“Welcome to a future – a New Democrat future,” he said when announcing his candidacy, “where everyone can contribute and no one is left out.”
After winning a tight vote on the third ballot, he applied his desire for inclusiveness to his own deeply divided caucus. As a result, most of the “Baker’s Dozen” who led the revolt remain on the ballot. But only when Ms. James announced that she, too, would run again was it clear that the messy chapter had ended.
Mr. Dix credits his predecessor with teaching him how to be an effective member of the legislature: “I try to emulate her generosity. She would have made a great premier. It is my biggest disappointment that we didn’t make that happen.”
She, in return, praises him as an intense and exacting boss. “He expects people to bring their A game.”
Outside the caucus, he mounted what has been called a charm offensive, courting business leaders with repeated private meetings to brief them on his “modest” ambitions.
The ruling Liberals have inadvertently helped on this score – their February budget proposed tax hikes for high-income earners and corporations, making those previously proposed by “Risky Dix,” the NDP bogeyman, seem less scary, somehow.
And when he does seize the spotlight, he impresses even the most skeptical crowds, speaking without notes, without rambling, and now (after being labelled “dour” in the press) allowing his sense of humour to show through.
The consistent go-slow message has certainly helped to dampened the business community’s fears – based on its previous experiences with the governments of Dave Barrett, Mike Harcourt and Mr. Clark.
Mr. Clark, ironically, has provided an important entrée to the corporate crowd in his current role as president of the Jim Pattison Group, one of the country’s largest private companies. Of his former staffer, he now says: “His style and the fact that he is more cerebral and certainly less strident than me, that’s helpful.”
So, after four rocky years of provincial politics, beginning with B.C.’s botched introduction of the harmonized sales tax, business leaders are prepared for a change of government. They haven’t embraced Mr. Dix, but they have signalled they are prepared to work with him. And they are showing up for his fundraisers like never before.
Inside the party tent, meanwhile, Mr. Dix has devoted much time to dampening expectations of those eager to see him undo 12 years of Liberal rule. They get the same speech as the business community does: NDP governments of the past tried to do too much, too quickly.
How then does he plan to address issues that are fundamental to the party, such as social and economic inequality?
His response is well honed, a careful distillation of complex research that (almost) fits in a sound bite: “There are two ways to address inequality. One is the redistribution of wealth, and the other is the pre-distribution of wealth.”
The latter is what he intends to emphasize – giving people better access to post-secondary education so they can lift themselves up.
“You have to give people the power in their lives to achieve equality,” he explains. “We have to address severe poverty, child poverty, but the idea that we can redistribute wealth through government policy is not the right direction.”
It is a message that triggers few alarm bells in the board room. In fact, last week, the Business Council of B.C. played host to a conference on “shared prosperity.”
Just as Mr. Dix has changed the dialogue in B.C., having him take power next month would create some national ripples. B.C. would become the third, after Nova Scotia and Manitoba, province led by New Democrats, which is especially notable in the West with its growing influence within Confederation.
As well, he is fluently bilingual, having spent some time in France, making him well equipped to reach out to Quebeckers, including his party’s federal leader, Tom Mulcair. But Mr. Dix has already demonstrated an independent streak by openly opposing Mr. Mulcair’s policy on Quebec secession.
He is also expected to take a businesslike, rather than a partisan, approach to relations with the Conservative government in Ottawa.