VANCOUVER - British Columbia New Democrats were throwing around words like grief, mourning and venom-sucking as the party wrapped up a weekend convention in Vancouver, six months after a devastating election loss that has forced the NDP to ask tough questions about its campaign strategy, its leadership and its future.
The convention also saw the Opposition party narrow in on a timeline for selecting a new leader to replace Adrian Dix, with the NDP's provincial council deciding to hold a leadership vote in early fall of next year, though the precise date has yet to be determined.
Party members, from optimistic enthusiasts to the cranky cynics, grudgingly acknowledged that while the NDP has managed to stick a Band-Aid on its election wounds, the party must now turn its attention to fixing the more substantial issues that cost them a chance at governing.
The New Democrats lost May's provincial election, despite entering the campaign with a 20-point lead in the polls that had political watchers guessing not about whether the NDP would win, but how badly the governing Liberals would lose.
The election loss prompted Dix to announce plans to resign as the party has examines what happened. Dix will remain leader until his successor is chosen.
The party also chose a new president: Craig Keating, who replaces former NDP cabinet minister Moe Sihota. Keating said the leadership contest will be significant, but he said the party must also focus on how to better use a combination of technology and old-school door-knocking to connect with voters.
Victoria-area New Democrat Lana Popham said many delegates came to the convention in bad moods, looking to place blame for the election defeat, but she said the convention gave delegates an outlet to release their the tensions and lay out their concerns.
"We had some challenges going into this convention and a lot of us believed it was a convention to get past, and I think we're there now," she said.
"I think everybody handled themselves very professionally. Mostly, what I've seen is grief and sadness, and often that came out as anger, but I think that people were able to express themselves. There's been a lot of conversations, not officially on the floor, but in the halls.
"I think people have gotten it out of their system," Popham continued. "I've moved on."
Mike Farnworth, who is expected to be among the potential candidates to run for the leadership, said the convention helped party members get over the election loss. Now, it's time to start rebuilding, he said.
"My sense from the delegates is they feel pretty good coming out of this convention," said Farnworth. "The grieving, the mourning, the idea that the election loss is consuming us is over, and I think it's definitely onto, 'let's organize, let's get ready for a leadership contest coming up and an election in 2017.'"
Farnworth, who has said he's seriously considering a leadership run, still wasn't ready to officially declare himself a candidate.
"I feel really good and people are talking about the issues that I think we need to be addressing and that's bringing jobs and the economy together in a cohesive message that resonates with people," he said. "I think people are concerned, and what I think is of crucial importance, is we have someone who can win."
But while Farnworth and Popham suggested the convention has helped heal NDP wounds, other delegates said the party must do a better job of connecting with British Columbians.
"I just don't think they get it sometimes," said one Vancouver Island delegate. "There's a lot of people outside this convention hall we need to reach."
The NDP started the spring election campaign with a 20-point lead in opinion polls, with some pundits — and, indeed, the party's own leadership — convinced a New Democrat victory was all but certain.
In the end, the NDP was worse off than when the writ was dropped, losing a seat in the provincial legislature.
In September, Dix announced plans to step down and the party appointed a committee to figure out how things went so terribly wrong.
The committee released its report earlier this month, echoing what had become conventional wisdom in the province's political circles. The NDP lost, the report said, because of a "perfect storm" of missteps, including a positive campaign that left the party unable to effectively counter attacks from the Liberals, the lack of a clear and concise message in the party's platform, and too much reliance on opinion polls.
Notably, the report suggested the party's place on the political spectrum wasn't to blame.
Dix has also singled out two mistakes during the campaign: an announcement to scrap an education grant program to fund anti-poverty initiatives and a mid-campaign policy announcement opposing a proposed pipeline expansion by Kinder Morgan.
Dix told the convention that those two mistakes energized the Liberal campaign, but he didn't go as far as suggest they were responsible for the NDP loss.
No candidates have officially declared themselves in the running, though caucus members David Eby, George Heyman and Farnworth are said to be considering. Federal New Democrat MPs Peter Julian and Fin Donnelly have been mentioned as possible candidates. Prince Rupert-area MP Nathan Cullen has already announced he will not be in the race.
Keating, who was first elected to North Vancouver's council in 1999, was one of many NDP candidates who went into the spring election campaign staring ahead at potential victory only to suffer an unexpected defeat. He lost in his riding of North Vancouver-Lonsdale to the incumbent, Liberal Naomi Yamamoto.
University of the Fraser Valley political scientist Hamish Telford, in an interview prior to the convention, said it appears B.C.'s New Democrats remain in a state of denial over their election defeat and their political future.
Telford said he believes many New Democrats feel they can win the 2017 election if they pick a new leader or build stronger bridges between the labour and environmental movements, but New Democrats are refusing to deeply consider and confront whether the party brand no longer appeals to voters, especially after losing 19 of the past 22 B.C. elections.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misspelled Fin Donnelly's name. The mistake has been corrected.
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