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Clark says economy top campaign issue as races tightens with NDP

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Liberal Leader Christy Clark has operated a drill, sat in the cab of a huge dump truck and greeted bargain-hunting customers at a Canadian Tire store during her three-day swing through British Columbia's Interior.

The 10-city election trek has been heavy on photo opportunities and light on policy.

But on Thursday in Kamloops at a manufacturing plant that employs 650 people, she said that with less than two weeks to go to the May 14 B.C. election, her message that this election is about the economy and who British Columbians want at the steering wheel has become the defining issue.

Clark has spent the last three days making stops at a Cranbrook machine shop, a Penticton modular home factory and a copper mine in Princeton telling workers that it's their efforts and their jobs that help provide the health, education and social services all British Columbians receive and expect.

Miners in hard hats and dirty overalls in Princeton clapped and laughed at shift change when Clark stood up in the lunch room and said: "I want to thank you for what you do."

The open pit Copper Mountain Mine, located 20 kilometres south of Princeton, started production almost two years ago, providing copper concentrate that is shipped to smelters in Japan. The mine employs more than 380 people, and the company says last year's wages and benefits amounted to $38 million.

Clark appeared confident Thursday, citing some recent polling numbers that put the Liberals five points behind the New Democrats. When the campaign started last month, the Liberals were behind the New Democrats by 14 points.

"For everyday of this campaign, I've gotten up and I felt good, because everyday in the campaign I meet people who are encouraging and really want the best for our economy and our kids," she said. "I feel good today. I felt good yesterday."

In Vancouver, New Democrat leader Adrian Dix spent part of Thursday touring the office of biotechnology firm Zymeworks before speaking about his party's plan to invest in high tech jobs across B.C. He chatted with people about their research in disease treatments, and sat down in front of a computer while a staff member explained a model of a protein to him.

Despite the Liberals perception that the party is catching up to the New Democrats in the polls, Dix said he remains optimistic.

"I'm very positive about our campaign, I think we're doing well," he said. "We've had polls this week that showed a 22-point lead, we've had polls that showed less, it's been all around — the one that matters is on election day."

Clark has spent the past few days telling workers and her supporters that the Liberals back economic growth in mining, manufacturing and natural resource sectors, while the New Democrats look first to growing government before investment.

"People really are coming to conclude that this election is about the economy," she said. "Are we going to grow the economy or are we going to grow government."

Dix, however, has been fighting back against Clark's claims that the NDP is against economic development. During campaign stops in Prince George, the Cariboo and Vancouver this week, he has been spreading the message that his would be a government that invests in multiple resource sectors.

"In the government's announcements about the future of B.C., they focus almost solely on the oil and gas industry," he said on Thursday. "As you've seen in the last number of days, the NDP is saying yes to mining, and yes to forestry, and yes to film and television, and yes to natural gas as well, and yes to tourism."

Clark denied Thursday one of her candidates in northeastern British Columbia had crossed the party line over comments he made about reviewing the province's natural gas industry.

The New Democrats said Peace River South Liberal candidate Mike Bernier — who's also the mayor of Dawson Creek — supported the NDP's position when it came to calling for a scientific review of fracking, the controversial process used to extract natural gas from deep underground.

"Throughout this campaign … the Liberal leader, Premier Clark has suggested we don't support LNG and her argument is because we want to review, for example, water use around fracking," Dix said. "Today, her candidate in Peace River South, Mike Bernier — after her colleague and former Energy Minister Blair Lekstrom said the same thing — said he supports a review on fracking. In other words, her candidate supports our position, not hers."

Clark said Bernier and the Liberals also support reviews of fracking, but that support comes from an industry-positive perspective while the NDP is looking for ways to justify halting development.

"Nobody believes we should do an NDP style review with a view to potentially not allowing it to happen," she said. "That's the difference here. Mike Bernier sure doesn't believe that. He's worked in that industry for most of his life."

The New Democrats said in a statement that Bernier is mimicking the NDP's platform positions that say the party would conduct an independent, expert-led review of fracking.

Clark says the Liberals have already launched fracking reviews over possible health concerns and water usage, but the ultimate goals of their reviews are to gain knowledge that improves the industry.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/the-canadian-press/130502/clark-says-economy-top-campaign-issue-races-tightens-ndp