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BC NDP election review examines 'disastrous impact' of positive campaign

Describing the B.C. NDP's May election defeat as a "profound disappointment" and a lost opportunity "to finally put B.C. back on the right track after 12 years of reckless BC Liberal rule," the panel tasked with reviewing the loss released its findings today.

Widely expected to win the provincial race on May 14, 2013, the NDP dropped in its share of the popular vote as compared to 2009, and lost seats in what were considered fairly safe ridings.

The panel's 18-page review examines several areas where the New Democrats failed and offers recommendations on how 2017 election campaigners can improve. Appointed by the party, panelists incorporated input from more than 3,000 people including party members, candidates, campaign managers and senior campaign staff to produce the review.

Notably, the panel acknowledges the "disastrous impact" of the New Democrats' refusal to go negative during the campaign. Early on, the party opted to run what was effectively a campaign against negative campaigning, and instead take a positive approach that resisted blasting the governing party on its record.

"Going into the May 2013 campaign the BC NDP had the capacity to make a compelling pitch to voters that the BC Liberals did not deserve another term," the panel review reads.

"Scandal, incompetent public policy decisions, cold-hearted cuts to much needed public services and programs -- the list of BC Liberal failures is a long one -- but by failing to give these issues proper weight in our campaign, we effectively ceded an advantage to the BC Liberals that they opportunistically used to win a fourth term."

Other contributors to the election upset identified by the panel include Liberal attack ads centred around NDP leader Adrian Dix's backdated memo scandal, party financial constraints, and how the party treated polls -- "one of the most bedevilling, distracting and in many ways de-mobilizing factors" in the campaign.

With polls so consistently putting the NDP ahead with a large lead, the party began to act like a "government in waiting" instead of trying to appeal to voters in new ways, the panel found.

In addition, the party's platform failed to connect with voters and supporters because it was "difficult to summarize into a succinct message", the panel found. By comparison the BC Liberal platform, heavy on promises related to jobs and the economy, was largely ignored in the campaign.

"While [BC Liberal] promises were paper-thin and their track record as government was deplorable, their strategic approach in the campaign was to downplay all of those weaknesses and emphasize a message that played well with voters," reads the review.

"In the end, it worked. There is an important campaign lesson in all of that, one that our side failed to recognize."

The full review is available here.

Robyn Smith is an editor at The Tyee.

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