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What Separates Top Three BC NDP Leadership Candidates?

We asked Dix, Farnworth and Horgan to tell us how they differ from each other.

By Andrew MacLeod 7 Apr 2011 | TheTyee.ca

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee's legislative bureau chief in Victoria. Reach him here.

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Adrian Dix, Mike Farnworth, John Horgan: Frontrunners.

The British Columbia New Democratic Party leadership race has been described as a love-in where all the candidates, and especially the three perceived frontrunners, agree on most issues. There are, however, significant differences in how they're positioning themselves for the April 17 decision.

One way to gauge is the nuance in how the candidates frame the ballot question, the thing they want party members to have top of mind when they make their choice.

"I think the ballot question is which of the candidates can unite the party and defeat Christy Clark," said Mike Farnworth, the MLA for Port Coquitlam who has led public opinion polls since the race began.

John Horgan, the Juan de Fuca MLA, poses a similar question, but slightly differently: "Which one of these three is best suited to take on Christy Clark and the Liberals." In his telling, it's not just about popularity, but also personality and style.

"The ballot question for people is who is best to bring change to British Columbia," said Adrian Dix, the Vancouver-Kingsway MLA who has stressed the "substance" in his platform and campaign. "The question is who will get results, the results we want."

Powell River-Sunshine Coast MLA Nicholas Simons and pro-cannabis activist Dana Larsen are also running.

Attack avoidance

For the most part the candidates have avoided attacking each other, or even addressing each other's proposals. They've preferred to talk about the failures of the BC Liberal government, new Premier Christy Clark's first steps and their own plans and strengths.

The reluctance is understandable in a party that fractured in the fall over Carole James' leadership -- the last thing any of the candidates wants is another divisive battle.

"There are differences in emphasis and style and substance between the candidates," Dix allowed, but he declined to spell them out, saying people who don't see what separates the candidates need to pay closer attention.

"I don't try to distinguish myself from the other candidates," said Dix, who notes the three frontrunners have worked together for some two decades and been friends. "I want to present what's strong about my campaign, and that's what I'm doing."

He talks about his time touring the province to build the party, his strong record as a critic since 2005 and his commitment to fighting social inequality.

"As an MLA I've been energetic and I've got lots of results," he said. He was a key part of the push on children and families issues that resulted in the appointment of the representative for children and youth, for example, he said. He's also been effective on health issues and school closures, he said.

"I think it's important in opposition to speak well and hold the government to account, but I think what I've done in opposition and what I'd do as premier is get results," he said.

His commitment to fighting inequality speaks well to the NDP's base and will inspire some of the 1.4 million eligible voters who didn't cast a ballot in the 2009 election to vote, he said.

"We didn't get enough votes," he said. "There's no question we didn't mobilize our electorate as much as we needed to... I think the strength of my campaign is mobilizing people who didn't vote in the last election." A strong, focused platform like he would present would bring them out, he said.

Popular choice

Farnworth stresses his experience as a cabinet minister, his ability to bring the caucus together and his profile with the public.

While Farnworth's cabinet posts included social development and economic security and health in the NDP government of the 1990s, Dix and Horgan each worked as political staffers in the offices of Premiers Glen Clark and Dan Miller.

Farnworth's endorsers include seven of the 13 MLAs who pushed to have James leave as leader. Horgan has the support of four of those MLAs, while Dix has none. (As for the final two dissidents, Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows MLA Michael Sather has said he won't endorse anyone and Simons is running himself.)

And an April 5 Ipsos Reid public opinion poll showed Farnworth continues to be the popular choice, though many respondents still had little or no impression of any of the candidates.

The online poll showed Farnworth with 37 per cent positive impressions and 15 per cent negative impressions, giving him a net impression score of positive 22. Horgan was next with a positive three, then Simons with a negative four, Dix with a negative six and Larsen with a negative 10.

"They know who I am and are comfortable with me," said Farnworth. "They're looking for someone they can believe in."

The polls also bolster his claim to be best suited to beat Clark and the Liberals and help his cause within an NDP caucus that would like a chance to govern.

"The polls speak for themselves," said Delta North MLA Guy Gentner, explaining his support for Farnworth. "I don't want to sit on the other side anymore. I'm getting tired of it."

The combination

Horgan downplays the importance of the opinion polls.

"You already see it with Mike, he holds up a name recognition opinion poll and says, 'More people know me,'" he said.

Indeed, the April 5 Ipsos Reid poll found that some 44 per cent of respondents had never heard of Horgan. The same was true of 20 per cent for Dix and 12 per cent for Farnworth.

"Part of my concern as the unknown candidate, the guy from the Island, my success hinges on broader media exposure in the long term," he said. "If I am successful on April 17, the cameras will come. I mean, recognition won't be as big a problem as it is right now."

First Horgan has to explain to 30,000 NDP members why he believes he's the best candidate, and to do so he proved more willing than Farnworth or Dix to contrast himself to his competitors.

"I'm combative, I'm humorous, I'm well informed, and I think that amalgam separates me from Mike and Adrian," he said. "Adrian is driven and forceful, Mike is affable and friendly, and I am both of those things."

There really is little to separate the candidates on the issues and whoever wins will need the help of the other two, he said. "I just believe the cumulative impact of my experiences puts me in a better position to lead us into the next election," he said. "I think I am quick enough on my feet to manage most situations against a good communicator on the other side. Christy's a very good communicator and I think we need to match that, and I think I'm best suited to do that."

Before the Liberals picked their leader, there was talk of how Kevin Falcon vs. Dix or George Abbott vs. Farnworth would have been good matches. "I think the Christy-Horgan scenario is one that works well for me," he said. "I can smile and go to the hockey rink too. I'm a hockey dad. I go to Tim Horton's, but I do it not just for photo-ops but because I like the coffee."

Personality differences

Asked about an analysis of the race that has Dix as not friendly enough and Farnworth as not tough enough to succeed as leader, Horgan said those aren't his words, but allowed, "That is a dynamic I think is fairly accurate."

Dix, for his part, rejects that take on the race. "The good news for me is I can win the next election and I'm nice and I'm competent," he said, adding he's happy to have any of those be the ballot question.

Asked about the suggestion that he'd be a controlling leader or premier, given his time in the centrally controlled Glen Clark administration, Dix said, "It was 12 years ago and I'm Adrian Dix and I have a record. I'm proud of my record."

And while Dix was chief of staff to Clark, he points out that Farnworth was a minister in that same government and Horgan worked in it too.

What does Farnworth make of having been portrayed at times as too nice? "All I know is this, I'm who I am. I can't be anything other than that," he said. "If people say I'm too nice, there are worse things to be said about."

If there's a knock against Horgan, and neither of his competitors raised it, it's that he has a quick temper. "I don't suffer fools gladly, there's no question, but I could line up a thousand people who've worked with me who would say I'm the nicest guy they've ever worked with," he said, noting how he became Premier Miller's chief of staff by showing he could work with everybody.

"I'll take my reputation as a co-operative, conciliatory character over those who want to characterize me as hot tempered," he said. "I'm passionate. If that's the worst they're going to say about me, that I feel strongly about things, I'm okay with that."

The choice then, as the candidates present it, could be this for NDP members: Mr. Popularity, Mr. Results or Mr. Passion.  [Tyee]

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