Adrian Dix doesn’t want to resign as leader of the B.C. New Democratic Party. That much was evident during his first news conference since his party’s unexpected thrashing last week at the hands of the long-time governing Liberals.
Of course, the beleaguered NDP Leader said all the right things: he took full responsibility for the loss; he would do what was in the best interests of his party; he would launch a review of what went wrong, one that would spare no one. But he never suggested that his party might be better off without him leading it. And then there were the not-so-subtle references to other politicians who’d lost their first elections, like Ontario’s Dalton McGuinty.
Mr. Dix is as competitive a person as they come. Even though the campaign he waged didn’t really exhibit it, the animus the NDP Leader feels toward the Liberals is personal and deep-seated. That is why this defeat was as crushing a disappointment as he’s likely ever experienced in his life. And that is why there is nothing he would love more than to take the lessons he and his party learned from this boot-kicking and apply them to the next electoral battle.
But the question for the NDP isn’t as simple as: Do we give this guy another chance in the hopes he’ll claim victory the second time around? Sure, it’s happened elsewhere. Former Manitoba premier Gary Doer lost a few elections before he finally won power. But Adrian Dix is not Gary Doer. Nor is he Dalton McGuinty, both politicians whose likeability quotients were off the charts.
Mr. Dix is as bright as they come. Although many find his smartest-guy-in-the-room identity annoying. His excessively long answers to routine questions from reporters have, at times, come across as someone desperate to show you how clever he is. Others have commented on his habit of interrupting a person’s question in midstream as an example of his intellectual impatience with people.
Lack of a big brain is not Adrian Dix’s problem. His broader public persona is. He can come across as someone not entirely comfortable in his own skin. He can act geeky and awkward. At his news conference on Wednesday, he sweated in profuse, Nixonian fashion. On one level, to measure a person on these characteristics seems patently unfair. But in politics, that’s precisely how many people assess candidates and decide for whom they’ll vote.
A turning point of the campaign was the televised leaders’ debate. On content, Mr. Dix won hands down. But many of those watching were deciding who looked most like a premier. Mr. Dix often appeared twitchy and uneasy. Liberal Leader Christy Clark, on the other hand, came across poised and self-assured. The cameras ate her up. The Liberals’ internal polling numbers took off after the event.
Ms. Clark oozes charisma. Mr. Dix has a charm deficit.
But that is just one problem that Mr. Dix has if he remains as leader.
He will never be able to erase a mindless decision he made as a young man in the 1990s when he forged a memo to protect his then-boss, former NDP premier Glen Clark. Mr. Dix once asked a veteran reporter how long he thought the reckless move would continue to haunt him. The reporter replied: “How long do you plan to stay in politics?”
It’s a part of his political legacy that he will never be able to shake. It was used relentlessly against him during the campaign. It’s a mistake that political opponents would use against him in the next election and the one after that. As bad for Mr. Dix is the central role that he played in Mr. Clark’s NDP government as chief of staff.
In some ways, Mr. Dix was the perfect candidate for the Liberals to run against because they turned him into a symbol of everything that went wrong in the province during the NDP’s reign. It didn’t matter that he wasn’t the architect of most of the government’s policies at the time. He was right smack dab in the messiest part of that unhappy period of the province’s political history. The Liberals would love to run against Mr. Dix again.
And these are just some of the challenges that Mr. Dix presents as ongoing leader of the party. Many in the NDP are already asking if someone who so spectacularly misjudged the electorate in terms of what it wanted and needed to hear from him has what it takes to craft a campaign that leads his party to victory? Could he ever convince voters the NDP wouldn’t screw up the economy given the chance?
Adrian Dix has some very tough questions to answer in the coming days. So does his party.