He met Mr. Clark when both campaigned for federal New Democrat Ian Waddell in a downtown, working-class, multicultural riding then known as Vancouver-Kingsway. Afterward he went to Ottawa to work for Mr. Waddell until Mr. Clark, elected in the provincial version of the riding, brought him back to B.C. – and the premier’s office in 1996.
Three intense years later, he was back in Vancouver looking for a fresh start – which he finally found as provincial executive director of Canadian Parents for French (CPF), a small non-profit agency that promotes French-language education.
French immersion represents a tiny fraction of the B.C. education system, but Mr. Dix, fluent since living in France at 20, spent five years travelling the province, building a CPF network and, according to association ex-president Melanie Tighe-Lovsin, having “a lasting impact.” Immersion enrolment in B.C. rose by 25 per cent.
Ms. Tighe-Lovsin says he was humble, quick to deflect any credit sent his way and resolutely upbeat. Just as he is now known for rejecting negative campaigning, “he never laid blame, never said anything negative about anybody,” she says. “He always looked for solutions.”
And at times, he provided them.
Suzanne Salter, a kindergarten teacher at Renfrew Elementary School, recalls retreating to the bathroom to hide her tears after being forced to choose a final roster for the basketball team. “These boys all wanted to play but I had to cut some ... I had way too many kids.”
Mr. Dix, an avid sports fan, heard what had happened from a friend with kids at the school, and volunteered to coach a second squad.
“I thought, ‘Here is a person at his lowest ebb, and he stepped in for these boys who had not made the A team,’” Ms. Salter says.
Yet, even to his closet friends, the idea that he would ever come back to politics – by standing for office, no less – was unthinkable.
“When he first said he was considering running in my old constituency, I was shocked,” says Mr. Clark. “I really have not seen anybody work harder than him in my life, and he’s very smart. ... But he was pretty shy and introverted, not gregarious.”
And yet he now commands not only Mr. Clark’s former riding and post as party leader, he is preparing to follow his footsteps to the premier’s office. What happened?
The prodigal’s return
Mr. Dix agrees that “I’m a fairly shy person.” But five years out of politics gave him a chance to reflect. “I learned new things about myself – I learned to speak in my own voice.”
To win the riding nomination, he defeated three rivals, only to find senior party officials in no hurry to embrace his candidacy. Still rebuilding after the post-Clark wipeout in 2001, leader Carole James was looking for new faces.
But after he won the seat in the 2005 election that saw his party rebound with 33 of 79 seats in the legislature, she made him a key critic – for the ministry of children and families. It was a test, she recalls: “Show me you support the direction of modernizing the NDP, in a pragmatic, practical way.”
He quickly earned a reputation as a strong critic and, to her mind, also demonstrated genuine remorse for his clumsy effort to cover up for Mr. Clark.
As well, he began to come out of his shell, especially after his 2007 marriage to Renée Saklikar, who has gone through a rebirth of her own, leaving behind a law practice to become a poet. Mr. Dix remains intensely protective of his private life, but friends describe his wife as the extrovert in the relationship, and say she has broadened his social circle.
Two years later, the party was back in turmoil. When Ms. James lost the 2009 election, the knives came out and a caucus revolt eventually forced her to step down. To her surprise – “I never would have put Adrian on the list” – Mr. Dix was the last of four contenders to enter the 2011 race to succeed her.