Skip to main content

B.C. NDP Leader Adrian Dix pauses while addressing supporters after the Liberal Party was projected to win a majority government in Vancouver on May 14, 2013.Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press

The B.C. NDP is already debating questions over leadership succession even as it awaits word, expected as early as Wednesday, from Adrian Dix about whether he will step down as party leader.

The party, weighed down by debt and still torn apart over its dismal showing in the May provincial election, appears to be far from ready for an expensive and likely divisive leadership contest. It could easily wait a year or more before officially launching such a race.

In the interim, Mr. Dix could stay on to steer the party, or the caucus could appoint a caretaker. A split in the party is already emerging over which path he should take.

Many high-profile party activists say the NDP needs to look at the bigger picture of renewal before leaping into a race.

Bill Tieleman, a former NDP strategist and political commentator, said the party does have potential successors in the wings. MLAs John Horgan and Mike Farnworth, for example, ran in the party's 2011 leadership race and are likely contenders if Mr. Dix steps down.

"Is there anyone who can take the reins now? Yes, of course. But is there any urgent need to do so? Not at all," Mr. Tieleman said.

Mr. Tieleman noted that the party has a long record of election failures, and urged NDP members to wrestle with the reasons for that before they pick a new leader. He argued that Mr. Dix could stay on in the interim to lead that process, so long as he makes it clear this week that he is on his way to the exit.

"You have a leader who failed in the election and if he is not continuing, he is still the duly-elected leader until there is a leadership convention."

But Marcella Munro, an NDP strategist who worked in the party's "war room" during the May election, said there is no way the party can forge a new path with Mr. Dix still at the helm.

"I don't think we need to pick a successor tomorrow," she said, "but I don't see how we move into renewal with him around." Ms. Munro said the NDP caucus should choose an interim leader to allow the party to demonstrate that it is turning a corner after its stunning electoral loss. "He managed to blow one of the biggest leads in Canadian political history. … He doesn't sound to me like he got the memo from the voters. His personal brand cannot be repaired."

Sage Aaron, who is spearheading the grassroots "Foward BC NDP" group, wants to keep the party locked on the broader question of renewal, rather than leadership. Ms. Aaron, who backed Mr. Dix for the party leadership in 2011, said she hopes the party's convention in November won't be sidetracked by a leadership race.

"We are not focused on the leadership, we are focused on a robust discussion about how we modernize and professionalize the party to win elections," she said. "We'll really press the party to right its ship and become a better, tighter, stronger political machine."

Mr. Dix won the party leadership two years ago and was widely credited with uniting a deeply divided caucus and putting the party on solid footing, with a 20-point lead in public opinion polls as the spring election campaign began.

But that lead unravelled during the four-week race. Premier Christy Clark and the B.C. Liberals campaigned on the promise of job creation and debt reduction while successfully painting the NDP as a threat to prosperity. Mr. Dix, who had promised to run a positive campaign, did little to counter the Liberals' effective attack ads. In the wake of the election, Mr. Dix promised to launch a review of the party's loss, while at the same time contemplating his future role.