B.C. NDP Leader Adrian Dix has announced that his party and leadership will be subject to an "unflinching" review – a move that buys him and the New Democrats time to regroup and readapt to their role as Official Opposition after what Mr. Dix described as a "disappointing" defeat in last week's provincial election.
Mr. Dix laid out the agenda Wednesday in his first news conference since May 14, the day New Democrats suffered a shocking loss at the hands of the B.C. Liberals.
The NDP went into the campaign with a lead of up to 20 points in some polls only to see the Liberals capture a fourth majority mandate. The Liberals won 50 seats in the legislature and the NDP 33. There is one Green MLA and one Independent.
Some have called for Mr. Dix, elected party leader in 2011, to give up his post.
However, he was evasive on the questions of whether he wanted to remain leader or lead the New Democrats into the 2017 election. He suggested his fate was up to the caucus and party, and that he would put the interests of the NDP ahead of his own.
"I will stay on as leader to ensure that our obligations to our members and the public are met over the next few months," he said, at times emotional, his voice shaking as he read from a prepared statement in contrast to his recent routine of delivering speeches from memory.
Mr. Dix said an assessment of the party's campaign will "spare nothing and no one, least of all me" and address the strategy and tactics employed in the election. "I have to make sure lessons are learned."
Separately, a leadership review is scheduled for November.
In his own appraisal, Mr. Dix singled out his decision to come out against the proposed Kinder Morgan oil pipeline expansion, in the middle of the campaign, as one reason why his party failed to connect with voters. He had initially promised to take no position until after the energy company had filed its formal application. By handling it as he did, it became a debate about process, not policy, he said.
He said his party didn't "prosecute" the Liberal government well in the campaign, as he attempted to deliver a positive message that did not engage in negative ads and attacks. The Liberals had been dogged by scandal and voter unhappiness about the imposition of the harmonized sales tax. The HST did not become the ballot box question. "I should have done a much better job of this."
Some New Democrats re-elected last week were patient and accepting of Mr. Dix's plans.
Leonard Krog, the NDP MLA for Nanaimo, said the party needs to take the time to sort out what went wrong. "People need to be open and honest about decisions that were taken or not taken. It will require people to restrain their emotions – a lot of people in the party feel gutted."
He said it is "possible" that Mr. Dix could be leading the party into the 2017 election, and noted that it was not his responsibility alone for the decisions that were taken – the party membership and the caucus were supportive of the campaign direction.
Mr. Krog added that he is satisfied that Mr. Dix did not step down for an interim leader: "Why would we take dramatic action without having analyzed the problem? That would be stupid. I would have been upset if he had made a dramatic announcement this early on."
Norm Macdonald, the NDP MLA for Columbia River-Revelstoke, agreed that Mr. Dix should stay on to lead the party's renewal. "He had talked to us all, that's the consensus, what he said reflects where we are at."
But he said he doesn't want the party's internal problems to get in the way of acting as an effective opposition. "There is a need for reflection," Mr. Macdonald said. "But first things first – we have to get ready to hold the government to account."
Both MLAs, who were part of the so-called "Bakers Dozen" involved in ousting former party leader Carole James, said Mr. Dix has done a good job over all and he has their support to carry on.
Bruce Ralston, the MLA for Surrey-Whalley and co-chair of the party's platform committee, said Mr. Dix was proposing a "reasonable approach" given the reality that the next election is four years away.
"He continues to be leader of the party until he isn't. What the party and public have in mind for him I'm sure will become evident in the not-too-distant future. I don't see any rush for him to leave."
Jim Sinclair, president of the B.C. Federation of Labour and an influential New Democrat, said the party's leadership question is secondary. "The deeper problem is how we renew the party."