By Keith Baldrey, Special to Surrey Now October 25, 2011
He’s still not as well known as his chief opponent, but NDP leader Adrian Dix has quietly established himself as a much tougher and capable foe than B.C. Liberals no doubt thought they would be squaring off against just a few months ago.
Dix has, so far at least, bust the mold that B.C. Liberals thought would be so easy to confine and define him – that of a far-left, angry and negative politician.
Instead, Dix has provided measured and effective criticism of the Christy Clark government and he’s done it without displaying the qualities that B.C. Liberals were sure would keep him from resonating with the voters.
Dix has said and done nothing that would suggest he is a fire-breathing radical leftist.
Advocating policies such as increasing taxes on corporations may tilt slightly left, but hardly ranks as some kind of extreme leftism.
He has also worked at shedding a couple of things that would eventually work against him attracting new supporters into the NDP camp. Constant negativity, which is a trap Opposition politicians can routinely fall into, is a real turnoff for voters and Dix has taken pains not to constantly harp about how terrible everything is.
And he has lost some of that chippiness that occasionally characterized some of his dealings with the media when his views were challenged from time to time.
In short, he is now behaving less like an Opposition critic and more like a party leader.
In so doing, he has kept the B.C. Liberals offbalance, as he has refused to play into their hands.
For example, he praised the appointment of former premier Gordon Campbell as High Commissioner in the United Kingdom, even while many NDP supporters no doubt were condemning that move.
In Question Period, he rarely raises his voice and lets his most effective critics – such as Mike Farnworth, Shane Simpson and Carole James – be the pit bulls (an approach, by the way, that worked well for former NDP leader Mike Harcourt when he was in Opposition).
He also insists his caucus not engage in personal attacks, and even discourages heckling during the often raucous Question Period.
Earlier this year, when it was obvious Harry Bloy was having a terrible go at it in being social development minister, Dix deliberately steered questions away from him, lest they appear to be personal attacks.
Dix’s unexpected behaviour means some of the B.C. Liberals’ attacks on him look petty or even silly.
For example, the party has just launched a website (CantaffordDix.ca) that suggests Dix was the sole mastermind of everything that went wrong during the NDP governments of the 1990s. But the website is simply another example of how Dix has provided few relevant avenues of attack for the governing party. Going after him for things that may or may not have occurred a dozen years ago seems somewhat desperate.
Back then, Dix was an earnest political staffer, albeit one whose influence grew over time. However, he didn’t run the government.
Voters are looking for hard evidence of what to expect from their political leaders as they decide which of them to opt for. And that evidence has to be of a more recent variety than the 1990s.
Of course, there’s plenty of time before the next election for Dix to make mistakes or to indeed become exactly the angry leftist that the B.C. Liberals are so desperate to portray him as.
Perhaps his party’s platform, when it is finally put together, could well be too left-wing for many voters.
Or perhaps he does indeed develop an image problem that proves insurmountable.
But he’s always struck me as one of the smartest politicians I’ve ever covered, who possesses a very sound strategic mind, so the odds of him making a disastrous turn seem unlikely.
He’s also scored well on another front – he’s strengthened the unity of the NDP caucus after that internal civil war over Carole James’ leadership that threatened to tear the party apart.
Instead, it is the B.C. Liberals who are having unity problems and those problems may worsen if the party continues to lag well behind the NDP in the polls.
In the meantime, Dix seems to be following an old political adage that says when a government is falling, the best thing the Opposition can do is to simply get out of the way.
Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global B.C.
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