NDP leader Adrian Dix did something last week that is completely out of character for a B.C. political leader.
He actually went out of his way to speak glowingly of his two rivals, Premier Christy Clark and B.C. Conservative leader John Cummins.
In his speech to about 1,500 delegates at the Union of B.C. Municipalities annual convention, he heaped praise on their public service, and said they were not deserving of any personal attacks, especially coming from him.
This was not an isolated case of Dix playing nice in B.C.'s political sandbox. Since becoming leader, he has strived to create a more positive tone in what passes for political discourse in this province.
The question is: can he keep this up, and will this kind of style continue if he becomes premier? Dix insists the answer to both questions is a definite "yes."
But for now, you have to give him credit for trying to wrest B.C. politics out of the aggressively partisan, attack-dog mentality that has dominated the political arena for decades.
For a recent example, one needs to look no further than the recent mini-scandal that saw the premier's chief of staff resign over some kind of incident involving a female political staffer at a Victoria bar.
This is the kind of story that allows an Opposition party to further embarrass the government.
Not so here. The NDP's response was telling, because there simply was no response. As per Dix's orders, no MLA or staff person made a single comment about the incident. Not a single tweet was sent out, in an arena where social media often drives the debate.
When Kevin Falcon and George Abbott announced they were getting out of politics, Dix issued news releases thanking them for their public service. More notably, Dix lauded the appointment of former premier Gordon Campbell to the position of Canada's high commissioner in London, England. His endorsement of Campbell's position likely didn't go over well with many of his party's faithful, who had come to revile the former premier. But Dix didn't care about that and said he thought the post was the perfect fit for Campbell and the country.
In the legislature, Dix leads off every question period but he does so in a low-key, nonconfrontational manner. He leaves the shouting and arm-waving to his caucus members.
Dix's motivation for all this feel-good, positive messaging appears linked to his desire to increase voter turnout and participation in the political process.
The relentless negativity that characterizes political debate is no doubt a turnoff for a lot of people, who view such discourse as mindless, empty rhetoric.
And this new kind of approach may also reflect the reality that there are not many tremendous differences between Dix and his opponents, thus eliminating the need for personal attacks (I suspect that a close examination of the election platforms of the NDP and the B.C. Liberals come next spring will not reveal huge differences; both parties are hemmed in by deteriorating government revenues).
By contrast, Premier Clark and her B.C. Liberal party continue to take the relentless, aggressive partisan approach and launch personal attacks on Dix at regular intervals.
So far, that approach is not working but they show no signs of changing tactics.
In fact, I suspect the B.C. Liberals are already planning their next attack ad on Dix. You can be sure that as we draw nearer to next spring's election they will feverishly play up Dix's now-notorious backdated "memo to file" he wrote during the casino controversy that ousted his former boss, Glen Clark, from the premier's office.
Last week, I noted the huge gender gap that has developed among B.C. voters, as women in large numbers have deserted Clark. I have to wonder whether the differing styles of the two leaders may help explain that gap.
If Dix can remain positive and avoid the partisan personal attacks that his chief opponent loves (and if he can ensure his caucus and staff toe the same line), I suspect that gender gap may become even more entrenched.
And it may well turn out that of all the things Dix says he will do in government should he get the chance to lead it, establishing a positive, nonpartisan approach to politics may prove to have the biggest and longest-lasting impact on our province.
Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global BC Keith.Baldrey@globalnews.ca
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