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Dix becomes first NDP leader to address Richmond chamber

NDP leader the first invited in society's 87 years

In front of a cautious, yet polite, audience, Adrian Dix made history by being the first NDP leader to address the Richmond Chamber of Commerce since the societys inception 87 years ago.

Never before had the chamber, which formed in 1925, invited the leader of the traditionally left-wing NDP into the heart of a right-wing stronghold, according to executive director, Craig Jones.

Dix, widely tipped in the polls and by political pundits to become the next B.C. premier this spring, had the honour early Thursday morning of facing the citys business community.

The chamber recognized that it best get to know Dix, who addressed the Vancouver Board of Trade recently, and his NDP party before the election, rather than after.

Whether the chambers members learned anything new about Dix and his party after Thursdays post-breakfast speech is another matter.

Dix, by his own admission, is not the most eloquent of speakers, and he played safe for the most part as he has done for the majority of his leadership.

What he was clear on, however, was a desire to call time out on cross-party bickering and finger-pointing.

Acknowledging the fact Linda Reid, longstanding Liberal MLA for Richmond East, was in the crowd, Dix called for an end to political mud-slinging and attack ads on TV, urging both sides to work together to solve B.C.s problems.

The differences between us are sometimes exaggerated, and we have to work harder to have proper debates, said Dix, who actually credited Premier Christy Clark for some of the hard work she has done.

The perceived differences are actually not that great at all. Neither of us are going to touch the small business tax rate.

The Liberals want to raise the corporate tax rate to 11 (per cent), us to 12.

Dixs assurance that the small business tax rate will not be raised should the NDP achieve power next May, will have no doubt allayed fears of many in the chamber crowd.

But his assertion that more funds will be poured into postsecondary education had some asking where that money will come from.

The current government spent $1.6 billion on a stadium and a conference centre, said Dix. What we have to do is focus on the fundamentals. The reason we havent said how were going to do it is because previous governments have run four deficits, and we have to wait and see what we have to work with first. But I will be prudent.

Dix added that corporate taxes will be raised to pay for the postsecondary measures.

Early in his address, Dix paid tribute to Richmonds diversity, labelling the city a dynamic and active place a good place to start the discussion.

Dix also tackled the issue of people checking out of the political debate altogether, culminating in the alarming decline of voter turnouts at all levels of government elections.

We have to address the way we do politics, or it will get worse, predicted Dix. If people dont vote, governments dont have a mandate to make tough decisions.

Rather than name-calling over statistics and running attack ads on me, lets focus on the problems.

Dix said the province, in his view, currently faces three main challenges: productivity, inequality, and sustainability.

B.C. used to be the leaders in Canadian productivity, now it trails the field, stated Dix.

That presents a challenge for our economy, were not making things anymore.

Inequality, he said, has to be of concern to everyone, saying the middle class is being squeezed.

We have the highest levels of inequality in Canada, an inequality in terms of people being able to progress and achieve their dreams.

We need to make sure that everyone in a dynamic market-based society has an opportunity to achieve; people are stuck where they started.

Taking a stab at the carbon tax, Dix queried why the funds raised are not being poured into the public transit system.

We are a smart region, how can it be, then, that we cant fund our own transit system properly? he asked. We would roll back the corporate tax rate to 2008 levels to fund that transit.

Dix said he wasnt interested in defeating Premier Clark or the Liberals at the next election. I want to win to make B.C. a better place and address the issues.