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Today’s decision by Adrian Dix to step down as BC NDP leader, pending a leadership election next year, comes as no surprise. The good news for Mr. Dix – to be a bit catty for the moment – is that he stays as Leader of the Opposition, with the salary that goes with it, until some time in 2014.

That he had to resign based on history doesn’t stand up – Gordon Campbell blew the 1996 election, stayed on and became the worst premier in our history. Right wing parties, until Mr. Vander Zalm, have always circled the wagons and – to mix a couple of metaphors – refrained from eating their own whelp.

For the NDP, however, self-immolation is traditional.

This announcement gives the NDP time to focus on its leadership to come, and the party has never been very good at that. The reason is simple: the NDP is a party of principles – which is not to say that any of those principles make any sense  – whereas right wing parties concentrate on winning and let other principles be damned.

The business community doesn’t give a fiddler’s fart what the leader stands for as long as he is being friendly to business at all costs. You will remember how, right after Campbell became premier in 2011, he gave a billion dollars in tax “relief” to the well off.

Replacing Adrian Dix

The candidates for succession to the slightly-less-than-enviable prize that the NDP nest of adders is, are several  – and we may not even know the names of some of them by the time the contest gets seriously out of the starting gate.

The two favourites at this stage are Mike Farnworth and John Horgan. I mention that Mr. Farnworth is gay only because that will be – and perhaps should be – a plus in a party that prides itself on its openness to minorities. Whether or not this bears any electoral problems, I can’t say – it shouldn’t. In addition, Mr. Farnworth has had experience in cabinet, including the senior post as Health Minister. He is also – and this is important  – liked and respected both in and out of his party.

John Horgan is certainly intelligent but has a temper. A tempered temper, so to speak, may be just what the party needs. He carries with him, however, a conviction that might be hard for the NDP to support in the days to come . He supports, evidently without serious reservations, the Liberals’ vision for Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) plants – plus the pipelines and fracking that go with them. Since this is the only hope the Liberals have for 2017, that makes things awkward for an NDP leader who agrees with them.

It’s also a problem for the third name always mentioned – George Heyman, former labour leader and former executive director of the environmental organization, the Sierra Club in BC. Heyman’s first problem is he’s not popular with the union movement who believe he laid down when Campbell legislated his members back to work.

His second problem is that he’s an untested rookie and, since the leadership contest will likely be before the Legislature goes back in session, will still be unbloodied before the leadership convention.

There will be others. Somehow dust gets sprinkled into the eyes of no-hopers who always visualize a deadlocked convention with them, somehow, coming up the middle to win – something that rarely happens. The last one I can recall – and this was before conventions were stacked with 24-hour members – was Joe Clark in 1976.

Horgan’s LNG problems

I believe that the odds on favourite will be Farnworth. He’s popular with the caucus and the party and that’s pretty important, to put it mildly. But more importantly, he will be able to corner Horgan on the LNG issues – especially over fracking. Horgan, poor chap, is trapped in the policy of the 2013 election when the NDP – if they stood for anything – were for LNG development with a minimum of study.

Now that the Liberals have staked their government’s future on LNG and mythical “Prosperity” funds, being in favour of this will not be a winner at the convention. Horgan will, no doubt, be babbling, “LNG if necessary but not necessarily LNG” – and he’ll have the experienced and popular Farnworth snapping at him from one side and the kid on “the make”, Heyman, on the other. Heyman, that is, with the strong track record opposing fracking.

This, to my mind, makes Farnworth the winner and also guarantees the usual outcome – the NDP squabbling and divided at the end of the process.

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