Adrian Dix leans back in his chair wearing the weak smile of a defeated man. The past week has included some of the most difficult days of his life. The stunning electoral loss that the B.C. NDP Leader’s party suffered at the hands of the governing Liberals has knocked the stuffing out of him.
The trademark assuredness is missing. The passion that usually envelopes any discussion about politics has waned. And minutes into a long postmortem about the election, Mr. Dix makes an admission that is almost shocking in its honesty: He did not have what it took on the campaign trail to defeat Christy Clark and the Liberals.
“I needed to look better,” Mr. Dix said over coffee this week. “I needed to work on my skills, which are not the same ones you need to be premier. I could have been far better on the campaign.”
Mr. Dix has some uncomfortable weeks and months ahead of him. He will have to explain over and over how the campaign, which he led but was significantly sculpted by two federal party outsiders, failed so spectacularly. Those interlopers – tour director Brian Topp, who was runner-up to Thomas Mulcair in the federal NDP leadership, and Brad Lavigne, who ran the campaign in 2011 that launched the federal NDP into official Opposition – have some questions to answer.
But for now, Mr. Dix is the one mostly on the hot seat, his future uncertain. Many in his party want him to leave now. Others feel he should stay, at least until some of the anger in the party dissipates, allowing some room for perspective.
In an interview with The Globe and Mail, Mr. Dix conceded that while the party may have had a large lead at the outset of the campaign, his gut always told him it was never as big as the pollsters were saying. On election day, he thought there was a chance his party could lose. The last internal polling he saw showed the New Democrats only a couple points up on the Liberals.
Still, when he asked people for advice on what to say after the results were in, he got only words for a victory speech. He, on the other hand, knew it might be wise to jot down a few ideas in the event the result was not what his party was expecting. “I was prepared to lose, and I thought out what we should say if we did lose.”
Where he failed on the campaign trail, he said, was in not perfecting the art of hammering home his party’s key message – something his opponent did masterfully. The NDP Leader had worked two years on a carefully considered policy platform that, in his words, had very little impact on the electorate.
In the immediate months before the campaign, Mr. Dix said he worked seven days a week on policy, raising money and visiting ridings. In retrospect, he said, he should have been practising how to be an effective campaigner.
“I’m actually a pretty good speech writer, and I like to give thoughtful answers to questions,” he said. “But you have to be more disciplined during a campaign. You have to decide on two or three messages and get over the hesitation of repeating the same thing day after day. You have to accept that you’re not going to answer [reporters’] questions to some degree and stick with the message. These are the tools of professional politics.”
Mr. Dix admits he should have opened up about his personal life too. Interviews with his wife, Renee, or his immediate family were off limits. He did not like talking about life outside of politics. Ms. Clark, on the other hand, made her 11-year-old son, Hamish, part of her campaign story. She talked at every stop about her late parents, Jim and Mavis, and the hugely positive influence they had on her growing up.
“I really don’t like that,” Mr. Dix said. “And I don’t think it’s what we should do. But I learned you have to fill in the story of your life because other people are determined to do that for you. And the Liberals spent millions bashing me. So I needed to fill out my story a little more.”
Job creation was supposed to be the centrepiece of the NDP campaign, although Mr. Dix concedes the Liberals easily won the issue. In part, it was thanks to his admittedly boneheaded decision to come out against the Kinder Morgan pipeline proposal early in the campaign. It played right into the Liberals’ hands. They wanted to make the ballot question which party was best for the economy. The Kinder Morgan decision allowed Ms. Clark to call the NDP the party of No.
“It allowed them to caricature our position on jobs,” he said. “Clearly it was an issue that distracted us throughout the campaign.”
Mr. Dix is uncommitted about his future, beyond leading the party in the short term and getting it ready to oppose the government in the next session. Would he like another shot at the Liberals in an election? Sure, he says. Would he do better next time around? Undoubtedly, he offers. But he just as quickly adds that it is not about him or what he wants. And it will not be his decision anyway.
Mr. Dix looks like a man resigned to his fate.
“I can’t tell you how gutting this is,” he said. “It’s heartbreaking to think of all the people you let down.”