British Columbia has been harmed economically by NDP governments in the past. You never really know until a politician takes office whether they will live up to their billing. But Adrian Dix, leader of the province's New Democratic Party, deserves credit for at least trying to present the moderate face of a party that, as he correctly points out, has only won three of the last 22 elections.
Mr. Dix's repositioning as a pragmatic social democrat is welcome, and he will surely be a less polarizing figure than some of his predecessors, including former premier Dave Barrett, who took the province from surplus to deficit before being defeated in 1975. In Toronto to meet with business leaders, Mr. Dix outlined his vision in broad strokes to the Globe and Mail editorial board, noting that his party would restore corporate tax rates to their 2008 levels of 12 per cent but sees little room for any income-tax increases. He intends to focus on skills training and education as a path to poverty reduction.
Barring a dramatic change in public opinion, next May's election is Mr. Dix's to lose. The latest Angus Reid poll shows that half of decided voters in B.C. would support him. Almost a third of all respondents selected him as the best option for leader, with only 14 per cent choosing the gaffe-prone Premier Christy Clark.
By setting forth a modest list of goals, Mr. Dix is trying to put some distance between himself and the last NDP government of Glen Clark, a divisive figure who left office in turmoil and eventually faced corruption charges. Mr. Dix's critics point to the fact that he served as chief of staff to Mr. Clark, and yet Mr. Dix says he will not follow the laundry list of interventionist social policies of his former boss.
Mr. Dix's supporters will clearly have great expectations of renewed social activism after 12 years in the political wilderness. The challenge of the next premier will be to manage those aspirations in an era of fiscal restraint, plunging gas revenues and a $1.14-billion deficit.
Mr. Dix has yet to say how he would generate greater revenues without raising taxes, nor did he fill in the details about his industrial strategy and vision for economic development, including the conditions under which he would support future pipeline developments. That is a concern. (He is against the Enbridge pipeline.)
But what he has done is inject a new level of civility into the province's political culture. He has refused to respond in kind to attack ads portraying him as "Risky Dix" that harken to the lost decade of the 1990s. And that makes Mr. Dix look like more, not less, of a leader.
Editor's note: An earlier online version of this article included incorrect information about Mr. Dix's views on income-tax increases. This online version has been corrected.