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Adrian Dix raring for battle with Christy Clark

Feisty new leader of BC NDP challenges Liberal premier on taxes, priorities

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VANCOUVER -- British Columbia is in election mode, with a new leader at the helm of the provincial New Democrats eager to take on the province's new Liberal premier.

Adrian Dix's victory Sunday gives the governing B.C. Liberals and Premier Christy Clark a hard-line, old-school, left-wing opponent who appeared to be in full election mode just moments after his third-ballot win over his leadership rival Mike Farnworth.

Dix practically dared Clark to set a date, brashly proclaiming his tax-the-banks plans will appeal to British Columbians who are paying higher medical premiums.

"On January 1, (the Liberals) raised medical services premiums, long-term care fees and used that money to cut corporate taxes,'' Dix said. "If they want to debate on that agenda, their tax increases versus my proposals to roll back corporate tax (cuts), I like that debate.''

Clark has openly mused since her election as party leader in February that she may go to the polls this year, and she is already embroiled in a byelection in the freshly vacated Vancouver-Point Grey riding of former premier Gordon Campbell.

British Columbia's fixed election-date law has the next provincial election scheduled for May 2013, but that law can be changed and Clark has said two years is a long time for her to govern without seeking a mandate.

B.C. Attorney-General Barry Penner offered Dix congratulations after his Sunday victory, but his statement indicated the battles lines between the NDP and Liberals are being drawn.

Penner said Dix's campaign indicates the NDP under him will stand for hostility toward private sector investment, a commitment to bigger government and an explicit promise to raise taxes.

Dix shot back: "It's their record that's in question.''

"The B.C. Liberals have been wrong about just about everything the last couple of years,'' he said. "Wrong on the harmonized sales tax. Wrong on health care. Wrong on the economy.''

The B.C. Conservatives' new leader, former federal Tory MP John Cummins, also congratulated Dix on his victory.

Some political experts say the possible return of the long-dormant B.C. Conservatives to politics could benefit the NDP if their right-wing policies start to gain traction and draw votes from the small-c conservative camp of the B.C. Liberals. Pundits say Dix will strengthen the NDP's left-wing base, while the Conservatives cut into Liberal support.

But it isn't clear that the B.C. Conservatives will be ready in time to launch an election challenge by fall, and the Liberals are likely looking forward to a political fight with the New Democrats and Dix, pitting their business-friendly approach against his promise to reverse corporate tax cuts introduced by the Liberals.

The Liberals say Dix is a left-wing class warrior who doesn't understand British Columbians.

And they'll be eager to remind voters that Dix was chief of staff to former premier Glen Clark, who admitted back-dating a memo during the casino scandal that forced Clark to resign and contributed to the party's decimation in the polls.

Dix has said it was a mistake to back-date the memo that said the then-premier told him he wanted no part of a casino licence application by a friend of Clark's.

But Dix, who is known for his dogged approach to issues, said he relishes taking on the Liberals on policy matters, but will leave the personal attacks alone.

He boldly predicted his direct, tell-it-like-it-is style has more voter appeal than Clark's.

"You betcha,'' said Dix.

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