B.C. NDP's 24-hour bus ride goes beyond Hope and crashes on election night

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HEDLEY, B.C. - Adrian Dix was inside the Hitching Post Restaurant drinking from a mug stamped with twin six-shooters while outside on the old mining town's main street, with dusk starting to cover the mountaintops, his campaign workers were counting potential seats in what appeared to be a shoe-in win.

How many? Forty-seven? Fifty-three? Maybe even 60 seats.

There's 85 seats in B.C. legislature, and the feeling — right out there in the open — was an NDP majority was only a few hours away.

The confidence of impending victory for Dix's New Democrats on election night was oozing, overflowing — for the party and seemingly most everyone else — on Monday night, less than 24 hours before the polls closed. It was as if Dix's orange NDP campaign bus was running on a tank filled with over-confidence.

But it ran out of gas at polling booths across B.C.

The NDP's unbridled sense that the keys to the gates of power were about to be handed over is similar to the 1996 B.C. election campaign that saw former premier Gordon Campbell's Liberals running as if they were destined for government. They lost to Glen Clark's New Democrats in the last days with Campbell denying he made a deal with the virtually dead Social Credit party to secure faltering right-wing votes.

Embedded campaign reporters and those who packed the bus last week for the NDP's final day and night's push to Hope, B.C., and beyond were there to witness a victory tour. What they got was a historic campaign crash that saw Dix steer the NDP into the ditch and Christy Clark's Liberals cruise to a fourth term.

"He is a giant egghead," said one disgruntled New Democrat who said the campaign started on a high note but kept sliding downwards as the weeks wore on and Clark's Liberals framed Dix as negative and an economic risk.

"He thought he would win a policy war during an election campaign. That proved to be fatal," said the NDPer who spoke on condition of anonymity. "Adrian kept talking about how he had one (crappy) suit and Christy looks like a million bucks."

Dix frequently mentioned during campaign stops that he had two suits, but noticed on the first day he mixed up his pants and jackets. At one stop, he addressed a Surrey town hall with birthday cake icing stains on his pants and tie. Campaign workers were seen carrying fresh shirts after the cake incident.

As the Dix bus pulled out of Hedley and onto the winding Hope-Princeton highway, the first song out of the exceptionally fine bus speakers was "Come Together" by the Beatles. The irony of the song choice and what was to transpire a few hours down the road was epic.

The bus stopped at the entrance to Manning Park and Dix looked up at the expanse of shimmering stars above him.

"I've got all kinds of Hope," deadpaned Dix as he strode into Hope's Tim Horton's just after midnight and ordered a medium coffee, one milk.

He was greeted by Chilliwack-Hope NDP candidate Gwen O'Mahony, who won a historic byelection in Liberal territory last year.

"Don't say we don't know how to close in this campaign," Dix said. "Today we've got to work one more day to bring change to British Columbia."

Dix reminded the dozen New Democrats out for a late-night snack at Tim's that O'Mahony's Chilliwack-Hope byelection win offered "some real hope for everybody. You can win everywhere."

O'Mahony was among those who lost Tuesday night.

The 24-hour victory lap covered some 1,700 kilometres and was scheduled to make 14 community stops, starting in Courtenay on Vancouver Island and concluding in Dix's own Vancouver-Kingsway riding just as the polls opened.

Kamloops, Williams Lake, Prince George and Penticton were airport stops where Dix met diehard party supporters whom he reminded to work every last minute of the campaign to get out the vote, ending with a rephrased version of the Sam Cooke ballad "A change is going to come" to British Columbia in 24 hours.

But the chain-link, barbwired-topped fences at the airports that formed an ominous barrier between Dix and his supporters did little to foster the impression his campaign was building spontaneous momentum on the journey home.

In Prince George, Dix took reporters' questions and spoke at length about his decision to run a positive, issues-focused campaign, but reporters were hustled onto the waiting plane and left without a chance to file his comments for about two hours when the flight landed in Penticton.

At Williams Lake, Dix was greeted by a supporter who spoke with real excitement, enthusiasm and anticipation of an NDP victory.

"I tell you, the Liberals devastated everybody I know, including myself," said Wayne Potter, a former BC Rail worker. "I've been waiting for 10 years to see this and I tell you, I think it's going to happen and I pray to God when I wake up Wednesday morning it's the NDP and Adrian running this province."

The NDP's John Horgan, who was re-elected in the suburban Victoria riding of Juan de Fuca, likely shared Potter's sense of disappointment and dismay Wednesday morning.

Horgan told Victoria radio station CFAX the NDP campaign fell flat.

"The NDP, my party, has to take a good look at our soul and say what are we?" he said. "Are we a perpetual opposition party or are we going to be putting forward a platform that people are excited about and vote in favour of? Clearly, that didn't happen this time."

Horgan, who ran for the NDP leadership against Dix in 2011 but is considered one of his strongest supporters, suggested the campaign message to keep things positive and stay out of the gutter politics of the Liberals needs to be deeply re-examined.

"Adrian Dix is a very good friend of mine," said Horgan. "He ran the campaign he wanted to run, and I supported every step of that. Clearly, I was hearing on the doorstep that people wanted to hear more about the Liberal record and we did a bad job of that, there's no question."

Dix allowed the Liberal negative attacks on past New Democrat governments and the NDP's campaign spending promises to take root, and it wasn't until the last week of the campaign Dix started to counter the Liberal messages with examples of their failures, but by then, it was too late, said the disgruntled New Democrat.

Others said the campaign went off course during the televised leaders debate and Dix's Earth Day decision in Kamloops to reject Kinder Morgan's plans to expand its oil pipeline operations in Metro Vancouver. Dix said British Columbians don't want Vancouver to become a major oil exporting port.

Former B.C. NDP premier Ujjal Dosanjh who later was elected as a federal Liberal, said Dix's decision to take a strong stand against Kinder Morgan in an effort to win Green votes threw the Liberal campaign a life ring.

"This is one of these defining differences that make or break a campaign," Dosanjh said.

The disgruntled New Democrat said party brass and grassroots members now have the next four years to examine why the NDP was on cruise control in the final days of the campaign, working harder on transition teams and victory speeches than considering the significance of having just spent 12 years eating Liberal dust.

The long road for the NDP now sits at 50 Liberals, 33 New Democrats, one Independent and one Green.

Organizations: B.C. The NDP, Clark's, Beatles Tim Horton's Kinder Morgan BC Rail

Geographic location: HEDLEY, Vancouver Island, British Columbia Kamloops Williams Lake Prince George Penticton Surrey Manning Park Liberal territory Victoria Chilliwack Courtenay

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