British Columbia's Opposition Leader, Adrian Dix, isn't surprised the budget tabled by the B.C. Liberal government plagiarized major features of NDP policy. What genuinely astonishes Dix is the unconcealed cynicism of the B.C. Liberals. "The public deserves better than a government that sees the budget as an exercise in game theory," Dix told me this week.
He has been on the receiving end of a relentless barrage of paid political attack ads. In them, he is framed as a radical left-wing ideologue that will inflict irrevocable destruction on B.C.'s fragile economy. The bluntness of the B.C. Liberal "free-enterprise" storyline is shrewdly reinforced by a $15 million taxpayer funded government advertising campaign. Polls seem to show that the scare tactics are falling on deaf ears, and use of public funds for pre-election advertising is further eroding the already tenuous standing of Clark's B.C. Liberals.
Adrian Dix remains philosophical about the personal attacks: "I don't let it distract me; but I do worry about how it affects my parents."
However, Dix is anguished at the lack of civility in public life and the consequent corrosion of trust in government. "There's a reason why people are voting less, why young people are turned off and disengaged from the political process, why trust in their elected representatives is so low."
The B.C. Liberals have been working to define Dix and the NDP as a band of anti-capitalist, anti-business, class warrior ideologues determined to "tax and spend" the province over a precipice. Dix shakes his head and laughs at the line of attack: "A healthy and growing economy is not secondary; it's absolutely fundamental," he says. "Without a vibrant and competitive private sector, nothing else is possible."
Dix grew up in an entrepreneurial family. Until it was sold recently, his parents were the owners of a small, but very successful insurance brokerage business in Vancouver. The Dix family is close, and they raised Adrian to value hard work, education, fiscal prudence, and fairness.
Dix worries about growing income inequality and wealth gap. "The levers at the disposal of a premier are very limited," he acknowledges. He dismisses that old conservative economic bogeyman of "redistribution" as neither desirable nor feasible. "My goal is to address the pre-distribution of wealth through smarter and better investments in education and skills development."
Dix's economic policy approach is as practical and rooted in common sense as they come. The precondition for social justice is a growing economy. A competitive tax regime, skilled and educated workforce, judicious use of tax dollars, sensible environmental stewardship, and honest government is how Dix plans to get there.
Despite B.C. Liberal claims that provincial books are in balance, Dix believes the province is in structural deficit. He rejects balance budget legislation as political gimmickry, pointing to the consistent deficit spending ways of the current government.
He told me that he has no plans to increase personal income taxes beyond what was just announced in the provincial budget. "There's little room for a tax increase," he told me. As far as corporate taxes, Dix is holding to a 1 per cent increase to 12 per cent, which restores 2008 levels.
In a preemptive move designed to show that he plans to raise the bar on appointments to the public service, Dix recently announced that Don Wright be appointed Deputy Minister to the Premier. Wright earned a doctorate in economics at Harvard and is a highly respected senior executive with deep private and public sector experience.
While taking nothing for granted, Dix is intent on making his time in government count. He is a reflective, not an impulsive, manager, and wrestles with making the right choices within the fiscal and policy constraints that he'll likely inherit. Contrary to the caricature Christy Clark is attempting to define, Dix's approach is reality and evidence-based, not ideological. And his management style is professional and measured. In stark contrast to Christy Clark, who seems to loose a staffer a week to scandal, Dix's office staff has not changed since he became NDP leader and caucus is united behind him. That includes his predecessor, Carol James, who Dix is proud to say plays a key role.
So my advice to my fellow "free enterprisers": Be not afraid and breathe easy. If Adrian Dix becomes premier, B.C. will continue to be a great place to do business. And the public and fiscal affairs of the province will be in very capable hands.