05/01/2014 04:13 EDT | Updated 07/01/2014 05:59 EDT

Adrian Dix Lauded As John Horgan Becomes B.C. NDP Leader


VICTORIA - A visibly relaxed Adrian Dix cracked a self-deprecating joke to laughter and applause from both sides of the British Columbia legislature Thursday as he stood in question period for the last time as New Democrat Party leader.

"If I'd only known I could unite people so well I would have left a long time ago," he told the house, which had given him a standing ovation earlier in the proceedings.

John Horgan was acclaimed as the party's new leader at the end of day on Thursday, when the nomination period closed with no other leadership contenders. He was not available for interviews on Thursday.

But he thanked Dix in a news release for his hard work as leader, his relentless commitment to the community, and his role in building a strong, unified caucus.

"Along with our strong, united team of dedicated MLAs, I’m going to get right to work fighting for B.C. families, B.C. jobs and the B.C. economy,” said Horgan, in the statement.

Dix, who was elected in 2005, will continue on as the member for Vancouver-Kingsway.

He was appointed to helm the Official Opposition in 2011, but months after a drubbing by Christy Clark's Liberals in last year's election he announced he would resign the leadership once a successor was chosen.

During question period, Dix thanked his colleagues for the noisy farewell.

"I couldn't have expected the honour in my life to lead a political party that had been led by people I admired so much, like Dave Barrett and Mike Harcourt and Glen Clark and Joy MacPhail and particularly my friend and mentor, (Carole James)," he said. "It's been a great honour."

His colleague, Bruce Ralston, paid tribute to Dix.

"He has brought to the job that he occupies today an energy, a passion, an intellect and, I think that everyone would agree, an unrivalled work ethic as he travelled relentlessly throughout the province in pursuit of his many policy interests," Ralston said. "He served the people of British Columbia well."

Dix pondered his political future for four months following the defeat that re-elected the Liberals for a fourth consecutive term. At his September announcement, he again took responsibility for the upset, saying it was in the party's best interests to select a new leader.

For several months afterwards it was expected NDP member Mike Farnworth would vie for the leadership, but his bid never gained momentum and he pulled out in early April. That led to the coronation for Horgan, who is scheduled to make an address in North Vancouver on Friday.

Horgan only tendered his candidacy at the end of March.

Political science Prof. James Lawson said the party's new leader faces two major challenges going forward. The first will be to establish a balanced and effective leadership within the party, despite its diverse factions, and the second will involve forging a relationship with the electorate that sets him apart from his predecessor.

"So balancing internally, and then having to balance that issue with their relationships in the wider public, all that's a tough sell," said the University of Victoria professor. "The people who have been best at it, the people who have won elections for the NDP, have had the kind of funny, extroverted style that many people have associated with Mr. Horgan."

He said Horgan should begin courting voters right away, despite the next election not occurring until 2017.

"That's not something that you can pull out of your hat when the writ is dropped," he said.

"If you wait until the election — even as we saw if you've got an apparent majority on hand — you can't rely on that majority," he said referring to the perceived NDP election win in 2013.

Horgan isn't alone when it comes to uncontested leadership bids. Former NDP premiers Harcourt and Barrett were both acclaimed NDP party leaders.

— By Tamsyn Burgmann in Vancouver

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