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Pre-campaign events show off difference in Liberals, NDP stripes

More than two months before British Columbia's provincial election, both the premier and official opposition leader say they're girding for a hard-fought campaign, but among supporters are already showing contrast in how they'll go after the vote.

Both the governing Liberals and the New Democrats held pre-campaign events over the weekend, alongside party council meetings, in which they rallied candidates and enthused their bases.

Premier Christy Clark touted her government's recently delivered balanced budget on Saturday as a foundation for economic growth, while projecting a rosy future through liquefied natural gas development.

She unveiled the Liberal candidates who have been selected so far, using Vancouver as the stage to promote the party as "Today's B.C. Liberals" to spotlight the party in its current form.

The New Democrats, meanwhile, highlighted on Sunday their use of the slogan "Change for the better: One practical step at a time."

Leader Adrian Dix spent much of his speech rousing the energetic crowd by projecting that his party will topple the Liberals with a pledge to avoid personal attacks on them.

He promised his party won't retaliate against advertisements that take aim at his own personal track record, noting he doesn't believe people get into politics because they don't want to contribute to their community.

"They didn't wake up in the morning and say we are going to run negative, nasty ads about other people," he told party members gathered at a hotel in Burnaby, B.C. "We have to bring people back to the political process, and that means making politics more meaningful, more positive, more thoughtful, more generous."

Dix served as chief of staff to former NDP premier Glen Clark, but left his position after an incident — for which he has since apologized — in which he back-dated a memo to help his boss.

Former NDP leader and Victoria-Beacon Hill MLA Carole James said the party was directing its members to stay away from negativity, while staying tough on the issues.

"(We) will contrast very strongly, I think, with the approach the Liberals are taking," she said in an interview after the rally. "The public is looking for something different."

She said the party knows it can't do everything, so it will offer a very focused list of commitments ahead of the election.

Dix said his party will roll out a comprehensive platform that "represents the issues of our time," including addressing the gap in who gets post-secondary education, deficits in workers with skills training and the environment.

The only thing he liked about the government's budget, handed down last Tuesday, was a corporate tax increase that he claimed was his idea two years ago, he said.

At the Liberals' kick-off event, out-going MLA Colin Hansen acknowledged a sore point with voters may still remain in how the party introduced the harmonized sales tax without consultation.

"We did a lousy job," he said of how they communicated about the tax, which has since been scrapped after a referendum.

The Liberals have nominated or acclaimed 64 candidates so far, while the NDP has nominated about 75. There are 85 ridings.

The governing party has yet to nominate half of the 14 candidates on Vancouver Island, where the NDP currently holds 10 of 14 seats.

The rallies come just ahead of a process by Elections BC to begin updating the provincial voters list. Starting Monday, notices will be mailed to B.C. addresses asking eligible voters to register or, if they're already on the list, to ensure their registration is up to date.

Elections BC says more than 3.15 million people are already registered to vote for the upcoming election, but the number of estimated eligible voters according to another statistics body is almost 3.28 million people.

Tamsyn Burgmann writes for The Canadian Press.

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