Wednesday, January 04, 2012

It's not just Liberal attack ads that remind me of Glen Clark and the 1990s-- it's Adrian Dix that does

I have just seen the new "Risky Dix" negative TV ad, and although I agree with Dix's tweet that "BC deserves better" ,  I also think that BC deserves better than him.

Although it is silly to attribute the problems of the 1990s economy with Adrian's role as principal secretary,  I can think of half a dozen examples of where his unseemly and inappropriate ruthlessness contributed to either bad policy; or bad personnel decisions;or demoralizing, less-than inspiring leadership--including the sneaky, snake-in -the grass approach to seizing the leadership with last-minute invisible busloads of instant members. That happened only 9-10 months ago.

 That episode showed that although  middle-aged Dix is more careful and more knowledgeable than he was as Glen Clark's political operative, his basic character and modus operandi remains unchanged.  It  reminded me of his backdated memo (which was NOT out of character, but part of a general pattern of clandestine accountability evasion); his practice of delaying FOI requests; his honourable mention on page 31 of the Auditor General's Fast Ferry Report, in the context--tellingly--of his role in impressing upon a reluctant BC Ferries Board that the fast ferry project was more in the character of a ministerial priority or directive than business as usual, and in helping to create a fast ferry fait accompli before anyone could organize themselves to oppose it.

I take nothing away from Dix: he looked like a professional surrounded by amateurs in the Opposition caucus 2005-2009. But the reason for that amateurism was that the caucus had been nearly wiped out in 2001--and although any NDP leader would have lost that election, the reason for that extreme wipeout was casinogate, ferrygate and budgetgate, i.e. popular reaction to the way Clark and Dix made decisions in the premier's office.  We are supposed to support Dix because he fills a leadership vacuum that he helped Glen Clark to create? I don't buy it.

Similarly, Bob Plecas and Joy McPhail were probably right to say that Dix did a terrific job on the tragedy in Children and Families. BUT it bears repeating that his skill came from his long experience backdating memos, pushing fast ferry fait accomplis, delaying FOI requests, and just generally playing games of information control and accountability avoidance. To use several apt metaphors, it was a clear case of a thief catching a thief, it takes one to know one,  the pot was calling the kettle black, etc.  Great if you are hiring a political operative or choosing an opposition critic, but lousy if what you want is truly more open and accountable government.

It also bears repeating that his greater skill at getting on the TV news came from his years in the premier's office implementing the subordination of  public policy to communications strategy --to the detriment of both public policy and caucus and cabinet morale. In addition to my own experience as a Ministerial Assistant in 1996-97, I have had private conversations with a t least two former senior cabinet ministers that support this point, and who agree with me that the Harcourt government was better than the Clark government, largely for that very reason.

Yes, Dix's singular focus his entire adult life on getting and exercising power in Victoria has made him a knowledgeable political actor and has sharpened his political acumen.  He is not the same ignorant brute that Glen Clark installed in the premier's office in 1996.  He is more careful, more knoweldgeable and more mature.  BUT HE IS STILL ADRIAN DIX.

If I were as partisan as David Schreck or Billl Tieleman, or if I had a financial interest in an NDP victory, I might swallow all of these reservations. But I think I can speak for a broader category of citizens and taxpayers. As a progressive, I would feel like a hypocrite if I bemoaned Stephen Harper's ability to gain a majority with 39% of the vote while relishing the thought of a Clark or a Dix preying on Liberal/Conservative divisions and getting another 36% artificial majority provincially. We should be consistent and support someone who can build a broader progressive centrist coalition that actually represents a majority of the people. And given Dix's proven character and track record, I am willing to wait another four years to do that.

Progressives should support the independent MLAs in Delta South and Cariboo North; and the Green Party candidates in all marginal constitutencies where the Liberals are vulnerable.



Bernard von Schulmann said...

I have to say I am less worried about Adrian Dix than I initially was given his history. What really worries me is an NDP government with not enough decent MLAs to fill a cabinet.

Mark Crawford said...

Fair Comment. It was the lack of real quality in the caucus that caused people to reach for someone with the political experience built up over 15 years as Clark's sidekick.

I guess Dix's ascendancy bothers me because (1) the amateurism in the caucus stems indirectly from the way that he and Glen ran the premier's office. The extreme reaction against some of their moves caused the blow-out in 2001. The irony that Dix was the ultimate beneficiary of that still bugs me.

(2) I know that there have been some great potential leaders in the past (David Vickers, Tom Berger) and possibly on the horizon (Nathan Cullen, Gregor Robertson), who could actually build a broad democratic and progressive base that actually appeals to a majority of citizens. I worry that Dix represents a different strategy that can work in the short run but won't in the long run because it lacks a real mandate--it just depends too much on the temporary division of centre-right forces, and Dix's spin machine.

Mark Crawford said...

P.S. If Dix gets thumped in the next election, that might not only open the door to a new leader; it would also free up some ridings in which to recruit some higher quality candidates.

Surely a more democratic leader with a higher quality caucus is worth waiting for. Dix would use the weakness of the current caucus as an excuse for centralizing power and subordinating policy to "communications strategy". That's what I don't want to see.