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Adrian Dix announces his resignation as leader of the B.C. NDP in Vancouver, Sept. 18, 2013.Rafal Gerszak

With an exit plan announced this week, the outgoing leader of the B.C. New Democrats has launched his party on a leadership contest likely to dominate B.C. politics for months to come as the opposition party begins considering what kind of successor they need to win power in 2017.

Many prominent figures in the NDP said Wednesday was Adrian Dix's day following his long-awaited decision to step down as leader once the party picks a successor at a leadership convention in 2014. Mr. Dix was elected leader in 2011.

But today New Democrats are smarting after the party was defeated in a May provincial election they were expected to win. They went into the campaign with a polling lead that had once reached 20 points, but lost against a jobs-focused, intense campaign by the BC Liberals who won a fourth majority term.

Carole James, who led the party through two elections before resigning due to a caucus rebellion, says Mr. Dix's successor needs passion, a commitment to NDP values and an understanding that this will be a long-term job.

She said the party needs a wide range of candidates mixing caucus outsiders and insiders. Ms. James herself won the leadership without a seat, and, for awhile, made the case for the NDP from outside the legislature.

"I hope it's a tough choice for us to make in this leadership race. I wouldn't close the door to anyone," Ms. James said in an interview.

She was reflecting on the future at an evening event where Mr. Dix talked about his decision during a speech that filled a room at the Collingwood Neighborhood House in Mr. Dix's Vancouver riding.

Former NDP premier Glen Clark, who was sworn in in the same building in the 1990s, was among the New Democrats – including many caucus members – present for a reflective speech that had a near festive feel.

Mr. Dix was occasionally audibly nervous earlier in the day, but laid back in the evening having doffed his jacket and tie as he cracked jokes and fondly talked about his political ideals.

Energy critic John Horgan, who came third in the 2011 leadership race that crowned Mr. Dix, said he was thinking of running again and will take a few weeks to consider his options.

Among his calculations is whether it's time to step aside for a new generation of leadership.

"I am not the young man I think I am," said Mr. Horgan, who has known Mr. Dix for more than two decades and was first elected in 2005. "Everyday I look in the mirror and am seeing an older person. Generational change may well be what we need today and that's a discussion the NDP needs to have and I want to participate in that.

"It may come to pass that that change is not yet ready to happen and the new crew is not yet ready for prime time," he said in an interview.

Mr. Horgan said there may be federal caucus members or others not in politics, who may be the key to the provincial party's future success.

David Eby, a prominent former executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association who beat Premier Christy Clark in her own riding, said it's too soon for him to say whether he will run. Some have said the media savvy Mr. Eby could be the fresh face the New Democrats need.

"Today I am really focused on Adrian and his legacy and tomorrow I'll be with everybody else thinking about where our party goes," said the 36-year-old lawyer.

Mr. Dix used part of his evening speech to rally New Democrats around the yet-to-be-named leader, but defended tactical decisions of the recent campaign.

Among other things he said it was the right move to remain positive. Critics have said the relentless high road spared the Liberals attacks on their record that might have won support for New Democrats.

Mr. Dix acknowledged that point of view, but said cynicism would turn off voters.

"I don't think the people we want to reinvolve in the political process will be inspired by a descent into nastiness. I think we have got to keep our heads up high.

"We didn't fail because we were too positive. We failed, in part, because we couldn't communicate that message in time to people. We didn't relate the urgency of it to people."

He said there were abundant lessons from the campaign.

"We could have done a better job during the campaign in holding the government accountable. We could have done a better job of presenting our outstanding platform," he said. "I could have done a better job and I'll reflect on that for a long, long time."

While he said he will now be a foot soldier among NDP ranks, he said he remains committed to the goal that took him through the recent campaign.

"I will not rest until there is an NDP government in British Columbia."