Drawing the battle lines in B.C.'s election - Macleans.ca

Drawing the battle lines in B.C.’s election

As Adrian Dix looks to return B.C. to the NDP, all eyes are on the most important provincial election in years

Drawing the battle lines

Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail

Two days define Adrian Dix. They shattered the careful world the B.C. politico had built around himself, shone a light on his imperfections, leaving him bruised, but also humbled, more disciplined. For better or worse, the person he is today—B.C.’s next premier, if polls translate to votes on May 14—was shaped in their aftermath.

The first, Nov. 25, 1992, came four days before the Seattle Marathon. Dix, then a 28-year-old top aide to former premier Glen Clark was planning to run it for the first time. He’d “never been fitter in his life,” he says. But something was amiss. He couldn’t keep weight on, no matter what he did. After skipping his afternoon run, Clark asked what was up. “I drank too much,” Dix replied, something Clark found even stranger. His shy, geekish, young staffer—known around Victoria as a workhorse with razor-sharp intelligence—was basically a teetotaller. But Dix was talking about apple juice, not booze.

Doctors, the next day, told him why he was suddenly so lethargic, and thirsty. He’d developed Type 1 diabetes, known as juvenile diabetes.

The diagnosis forced some immediate changes—“not all bad,” concedes Dix, now 48, seemingly poised to return B.C. to the New Democrats after more than a decade of Liberal rule. His erratic eating habits and hard-charged schedule had to go as he learned to manage the disease with four daily injections. Still, his hands shake when he speaks, which is sometimes mistaken for shyness. His weakest point of the day, the early afternoon, coincides with question period, precisely when he needs to be at his sharpest.

“It’s a chronic disease that always reminds you of its power,” says Dix. To his credit, he is equally forthright about the darkest day of his career. On March 24, 1999, he walked out of his office in the west annex of the B.C. legislature to announce that he’d been fired. Then Clark’s chief of staff, Dix had backdated a memo in an attempt to protect the premier from conflict-of-interest charges. Clark, it was alleged, had traded a renovation to his East Vancouver home with a neighbour, an applicant for a successful casino licence.

It was an ignominious end; Dix was then B.C.’s most powerful non-elected official. He and the premier were so close, they shared a Victoria condo. Dix readily admits the decision was “stupid” and “wrong.” “I’m not trying to hide my mistake,” he said recently. “I’ve admitted it and people will judge.”

A victory next month would mark a remarkable comeback, not just for Dix, who was exiled from politics for a decade in the wake of the ugly scandal. Clark, who remains one of Dix’s most trusted friends, also went down in flames. Now president of Jimmy Pattison’s $7-billion empire, Clark could soon have a direct line to Victoria.

But this is much more than a redemption story. B.C.’s vote is setting up to be the most important provincial election in recent history.

The federal NDP, which picked up three new seats in B.C. in 2011, is using this as a training ground for the 2015 federal vote, both to fine-tune ideas and techniques and to sway popular opinion in the key region. With six new seats coming in the House of Commons, the province could play a deciding role in 2015. And although the NDP heads provincial governments in Manitoba and Nova Scotia, it lacks a major province. From B.C., the party could build a base of progressive opposition to the Harper government.

To this end, the party is dispatching “everyone and everything they’ve got” to the race, says Alberta strategist Stephen Carter, who orchestrated the improbable victories of Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi and Alberta Premier Alison Redford. The brain trust behind the party’s so-called Orange Crush electoral breakthrough in 2011 was reconstituted in Vancouver this spring. NDP president Brian Topp is managing Dix’s campaign. Anne McGrath, former NDP leader Jack Layton’s chief of staff, is travelling with Dix, playing the same role with Dix as she did with Layton in 2011. Brad Lavigne, Layton’s principal secretary, is another key war-room figure.

With the BC Federation of Labour pledging the “mass mobilization” of its 450,000-strong membership on Dix’s behalf, this could also be the most polarizing election in a generation. Even the BC Teachers’ Federation, which has long prided itself on being non-partisan, is clearly campaigning for the NDP this time around, with a pricey TV ad calling on British Columbians to dump a government it insists has laid waste to the education system.

Former forestry executive Jim Shepard is leading a $1-million private-sector counter-offensive: the Concerned Citizens for British Columbia. Premier Christy Clark can also count on financial support from neighbouring Alberta. The prospect of an NDP premier who has said “over my dead body” to the Enbridge Northern pipeline, which would take Alberta bitumen to the Pacific coast—Dix even has a legal team preparing to halt it—has spurred key oil-patch figures into action. In January, N. Murray Edwards, chairman of Canadian Natural Resources Ltd., a major oil-sands player, and key Conservative insiders Rod Love, Morten Paulsen and Allan Hallman, organized a Clark fundraiser in Calgary.

The party has also imported legendary Queen’s Park operative Don Guy, who is credited with engineering Dalton McGuinty’s victories in Ontario, and Guy’s second-in-command, Laura Miller, to match the NDP’s strategic might. Michele Cadario, a top Paul Martin Liberal adviser, is Clark’s deputy campaign director.

There is, however, one telling omission from the B.C. Liberal camp: its Conservative wing, which has been key to keeping the so-called free-enterprise alliance in government since 2001. Former Reformer Stockwell Day is publicly supporting the B.C. premier. But other high-profile figures on the party’s right flank, such as Martyn Brown, former premier Gordon Campbell’s chief of staff, are sitting on their hands this spring. “People tend to run for the hills when they know the room is burning,” says Brown.

Though Clark continues to radiate positivity, the winds of change are blowing hard in B.C. With a month to go, the picture could still change. “Photos of Dix arm-in-arm with Osama bin Laden could emerge,” quips Angus Reid vice-president Mario Canseco. The Liberals, mired in scandals of their own doing, are polling almost 20 points behind the NDP. Clark, named the country’s least popular premier last week, can’t seem to connect with women (female voters are twice as likely to vote NDP in May, according to polls). Her disarming smile is backfiring, connoting, to some, a lack of seriousness, says veteran local analyst Norman Ruff. At this point, it’s not even clear Clark will retain her seat in Point Grey. She’ll face Vancouver poverty lawyer David Eby, whom she barely edged out in a 2011 by-election.

Dix, though he calls Clark “an easy target,” is pledging a clean fight, and refusing to go negative. That game plan—which netted Layton major electoral gains—has two further advantages for Dix: it makes the Liberals seem like bullies for attacking his character—TV ads by their private-sector proxy portray him as a frightening “risky Dix”—and it removes the focus from Dix’s personality.

The bookish NDP leader has what one analyst has dubbed a “charisma deficit.” Indeed, says the University of the Fraser Valley’s Hamish Telford, the Liberals’ best chance is making this a personality contest: “Clark’s best asset is her personality, her optimism, her attitude. She’s weak on policy.” Dix, her polar opposite, is strong on policy, weak on the rest.

Dix knows it, too. He acknowledges that his wife, Renée Saklikar, a poet and writer, is the more extroverted of the two. Even Glen Clark admits he was bowled over when Dix announced, in 2005, that he was running for office in Vancouver-Kingsway, the ethnically diverse downtown riding. “He’s a shy guy,” he says. “He works hard at it.”

But he’s proved a quick study. After the NDP leader spoke to the Vancouver board of trade, one former Liberal cabinet minister, noting that Dix spoke for 26 minutes without notes and inhales “five books a week,” said he could easily be of the best politicians B.C. has ever seen.

Unlike Clark, his former boss, he did not rise up through the NDP’s union ranks. And he’s gone to lengths to dampen organized labour’s heady expectations, at least over the short term. NDP radicals—remember, this is a party that has actually discussed capping private-sector wages in B.C.—have been silenced. Dix, in fact, appears more like Stephen Harper—plodding, introspective and methodical in his approach. He didn’t marry until he was in his 40s. His approach to politics is equally deliberative. Just as Harper has slowly moved the country to the right, a Premier Dix could eventually push B.C. several clicks to the left. That’s the plan, anyway.


Drawing the battle lines in B.C.’s election

  1. Premier Dix, you can count on my vote!

  2. The NDP federally are Quebec’s lapdog.
    BC NDP will be giving away the farm to them.

    They are no different than Trudeau the sly older one or the younger more foolish Trudeau.

    Who is going to stand up for BC

    Trudeau’s father advanced a system where The Rest Of Canada subsidizes Quebec Healthcare (as smoking in Quebec is disproportional with The Rest of Canada)
    Daycare is subsidized by Federal money.
    Cheap Education in Quebec is subsidized by the rest of Canada.
    Dairy, Chicken and Eggs are higher priced in the rest of Canada to support mostly Quebec based producers.
    Language; The only place we really need Bilingualism is Quebec and they have practically outlawed English.

    Mr. Trudeau – You and the citizens of your spoiled province need to be kept out of power and away from sharp objects; and never given a chance to steal more from us.

    BC – NDP – Quit being the lapdog for Quebec.
    The Conservatives or the Green are both better representatives for BC.

  3. Third way to define him;

    Adrian is a Dix

    • Just in case no one’s noticed. Billy Bobby’s taken over from EmilyOne. We can all breathe a deep sigh of relief. Trolldom on Maclean’s is alive and well.

      • metropika, that is laughable seeing as you and EO share many of the same traits.

        Fluently bilingual, Dix lived in France as a young man and then worked in Ottawa for NDP MP Ian Waddell.

        He served as Chief of Staff to BC Premier Glen Clark
        from 1996 to 1999, a position from which he was dismissed for
        back-dating a memo to protect Clark from conflict-of-interest charges.
        Dix has said of this incident, “It was wrong, it was wrong. I’m out
        there and I’ve admitted it and people will judge. But I’m not trying to
        hide my mistake.” This memo would later become a focus of a number of opposition BC Liberal party ads in the 2013 provincial election.

        *The memo in question was not a mistake as Dix alleges, it was criminal fraud and he should have been charged and prosecuted, but his fellow NDP would never do that to one of their own.

        Subsequently, he went on to work as the executive director of Canadian Parents for French in their B.C./Yukon branch. The Vancouver Sun summarized his work in this position as “successfully encouraging more school boards to offer French immersion programs.”
        From 2001 to 2005 Dix was a political commentator in various media, writing a column for the Victoria Times-Colonist and The Source, a prominent intercultural newspaper in Vancouver. He was also a contributor to The Tyee and the CBC.

        • Gee Billy Bobby. Then why didn’t you just say that instead of the post scrotum notum your famous for. The fact that you can quote someone else’s journalism and media reports suddenlly qualifies you for a mention? Again, your heaping more of the Bull you indulge in onto the pile. The commenting style that gets trapsed around on the bottom of your cowboy boots. Yeehaw. Get along little doggie.

          • Nice demonstration of your Leftist Mental Disorder for all to see.

          • Everyone in Dodge can be assured that Billy Bobby is going to get rid of all tham thar lefty varmints once and for all. Yeehaw. Ride em cowbobby.

  4. Both parties.
    Want more money.
    Your money.
    No options.
    Have fun.
    Tax payers lose.

  5. The NDP needs to be careful with this election – BC voters aren’t so much voting for the NDP as voting against the Liberals. If BC sees a swing back to NDP policies of the ’90s, the NDP could be a one-term government. The Liberals benefited from a similar vote against the NDP in 2001, and caught more than a little backlash when they assumed a stronger mandate than they actually possessed. One point I’ll give Dix credit for – he knows he’s likely to win this election, and he’s not committing himself to a swath of promises like Gordon Campbell did in 2001. That minimizes his exposure at being tarred with charges of breaking his promises.

    • All Dix will say is that they’ll look into, study, strike a committee, etc.

      Nothing but BS, he won’t give a straight answer.

      The NDP slogan is “change for the better”, in reality it will be “no change left in your pockets”.

      • I think he’s hedging against both the hard-core NDP supporters and former Liberal supporters. He doesn’t want to drive away the former Liberal supporters by making them think he’ll engage in what they see as fiscally-irresponsible programs. He also doesn’t want his hard-core supporters believing that an NDP victory means the establishment of an eco-socialist utopia – government finances won’t allow it. I agree, though, that I really have no clue of what he stands for.

        • The numbers of those who voted Liberal last election that may be considering voting NDP are very, very small, the Liberals biggest hurdle is convincing those who might just stay at home and not vote at all, to vote Liberal to stop what an NDP government would mean to BC, which is economic disaster, just look to previous NDP governments in BC. Don’t expect the BC Conservatives to take too much vote away from the Liberals either, many of those who would like to vote Conservative, because of being fed up with the Liberals, would rather hold their nose this time in order to stop the NDP. On the other hand the NDP are more vulnerable to votes bleeding to the Greens.

          • More breathtaking in-depth reporting from the rightwing trenches. Go BB Go!

  6. Why dont you mention the fact the Liberal government broke laws in dealing with its teachers as well as legislated garbage law on them repeatedly? Or why not point out the Fiberals were also found lacking in front of the UN’s ILO branch at the start of their decade of I HATE TEACHERS. See ya later Christy!