B.C. NDP leader takes 'full responsibility' for loss, but future still uncertain

VANCOUVER – British Columbia’s NDP leader says he takes “full responsibility” for the party’s devastating election loss, but Adrian Dix plans to continue to lead the Opposition, at least for now, as the New Democrats conduct an autopsy of their failed campaign.

Dix, who had effectively vanished from the public eye since he conceded defeat last week, emerged Wednesday to reveal his plans for his own political future and to offer a post-mortem of the election.

He said the NDP will conduct a thorough review of the campaign to determine what went wrong, during which he will continue to lead the party.

Beyond that, Dix was less clear, suggesting he would be willing to lead the party into the 2017 election, while acknowledging the decision may not be his to make.

“We need stability right now,” Dix told reporters in Vancouver.

“It’s not what I want — it’s what the party wants. … Ultimately, the leader of the party is the servant of the members, the servant of the caucus and the servant of the party. I intend to serve fully and to do everything I can to ensure we have a better result next time.”

The NDP won 33 of the province’s 85 seats — two fewer than when the campaign began. The Liberals won in 50 ridings, compared with 45 seats before the election began.

However, the New Democrats scored a symbolic victory by defeating Premier Christy Clark in her own riding.

Dix dropped the names of other leaders who lost their first campaigns only to win the second time, including former Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty and former Manitoba premier Gary Doer. He could have found another example in his own province: former Liberal premier Gordon Campbell lost his first election, in 1996, before his party nearly wiped out the NDP in 2001.

But whether Dix is offered the same opportunity may depend on what his party concludes led to last Tuesday’s election defeat.

Dix, who was elected leader of the party two years ago, offered his own theories.

Dix said his campaign failed in two critical areas: the party didn’t do enough to convince voters that the Liberals needed to be shown the door, and it failed to effectively make the case the NDP was ready to replace them.

“I take full responsibility — no ifs, ands or buts,” said Dix.

“We will undertake a comprehensive review of this election to learn and act on the painful lessons it has taught us. I can assure you this review will spare nothing and no one — least of all, me.”

Dix also said his mid-campaign announcement that he opposed a proposed Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion hurt his campaign. Weeks earlier, Dix had said it would be irresponsible to prejudge the project so early, raising questions about his change of heart that dogged him for the rest of the campaign.

It’s not clear what form the party’s campaign review will take, or when it will be finished. Dix noted a party convention is scheduled for the fall.

The May 14 election was Dix’s first as leader, but the fourth campaign the party has lost since the Liberals took power in 2001.

Even before Dix took the podium on Wednesday, there had been much speculation about why the NDP failed to realize what many within the party believed was a sure win.

Dix insisted on running a positive campaign without resorting to personal attacks against Clark and her party, but that left him with few options to respond to a barrage of Liberal attacks that included comparisons to Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez.

On Wednesday, Dix said he still believes it was the right decision to take the high road, but he also said the party must put more energy into criticizing the Liberal party’s record.

“I felt that a more positive approach, not calling people down, not attacking them personally, would draw people into the political process who didn’t like the personal and nasty nature of politics,” he said.

“I think we needed to do a better job of holding them to account and reminding people of what the consequences would be of four more years of Liberal rule.”

The Liberals derided his opposition to the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion as a “Kinder Surprise” and held it up as proof the NDP was a party of job-killing, anti-development radicals who would lay waste to the province’s economy.

The party’s election platform focused on incremental change — “one practical step at a time,” in Dix’s words — that in many ways failed to significantly distinguish the New Democrats from the Liberals, with both planning to use tax increases on corporations and high-income residents to fund modest spending.

Dix claimed the Liberals’ recent balanced budget was an illusion, in an apparent attempt to justify his own party’s plans for several years of deficit spending.

The Liberals also resurrected a 15-year-old scandal that cost Dix his job as deputy premier when he backdated a memo in an attempt to exonerate his boss, then-premier Glen Clark, in a casino-licensing scandal.

During the televised leaders’ debate, Dix attempted to explain the memo affair by noting he was 35 years old at the time, which only added fodder for yet another Liberal attack ad.

Despite the election loss, there had been no public calls from within the party for Dix to resign.

Dix’s predecessor, Carole James, led the party through two election losses. Even after the second, in 2009, she did not step down.

It wasn’t until a messy internal revolt in late 2010 that James resigned, setting off the race that eventually saw Dix ascend into the leader’s office.