Adrian Dix has announced he will step down as leader of the B.C. New Democrats, four months after a stunning election loss saw his party’s best opportunity in decades to form government evaporate in the space of a four-week campaign.
But Mr. Dix is delaying his exit until next year to help steer the party through a renewal process before handing the reins to a new leader.
At an emotional news conference after telling his caucus privately, Mr. Dix maintained his decision to run a positive election campaign was the right choice, but said the party needs to look at how it could do better to communicate its goals and ideals to voters.
“It has become clear to me that the best interests of our party mean that I need to step aside for a new leader, who can lead us to victory in 2017,” he told reporters.
His announcement leaves the party with a large question of how to rebuild and renew when it seems locked in the role of opposition.
Just five months ago, Mr. Dix appeared poised to become B.C.’s next premier. Heading into the election campaign this past April, his party was focused on curbing expectations and working out transition plans. But that confidence led to some costly missteps – including a poorly executed policy flip-flop and a failure to define the ballot-box question.
On May 14, Mr. Dix and his team were utterly devastated by the outcome: Not only did the B.C. Liberals capture a fourth consecutive term, but the NDP had a reduced number of seats and a smaller share of the popular vote.
On Wednesday, Mr. Dix stood alone on the stage without any of his MLAs – which a party source said was his choice. It was a symbol that he was bearing responsibility for the loss.
Mr. Dix’s decision to stay on in the interim appeared to be accepted by members of his caucus, who were prepared for such an exit. In the days before his announcement, prominent party activists had suggested the party needs time before embarking on a divisive and expensive leadership race.
Matt Toner, a star candidate who lost, applauded Mr. Dix’s decision. “Anything that can stabilize the ship is welcome.” he said. “The obsession of changing the leader has been distracting us from the real question of how do we appeal to mainstream voters.”
He said Mr. Dix has bought the party some time to look at reform.
Port Coquitlam MLA Mike Farnworth, who came second to Mr. Dix in the leadership race in 2011, said he is “going to be giving very serious consideration” to a run to be his successor, and that he will be talking to party members, colleagues and supporters about his prospects before deciding.
George Heyman, a former executive director of the Sierra Club BC elected to the legislature in May, said some in the party have talked to him about seeking the leadership, but he would say only say that he will consider it at some point in the future.
Mr. Heyman said in an interview that the party must reflect on whether they can do a better job of communicating their values. He said part of the focus has to be a jobs agenda that would not sacrifice the environment.
He said Mr. Dix deserved credit for rallying the caucus after the losing election.
“It’s been an emotional day,” he said. “Adrian fought a hard election. We fought it with him. We went through the difficulty of the loss. He pulled us together. He inspired us and made sure we did an effective job as opposition. We respect him immensely. He’s one of us, so today was difficult.”
Mr. Dix won the leadership in 2011 after Carole James was forced to step down in the face of a revolt in her caucus. He had two years to put together a campaign team and platform, unite a deeply divided caucus, draft candidates and prepare for a campaign against the B.C. Liberals’ new leader, Premier Christy Clark.
As the 2013 election neared, it appeared Mr. Dix and the NDP were poised to end their long stretch in opposition. The Liberal government, having infuriated voters by imposing the harmonized sales tax, was struggling.
Emboldened by his party’s apparent strength, Mr. Dix decided he would not target just safe and swing ridings but traditional Liberal strongholds. As he was spreading the party’s resources across 85 ridings, he also invested a huge amount of time wooing the business community, seeking to allay fears that an NDP government would harm the economy.
As the party headed into the spring election campaign, it was breaking its records for political fundraising and had what appeared to be an almost-insurmountable lead in the polls.
But rebranding the NDP as moderate and not threatening – the theme was “change, one practical step at a time” – was an uninspiring message for voters. By contrast, Ms. Clark promised to create jobs and eliminate the debt. The Liberals did not hold back in personal attacks, but Mr. Dix’s commitment to a positive campaign made it difficult to return fire.
Mr. Dix made only one major mid-campaign shift, an about-face on the controversial Kinder Morgan oil pipeline proposal, aiming at stealing environmental support from the Green party. But the flip-flop drove blue collar voters to the Liberals.
On election day, while Mr. Dix was completing a campaign blitz and preparing a victory speech, his party’s get-out-the-vote effort was fizzling.