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John Horgan, enters the B.C. NDP leadership race as he's photographed at his office in Langford, B.C. Monday March 17, 2014. (CHAD HIPOLITO For The Globe and Mail)
John Horgan, enters the B.C. NDP leadership race as he's photographed at his office in Langford, B.C. Monday March 17, 2014. (CHAD HIPOLITO For The Globe and Mail)

John Horgan the extrovert is quietly leading party behind the scenes Add to ...

John Horgan is still handing out his orange leadership buttons as the “Team Horgan” campaign goes through the motions. There is little suspense in this contest for the B.C. NDP leadership – he was introduced at a recent campaign event by MLA Gary Holman as “our leader” and no one batted an eyelash.

Technically, someone else could still enter the race in the next 10 days, but with the entire NDP caucus lined up behind him since his only rival dropped out, Mr. Horgan is working on an accelerated transition plan to replace Adrian Dix after nominations officially close on May 1 at 5 p.m. By the following Monday, he expects to be installed as the leader of the opposition.

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Mr. Horgan will inherit a caucus that Mr. Dix united after a bitter leadership revolt against Carole James a little more than three years ago.cMr. Dix set the tone at his first caucus meeting after winning the last NDP leadership race: As he worked his way around the room, shaking hands, he stopped and hugged Jenny Kwan, who was instrumental in forcing Ms. James out.

Mr. Horgan was openly hostile to Ms. Kwan and the other members of the so-called Bakers Dozen – the minority of the caucus who opposed Ms. James’s leadership. “Some of my colleagues felt it was important that they get a few moments in front of the camera,” the acerbic Mr. Horgan said of the group when the battle was still hot.

He can’t imagine that he would have been able to offer Ms. Kwan that symbolic hug when the wounds were still fresh.

As he prepares to take over, however, Mr. Horgan is offering assurances that he has moved on. He will need to put his stamp on the party, and will likely reshuffle the critic portfolios, but he says he isn’t nurturing any long-repressed desire for revenge.

He says his Irish temper can flare easily, “but I don’t hang on to these things very long. … What happened [to Carole James] was a very dark period for the NDP caucus and for the party, but I don’t hold any animosity for the individuals involved.”

Mr. Dix is still technically in charge, but Mr. Horgan is already meeting with caucus members to discuss their future roles. Nothing changes on the surface until Mr. Dix hands over the office keys, but Mr. Horgan will likely have a firm idea of who he’ll want in the most influential positions by then. Ms. Kwan is not likely to be high on that list, but Ms. James and Mr. Dix should be.

“I want to bring a sense of responsibility to critic portfolios, each member of caucus has a job to fulfill and I have high expectations about that.”

That’s the internal politics. For the public, change will also be evident, for Mr. Dix and Mr. Horgan are very different characters.

Mr. Horgan placed third in the 2011 leadership race to replace Ms. James. It was a tight race and Mr. Dix made a strong appeal to the party’s base that revolves around issues of addressing inequality. But his appeal to the party membership didn’t translate at the provincial ballot box and Mr. Horgan does little to disguise his belief that he could have defeated Premier Christy Clark and her B.C. Liberals in the past election.

“I’m an extrovert, and I felt in 2011 when I ran the first time that my personality was better suited as a juxtaposition to Christy Clark,” Mr. Horgan said. “I’ll out-smile her in the long term.”

Mr. Dix spent years working to overcome his introverted nature, but in the four-week campaign last spring, he contrasted poorly with the gregarious Ms. Clark, who proved to be the better communicator. Mr. Dix lost a 20-point lead on the hustings and with it, the NDP’s best chance in a dozen years to return to government.

In seeking to rebuild a party demoralized by that loss, Mr. Horgan promises to do what Mr. Dix, for all his thoughtful strategy and cautious planning, could not: Charm the electorate.

“First and foremost I’m going to be in communities talking directly to working people, to chambers of commerce, to parent advisory committees. Because of that extroverted nature I have, I’m quite comfortable talking to anyone, anywhere, any time.”

On substance, Mr. Horgan has work to do. His priority is on building a credible resource development plan that somehow balances environmental concerns. With the Green Party now present in the legislature, it is more difficult than ever to draft a jobs plan that won’t bleed green support, but also doesn’t cede the hardhat vote to the Liberals.

Follow on Twitter: @justine_hunter

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