making a clear statement on Kinder Morgan.

But campaign observers said Dix took a firmer stand on Kinder Morgan in an effort to win support from environment-friendly voters who were considering voting Green.

Dix did not expand on the reasons behind his Kinder Morgan decision Saturday, but he called his announcement a campaign mistake.

After his speech to NDP delegates, Dix suggested to reporters at a news conference, he moved too quickly on Kinder Morgan during the campaign.

Federal NDP Leader Tom Mulcair, who also spoke at the convention, said the B.C. defeat was a disappointment, but it sends a message to the federal NDP before the 2015 federal election there are no guarantees in politics.

"I'm not going to kid anybody," he said at a news conference. "It was a rough election. The many things we've learned is never to take anything for granted. My approach has always been to work constantly."

Earlier Canada's former ambassador at the United Nations Stephen Lewis said B.C.'s New Democrats have a long and trying weekend ahead as they dissect the election loss, but he urged the party to emerge united because B.C., Canada and the world need strong social democrats to "twist the tail of capitalism."

Lewis was the keynote speaker as the convention opened Friday night in Vancouver.

"This isn't going to be an easy convention," said Lewis, who was leader of Ontario's New Democratic Party in the 70s.

"There will be angry voices. The microphones will incinerate on occasion. There will be episodes of collective catharsis. I beg of you by the end of it to jettison the carping and the agitation."

Lewis said the issues of child poverty, gender equality and aboriginal rights at home and abroad need strong champions to bring awareness and change to their plight.

"We're at an incredible historical moment," Lewis told cheering NDP delegates.

"We have the opportunity to redefine the meaning of democratic socialism against the backdrop of ruinous capitalism. There are so many issues out there, domestic and foreign, on which countless lives depend and you, this convention here assembled, have a remarkable opportunity to twist the tail of capitalism and set a new agenda for humankind."

Lewis then launched an attack on Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservatives, saying Harper has implemented an agenda that has seen Canada decline on the world stage.

"We've abandoned the great badge of honour we once wore as peacekeepers. We scorn the United Nations," he said. "It's a glossary of failure on virtually every front. Internationally, we've become a second-rate country with a second-rate reputation — thank you Prime Minister Harper."

Outgoing B.C. NDP president and former cabinet minister Moe Sihota said the election defeat was a deeply personal and devastating political blow, but he urged the party to rebound and look to B.C.'s diverse multicultural communities, aboriginal peoples and young members to rebuild the party's new political future.

Sihota asked convention delegates to look around and ask why the face of the party includes fewer and fewer people from ethnic and aboriginal communities.

He said the NDP lost election votes in the province's Indo-Canadian and Chinese-Canadian communities, and if the party does not win them back and include other multicultural groups it won't win elections.

"We need to dedicate party resources to enhance our communications capacities in the South Asian, Korean, Chinese and Filipino communities," Sihota said. "We need to include and give a meaningful seat at the table to our aboriginal brothers and sisters."

Sihota said the election defeat still hurts, but New Democrats should not apologize for supporting labour, environmental and social justice causes.

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