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Carole crusades on crime

The opposition New Democrats looked to jump the gun on the campaign trail yesterday, promising new investments to fight ongoing gang crime in the Lower Mainland.

With two weeks to go before the traditional start of the B.C. election campaign, NDP leader Carole James yesterday pledged to hire 168 new police officers to tackle gang violence.

"This is a number one priority," James told reporters in a news conference. "Police officers are stretched...We're going to make sure 168 officers get out there, get on the ground and assist in fighting crime."

The campaign vow, unaccompanied by dollar figures, mirrored a B.C. Liberal announcement in February, which also promised 168 officers and more money for Crown prosecutors. But those funds were largely a reallocation of previously promised federal money. James said the NDP pledge would be funded by new money.

However, B.C.'s solicitor-general says the NDP proposal copies what government announced two months ago.

"They haven't got a single original idea here," John van Dongen, the B.C. Liberal MLA for Abbotsford-Clayburn, said. "They've been criticizing our plan for months, and while they've been criticizing, we've been acting."

Although the NDP appears to be targeting crime as a key issue early on, one political scientist says the top issue for voters will be their wallets.

"The issue is the economy, no question about it," said University of Victoria professor Dennis Pilon. But Pilon isn't surprised the NDP is keying in on crime.

"There's a lot of voters who can't be mobilized to vote except on a hot-button issue like crime," he said. "But I think the strategy could backfire. Yes, they can draw attention to the crime issue, but I'm not sure they'll be the party that can reap the rewards."

The provincial election takes place on May 12.

Irwin Loy reports for 24 Hours Vancouver.

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