British Columbia's NDP MLAs are leaving the end of a short but dispirited legislative session Thursday, hoping to spend the rest of their summer putting the devastating election loss behind them, knowing the question of whether Dix should stay or go will continue long past the season's warmth.
But as Dix's critics become more outspoken in their demands that the leader be replaced, their public agony is revealing a split deeper than a leadership overhaul could alone fix.
Defeated Vancouver NDP candidate Matt Toner said the party needs to modernize itself and that involves letting go of the party's left-wing ideological roots and seeking and supporting ideas and political allies that concern voters.
"There's only a finite amount of energy and if we're going to spend it on who the leader is, I don't think we're going to make the right investment in who we are," said Toner. "We need to reboot things. We need to offer a product that when people go the voting booth they say, 'I'm buying that.'"
Toner, who tried to maximize social media use throughout the campaign, said he recalls his own campaign workers rolling their eyes when public sector union executives spoke about their wins on behalf of workers and others talked about former NDP premier Dave Barrett.
"If you look at the results of what happened in May it's a clear rejection of what we put on the table," he said. "Effectively, people just weren't able to convince themselves to buy what we were selling. They were walking off the lot. That's what we fundamentally need to address."
But Vancouver consultant Clay Suddaby, a longtime frequenter of the NDP's backrooms, said Dix should be signalling his exit as leader. The party lost its way under Dix, Suddaby said, choosing to suppress the party's past success out of fear of alienating potentially new voters and thereby rejecting old New Democrats.
"There appeared to be a real, strong fear of appearing visionary," he said. "The whole strategy seemed to be about, 'We're safe, it's OK to vote for us. We're not going to completely destroy the economy in the first year.'"
Christy Clark's Liberals staged an epic come-from-behind win on May 14 when they erased a 20-point NDP lead in the polls and gave the Liberals a fourth consecutive mandate.
The NDP announced a November convention during which there will be an opportunity for a leadership review vote. Before that, a party-sanctioned review team will produce a report that examines why the NDP lost and offer ways to prevent similar scenarios.
NDP MLA's, who have been walking the halls of the legislature for the past month in what appears to be a zombie-like trance, admit to looking forward to fleeing Victoria to allow themselves more time to come to terms with the defeat and find a new formula that brings the NDP back to life.
NDP House Leader John Horgan said Thursday the Opposition held the Liberals to account during the five-week session in which the budget the Liberals introduced last February was passed, but with a smaller surplus estimate of $153 million.
Horgan disputed suggestions that New Democrats were wounded and not completely ready to take on the Liberals in the legislature. He said Dix's future is "Adrian's decision."
Liberal House Leader Mike de Jong said no decision has yet been made about whether or not the legislature will resume sitting in the fall.
Dix admitted Wednesday he'll spend the summer considering his political future: "I'm reflecting on that."
But many New Democrats, it appears, can't wait for the review to start. The party needs to exorcise the failures of the spring election campaign and embrace new ideas and visions — ones that go far beyond replacing the leader, they say.
Toner said the NDP must be willing to drop its ideological approach to issues and embrace ideas to win voters. He said making allies should be the focus as opposed to enforcing ideology.
For example, Toner said he can't understand why the NDP has yet to enter the ongoing debate about big corporations and governments profiling citizens. The issue of big brother-type entities spying on people concerns young voters and the NDP should get involved in the debate, he said.
"Any loosening of our ideals, any broadening of our principles, any attempts to make a slightly bigger tent does not de facto mean that I'll be putting on a Christy Clark wig," he said.
Similarly, Suddaby said the NDP needs to find ways to make the economy part of its political tool kit rather than hide it away.
"Folks in the NDP are to a large extent conditioned from a early stage in the party to fight the battle on our terms and that means talking about health care, education and the environment, and not talk about the economy because people don't trust us on the economy," he said.
"As long as we continue on that approach, people won't trust us on the economy."
Suddaby, who was one of the few NDP aides left at the legislature after the 77-2 Liberal win over the New Democrats in 2001, said he knows first-hand the misery of defeat, but believes it can also signal the start of a genuine rebuilding process.
"The first session after the 2001 election I'll never forget walking up to the stairs towards the speaker's corridor with (NDP MLA's) Joy MacPhail and Jenny Kwan in front of me and they were holding hands, just terrified about what they were about to walk into," he said.
Suddaby, who said he accepted the conventional wisdom prior to the election that Dix was guiding the NDP to certain victory, now has come to believe the party chose the safe route under Dix's leadership and new, bold thinking needs to replace the practical message of the campaign.
"If we don't change our approach, and not just the person who's delivering the message, then we're probably resigning ourselves to another election loss in four years," he said.
Vancouver consultant Marcella Munro said the election defeat is forcing the NDP to find new ways of building a base of social democratic voters in B.C.
Munro spent much of the campaign offering NDP-focused political commentary on television, including on election night as the reality of the Liberal landslide started to emerge.
Munro, who played a key backroom role in New Democrat Mike Farnworth's failed bid to win the NDP leadership in April 2011, said the NDP needs to re-examine its brand in B.C. and embark on a move forward that involves Dix leaving.
"The voters took a long, hard look at us and decided we weren't ready to govern and a lot of that Adrian has to take responsibility for because he didn't convince them that we were ready," she said. "What the voters said is they still feel doubts about whether or not or how we're going to manage the economy. I think that's the discussion we need to be having in the party: What does a social democratic future look like and what does that mean to the economy."
Munro said many believe Dix bears much responsibility for the party's current position on the Opposition side of the legislature and he's destined to be replaced.
"I don't think there's a question in many peoples minds, at least not that I've heard, that Adrian has got to figure out a path to leave, to step down."
Austin, the NDP's Skeena MLA, said the election defeat has left many New Democrats wounded, but that doesn't necessarily mean Dix should take the full blame for the loss.
"When you put your heart and soul into something and you have a loss like that, it takes a little time to get over it," said Austin, who plans to visit his elderly parents in England this summer as part of what he calls his effort to get over the sting of the defeat.
"We have had to come back after what was a very devastating election loss, and, first of all, do our constitutional duty, which is to be an effective Opposition, irrespective of the fact that perhaps we were emotionally a bit bruised," he said. "We've done well, basically, picking ourselves up and doing what we're supposed to be doing."
Austin steered away from commenting on Dix's leadership, saying he's looking forward to the findings of the review team that includes five people, four with labour ties.
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