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BC NDP Leader Adrian Dix, poses for photographs on the grounds of the British Columbia Parliament Buildings in Victoria Monday December 10, 2012. (Chad Hipolito for The Globe and Mail)
BC NDP Leader Adrian Dix, poses for photographs on the grounds of the British Columbia Parliament Buildings in Victoria Monday December 10, 2012. (Chad Hipolito for The Globe and Mail)

Meet Adrian Dix, the NDP’s comeback kid in B.C. Add to ...

With media entourage in tow, Adrian Dix scrambles up an embankment by a logging road deep in the interior of British Columbia. Under a canopy of mature pine, he stops to discuss forestry. Or, rather, he listens to a silviculture expert do the talking.

This baffles his host, a grizzled former tree planter – what politician doesn’t lust for the spotlight? But like many people in B.C., he can see that the odds-on favourite to become the province’s next premier takes a very different approach to politics.

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An election call for May 14 is to come next week, with Mr. Dix seemingly poised to end 12 years of Liberal rule and return B.C. to the New Democrats.

Rival parties try in vain to portray him as “Risky Dix” – a hard-core lefty who’d make B.C. a have-not province. Even the business community is muting its criticism of the member for Vancouver-Kingsway, and polls suggest that voters trust him at least as much as incumbent Christy Clark to manage the economy.

Resurrecting a party reduced to two seats after its last taste of power has required nothing less than a transformation – much like the ones that are under way on the national stage this weekend as federal Liberals choose a new leader they hope will end their electoral tailspin and federal New Democrats decide to shed their socialist label in a bid for fiscal credibility.

But when it comes to leaving the past behind to make a stunning comeback, Adrian Dix has qualifications few can match: He has already done it once.

‘An occupational hazard’

Fourteen years ago, Mr. Dix looked like anything but a provincial leader in waiting – in fact, he didn’t even have a job. He had been fired in spectacular fashion by his boss, also his close friend and Victoria roommate of 10 years, then premier Glen Clark.

In March, 1999, the RCMP had raided Mr. Clark’s home in Vancouver while investigating a controversial casino application made by one of his friends. In a bid to save his career, the embattled NDP leader fired Mr. Dix; he hoped the sacrifice would assuage the caucus and get the party back on a solid footing with the electorate.

Why, of all his senior aides, did he choose his chief of staff?

Mr. Dix had tried to deflect conflict-of-interest accusations by producing a memo that said the premier had asked to “take no part” in the casino decision.

Although dated much earlier, the memo had in fact been written only after questions about the proposal became public. Mr. Clark was eventually charged with (and acquitted of) breach of trust, but Mr. Dix had already been let go, and wound up with a skeleton in his closet.

Looking back today, Mr. Clark admits the decision strained their friendship, but says it was “an occupational hazard” of the job.

For his part, Mr. Dix said recently that “nobody is harder on me than I am, for the mistakes I’ve made. But I have learned, and it’s made me a better person.”

Still, his political life seemed over. He left Victoria just shy of his 35th birthday, and spent the next 17 months searching for work. A man who’d been part of a powerful inner circle driven by raw politics and locked in a constant battle to win headlines was reduced to scouring the want ads in local newspapers.

 

From UBC to NDP

Mr. Dix, who turns 49 next Saturday, was born and raised in Vancouver, the son of British immigrants.

His father Ken, who retired just two years ago at 81, ran the Dix Insurance Agency in Kerrisdale, an affluent neighbourhood in Vancouver’s west end, and the family business helped to put Mr. Dix and his two siblings through university.

He studied political science at the University of British Columbia in the 1980s, where he was swept up in the Operation Solidarity protests against the Social Credit government of the day.

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