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Post-Dix, Would Anyone Want to Lead the B.C. NDP?

09/22/2013 11:57 EDT | Updated 11/22/2013 05:12 EST

Adrian Dix, the monstrously unsuccessful leader of the British Columbia New Democratic Party, has finally agreed to resign. To call the decision overdue would test the limits of polite euphemism. Let's just say if he displayed the same timeliness paying his heating bills he would have perished of frostbite long ago.

Outsiders may remember Mr. Dix as the man who seemed so certain to be elected provincial premier last May, university presidents with six-figure salaries were preemptively quitting their jobs to go work for him. And then he somehow lost seats.

On that disastrous election night, Dix resisted the traditional ritual of Canadian politics, embraced by everyone from Paul Martin to Gilles Duceppe, and refused to fall on his sword. For several days he huddled in secret, claiming to ponder his future from the deepest recesses of his soul, only to emerge a week later to announce... he needed more time to think.

Such stubbornness, in turn, begat a slow drip-drip-drip of calls for his head from high-profile NDP alumni across the province, culminating in a late August plea from former premier Michael Harcourt, a man about as close to a statesman as BC's ever produced. And now, nearly a full month later, Dix has finally agreed to heed his critics' cries.

Well, sort of.

Despite the fact that his caucus of 34 contains an abundance of men and women eminently qualified for the job of acting leader, Dix is refusing to quit immediately and allow for the installation of an interim boss, something his two most recent predecessors did following their respective resignations. Instead, Dix says he plans to hang around until his party can convene a formal convention to install a full-term replacement, currently estimated, say the papers, around "mid 2014." Considering the most recent BC election took place in mid-2013, by the time he actually shuffles off, the BC NDP will have wasted almost an entire year under Dix's zombie-rule.

Dix's desperate efforts to cling to the one office he managed to salvage after his party's electoral whupping (well that, and his position as Vancouver-Kingsway MLA, which he also says he's gonna keep) is a gesture of such enormous, unappealing arrogance and pride from a man who should be bleeding with humility, it really begs a lot of questions about the mindset of the people running the NDP inner circle these days.

Like poor Mrs. Haversham in Great Expectations, who continues to wear her tattered wedding gown years after being left at the altar, one gets the impression that the NDP brain trust are wallowing in a truly pathetic state of denial and self-pity in the aftermath of a tragedy they haven't allowed themselves to mentally accept. And every minute Dix remains as boss, in a caretaker capacity or otherwise, the optics only get worse.

It's not a mystery why so many British Columbians (over 715,000 in 2013) vote NDP. By most economic metrics, BC has suffered under 12 years of Liberal rule, and Premier Campbell's promise of a "golden decade" -- a Liberal premonition so cocky they literally commissioned songs about it -- is now starting to bear closer resemblance to the stagnation of Japan's "lost decade" of the 1990s than any 21st-century miracle. Premier Clark literally ran the last election bearing no rhetoric more lofty than "could be worse." We'll take our chances, said the 715,000. You can suss a lot of political gain out of merely being option number two.

The question that remains unanswered, however, is why anyone should want to join the NDP, let alone lead it. In contrast to the Liberal Party, which bears the twin attractive qualities of a) being perennially in power and b) not demanding its partisans believe anything in particular, the BC New Democrats are aggressively the opposite: they've won the popular vote exactly once in the last thirty years and demand their followers believe an awful lot of very particular stuff, much of it dogmatic nonsense (I'll remind the jury that the BC NDP constitution, unlike the federal NDP constitution, still professes loyalty to "democratic socialism" and decries the "making of profit").

Since the Liberals have succeeded, particularly under Premier Clark, in branding their party as the default choice for delivering all things to all people, British Columbians who join the NDP -- and particularly those who aspire to high office within it -- are forced into the difficult position of having to cobble together an ideology of opposition to a ruling party that's basically non-ideological.

Historically, this has meant pulling much NDP talent from the province's far-left fringe; union organizers, socialist academics, professional activists, and other folks whose obstructed view from the extreme end of the political spectrum causes them to believe BCs Liberals are not moderates, or even liberals at all, but rather "far-right" Republican-style crazies. That's certainly an ideology to give a party meaning and purpose and identity. It just happens to be inaccurate and unpopular.

Dix was a serious socialist who was serious about socialism. I learned as much when I interviewed him in 2011 and encountered a man who was most excited and animated when discussing the finer points of leftist theory or reciting left-wing role models. He was in the NDP because he had no problem with its historic role as the political vehicle of British Columbia's wild and radical, and was elected boss because he made a variety of unsubtle appeals to keeping the party pure and unyielding in the face of calls for moderation.

That experiment having now clearly failed, once Dix finally, finally says his last goodbye, BC's New Democrats will face tremendous pressure to install an anti-Dix in his place; an amicable, centrist leader capable of charting a new ideological course for the party and healing its deep scars of self-inflicted damage born from decades of sheltered thinking.

It's hardly obvious where they'll find such a person, alas. The NDP desperately needs a boss plucked from the mainstream of BC society, yet it's in this vast field of soil that the party has its shallowest roots.

BC Election Night Photos