Adrian Dix modestly insists the outcome of the May 14 provincial election is not guaranteed to go his way, and he is not taking for granted that the New Democrats will form the next government.
But Dix’s appointment of Don Wright as deputy minister to the premier, should the NDP form the next provincial government, shows that the NDP leader considers victory a strong possibility.
But it’s more than presumptuousness — it’s a brilliant move. Rather than rewarding a party loyalist with the high-level appointment, Dix has chosen a well-educated, broadly experienced professional to head the province’s public service. In doing so, he has taken some wind out of the sails of the B.C. Liberals, who are fond of portraying the NDP as a horde of socialists.
Wright is no partisan patsy. He has worked at the deputy-minister level for provincial governments across the political spectrum, from Grant Devine’s Progressive Conservatives in Saskatchewan to Liberal and NDP administrations in B.C. He has worked in provincial ministries of finance, trade and investment, forests and education. In doing so, he has earned a reputation for professionalism, civility and thoughtfulness.
Born in Saskatchewan, he was raised in an environment of public service. His father, Cliff Wright, served four terms as Saskatoon’s mayor and received the Order of Canada and the Saskatchewan Order of Merit.
Don Wright has a bachelor of commerce degree from the University of Saskatchewan, a master’s degree in economics from the University of B.C. and a PhD in economics from Harvard University. He has taught at Harvard and the University of Saskatchewan, and for the past five years has been president of the B.C. Institute of Technology. His private-sector experience includes a stint as vice-president of a major forest-products company.
While Wright has hitherto not been bound by any one political philosophy, he has strong opinions. But his job would not be to form policy; rather, he would provide advice and direction in implementing policies.
His chief function would be as the top civil servant in the province, responsible for maintaining the professionalism of the public service.
His would not be an easy job. Should the NDP win the election, MLAs will have the bit in their teeth and will be eager to charge ahead to shape things to their views. Wright is likely to be a moderating influence.
When power changes hands from one party to another, life becomes uncertain for those employed in the public service, particularly among senior administrators. Wright has survived such shifts; his presence won’t guarantee there will be no firings (nor should it), but with his background, prospects are good for a civilized transition.
By choosing Wright, Dix has sent the message that he wants a professional public service. It would be Wright’s job to put together a list of potential senior administrators and to plan for the transition, if the electors favour the NDP. Dix’s vote of confidence in Wright has been reciprocated by Wright’s willingness to take the risk of stepping down from his BCIT job to work for the NDP.
The B.C. Liberals will do well to focus on solidifying their policies, rather than portraying the NDP as wild-eyed idealists out of touch with reality.
It will be up to Dix to prove that hiring Wright was not just political strategy, but serious intent to provide good government to all British Columbians.
© Copyright 2013