My Brilliant Political Career is an unpublished draft manuscript about my 1995 federal NDP leadership campaign. My original intention was just to put the campaign on the record, but when I turned my attention to it, I realized this wouldn’t be enough. I had to explain why I had become involved, and this took me back in time – as far back as my childhood - to the development of my political ideas.
This extra part of the account ended up as long as the story
of the campaign itself. It evolved into the evocation of a
lost, and otherwise soon to be forgotten, generation of
Canadians, or at least my part of them - what a drunken wag
once described for me as the “Mackenzie King children,”
namely, those of us who grew up during and immediately after
World War II and came of age in the 1950s.
We had our own generational fix. We identified strongly with
federal institutions like the CBC and the House of Commons.
This was a natural outcome of the war, with its patriotism
and sense of belonging, and with a federal government that
had played such a large and triumphant role. For me, as I
look back on it, this ran deep. I remember, for example, in
an argument with a survey crew I worked with one summer back
home in Alberta, defending the use of the French language in
Canada, not because I was such a great francophile at the
time but because it was an official Canadian language.
French speakers had their rights. I made up my mind to learn
to speak French for much the same reason. Wasn’t I a
Canadian? I also ended up going to Queen’s University which,
in my day, was closely connected to the federal government’s
workings in Ottawa. My growing up in Alberta contributed to
this consciousness as well, for while Alberta is
economically “nationalist” and harbours enduring grievances
against Central Canada and the federal government, it is
also, emotionally, pan-Canadian.
We Mackenzie King children were nationalists without
thinking about it. It was a glory to be alive and to be
Canadian in the 1950s. We were no longer a British colony
and the effect of the accelerating U.S. economic takeover
still had not sunk in. We were unAmerican, some of us more
than others. In expeditions to Europe, hitchhiking around
Britain, France, the Netherlands and elsewhere, with
Canada’s war record still in people’s minds – and where we
were free-spirited, North American, but not pushy American –
the world seemed wide open to us.
I was also a westerner and a CCFer (the CCF was the NDP’s
predecessor party). I ultimately took an interest in the
agrarian socialist tradition that brought the CCF to power
in Saskatchewan in 1944, and then took a larger interest in
western Canadian radicalism, in radicalism generally and in
that unique North American political strain, democratic
socialism Canadian-style, embodied in the CCF. Here, my
Canadian nationalism and my left-wing outlook merged, as
they did with many others.
My Brilliant Political Career covers all of this, leading up
to my decision in the early 1990s to run for the leadership
and drag a fusty and routinized political party into the
future – to make the NDP radical and modern at the same
time, as I put it. The man who would be leader!
The campaign was a quixotic adventure. As I would quip
later, we did everything backwards. Leadership campaigns
usually begin with raising money (both for itself and as a
measure of possible support), then putting together a
campaign organization and launching the campaign, after
which, somewhere along the line, the candidates come up with
some thoughts about policy if, for no other reason, than
they feel they have to for appearance’s sake. My campaign
began as a campaign of ideas without any organization at
all, the candidate desperately patched together an
organization as he went along (it actually ended up fairly
respectable), and a good part of the money was raised in
defeat after the campaign was over!
The story is a picaresque tale of Everyman who decides, for
his own quite good reasons, to run for the leadership of a
national political party. In the course of remembering
events, he confesses his political thoughts and recounts the
sometimes euphoric, sometimes baleful adventures of the
unexpected candidate. Call it journalisme politique vérité –
the unvarnished account of someone out there on the road.
I started in April (well, really in May) and didn’t finish
until the beginning of October – five months in all. I
covered the country, or most of it, three times – first to
see if I could manage to find organizers, even when it meant
some cold calling; second to speak to meetings put together
by those organizers, and third for the official debates. I
ended up making the same argument 62 times. (My campaign
manager, Lloyd MacDonald, wouldn’t let me alter it, despite
my longing for variety. “It’s our message,” he kept saying,
“and we’ve got to stick to it.”) After it was all over, I
discovered, to my amazement, that I had spent $60,000 –
although I had cut every corner to save money – and was
$25,000 in debt. I did, though, have an impact, and when we
sent out an appeal for funds, extra donations started coming
in, notwithstanding that I had been knocked out of the race
in the primary. I wound up out of pocket only $6,000. It was
a fair price to pay for the adventure.
The excerpts presented here cover just some snippets of the
story, but I hope give a sense of how things transpired.
I’ve left the original chapter numbers attached.
1. Thinking it over
8. My economic nationalism
13. Disillusionment with the feds
24. The campaign begins
33. Buying a suit
35. Early stops in Edmonton and Grande Prairie
47. Finding a book on Karl Polanyi in Regina
61. Touching hearts and minds in Montreal
74. Turning on the lights
For the strategic premise of the campaign, please
For the policy circulars of the campaign, please
1. Thinking it over
So Audrey McLaughlin was going to quit as leader of the
federal New Democratic Party, or that was the rumour. It was
after the disastrous 1993 election. I prayed she would
postpone the decision. How else was I going to run for the
leadership of the party, something I was determined to do? I
was immersed in writing a history of Vancouver City Savings
Credit Union - chained to the project would be a better way
of describing it - and the deadline for the book was
The deadline wasn't something that could be put off, either,
because the project was tied to the celebration of VanCity's
50th anniversary in 1996. The credit union wanted the book
for the prior Christmas, to hand out as a gift, and the
publisher, Douglas & McIntyre, was expecting the manuscript
a year prior to that. Scott McIntyre, the head of the firm,
was beyond redemption on this point. I knew a book could be
edited and produced in less than a year, in fact in a few
months. Quickies were done in less time than that. McIntyre,
however, talked about the one-year lead time as if it were
an immutable law, governed by the trajectory of the planets.
It was outrageous that I should even question the timetable,
he seemed to say.
Audrey McLaughlin, however, did not resign quickly. She
deferred to a party decision to hold a series of "renewal
conferences" first. It looked as if, with the delay, I was
going to be able to run for the leadership after all. I was
blessed by the gods.
The VanCity project, meanwhile, kept eating up time. History
was elusive, I discovered. People had different recall of
what had happened or, sometimes, just weren't telling the
truth. Since my book was largely based on interviews, I had
to reconcile their conflicting versions, which meant going
back to them for second or third interviews or doing extra
They would even disagree about the most ordinary
particulars. Among my interview subjects were two people who
had worked together for years with an early computer. One
swore it was an IBM, the other a Remington Rand. It took
time to sort out that one and hundreds of other details and
contradictions. I was writing the book much like a novelist,
recreating the past through concrete detail, where a scene
or incident would be evoked on the page much as it might
happen in front of the reader's eyes
I used a part-time researcher. I habitually hired my
researchers by placing an ad in the local free-circulation
paper, the North Shore News. The paper was fat and
prosperous, but politically twisted - an ultra-right-wing
tabloid running to hysteria when it came to the NDP. Among
other things it carried a regular column by a cantankerous
ex-journalist misfit Doug Collins, who would later become
notorious for his attacks on what he described as the
The paper's publisher pretended that Collins' column was all
in the name of free speech, but free speech was the last
thing he wanted. Editorially, the paper nurtured a Pollyanna
paradise of right-wing righteousness. If the publisher was
really looking for controversy, he would forget about the
tiresome Collins, I thought. An acerbic H.L. Mencken
left-wing columnist would really get people talking, not to
mention truly infuriate a portion of the North Shore News'
readers, if controversy were what the paper actually wanted.
I knew about this because I lived in the middle of
right-wing territory - West Vancouver. There were some polls
in the District where the NDP would collect only a handful
of votes, even in a provincial election where people were
more inclined to vote NDP than they were federally. My wife
Marguerite and I liked to joke we knew every NDP voter in
the neighbourhood. We would look at the numbers in our poll
and try figuring out who they all were. Once, when my son
Kelsey was 10 or 12 years old and a provincial election
campaign was raging, he came skipping down the stairs in our
yard, after school, with a big smile on his face. "Hey dad,"
he shouted, "I found somebody else in school whose parents
are voting NDP!"
His older sister, Lisa, never had any trouble participating
in political debates in school; she would be the only one
volunteering to argue the NDP case. The Lone Ranger. Her
being cast as a political renegade made it all the more
enjoyable for her, even though it was also intimidating and
affected her popularity. She particularly enjoyed her fellow
students' incredulity and scorn as she threw facts and
arguments at them that they never had to contend with
before. We weren't a family that talked much about politics.
She had just adopted the NDP. It didn't bother her, either,
that unlike many of her fellow students and their families,
we never went to Hawaii for holidays. She took it for
granted that we were different.
(Marguerite and I had settled in West Vancouver quite by
accident. We had answered an ad offering a house for rent at
$75 a month. This was the early 1960s. Other than a couple
of grotty, unlivable apartments, it was the cheapest listing
in the paper and all that we could afford. It turned out to
be a rundown, decaying little shack built in the 1920s or
earlier as a summer cottage and heated by an oil stove. A
year later, when the landlord declined to make needed
repairs - you can only do so much with $75 a month revenue -
we offered to buy the place instead, which raised our
monthly payments to an astronomical $100 a month.)
Despite the right-wing neighbourhood, whenever I placed my
ad in the North Shore News for a researcher I received
enough sympatico applicants to choose from. Experience
wasn't required. I would train them anyway
As I drafted the story, I sent my research requests to a
separate computer file and each week printed it out as my
researcher's assignment. The number of research items I gave
her every week grew like fungus. I could afford to hire her
for only two days per week, so she was always behind.
Sometimes we ran into roadblocks on an item and I would
defer the search so she could move on. I hoped desperately
that before the project ended, she or I would have the time
to crack these difficult cases. I was also still doing
interviews. My interview tapes were building up on in
vertical stacks on a shelf, like a mountain range, with the
bulky transcripts of the interviews in binders in a bank
I discovered there were no shortcuts. If I wrote directly
from a transcript, I would have to flit back and forth
through it so as not to miss anything, which would take me
forever. If instead I first read through the transcript and
listed its contents, so I had a grip on them, it still took
me forever. Meanwhile the story kept growing on me,
producing new interview possibilities and extra research
lists as I was went along.
I missed the November 1994 deadline. Scott McIntyre was not
amused, but nevertheless tried to help. He allowed that if I
handed in the manuscript by the next February, he could
still manage to produce the book on time. I missed that
deadline, too. Then Audrey McLaughlin did resign and the
leadership convention was scheduled for the forthcoming
I had earlier printed out a readable version of the first 30
years of the 50-year history, to reassure Vancity that I had
actually been working on the book and not just pretending. I
had also finished a rough, unwieldy draft of the next 10
years, plus a few scattered chapters for the last decade. As
for the rest, VanCity and Douglas & McIntyre, I decided,
would just have to wait.
I had wanted to run for the NDP leadership in 1991, when
McLaughlin edged out former B.C. premier Dave Barrett. I was
unhappy with the party's strategic ineptitude and, even
moreso, its underlying loss of confidence in itself. It
didn't have to be this way, I knew. I wanted to make the
case for an NDP that had self-assurance - that in particular
would take on right-wing ideology at its heart. That meant
economics and business. It also meant taking on the mass
media, which gave right-wing ideology a free ride. Unless we
did that, our movement was finished. It might hang on for a
little while in one province or another, but ultimately it
would either be marginalized or neutered.
Since 1991, the federal party had gone even further
downhill. It had already been marginalized. I wasn't going
to miss the opportunity again to make my case. That I wasn't
a sitting member of the House of Commons - had in fact never
run for election at any level - didn't bother me. I had my
own credentials and, most of all, I had a clear objective in
8. Economic nationalism
I was an economic nationalist before post-war economic
nationalism existed. I was reading an Ottawa column in the
old, monthly tabloid-sized Maclean's at the time, the fall
of 1960. Walter Gordon, the leading Liberal economic
nationalist, had yet to become Minister of Finance. Famous
left-wing nationalist Mel Watkins was still an Americanized
technocrat, doing graduate work at MIT. The early Watkins
thought foreign ownership was wonderful, and referred to
Canadian nationalism as "the devil in our midst." Even in
Canada, economics had become an increasingly Americanized,
dogmatic, sectarian and falsified discipline.
The Maclean's article was on Prime Minister John Diefenbaker
and his Conservative government. It described Diefenbaker as
a bold Canadian nationalist. I scoffed at this. Diefenbaker
could never be a nationalist because he was a right-winger.
The only way to resist American power was ultimately to have
control over one's own economy so that one couldn't be
blackmailed and intimidated. That meant reversing the
American takeover of our economy. The only way to do that,
in turn, was with collective initiatives, like public
enterprises. Only the CCF was open to that. Ipso facto,
according to my logic, one had to be a CCFer to be an
effective nationalist. Liberal or Conservative nationalists
were either naive or phoney.
Most Canadians, including Diefenbaker, were cowed by the
United States. The subservience went deeper than politics.
The images of the American way of life ruled. The CCF, which
dissented, was thrown back on its heels. The conformity was
like a pall. One could even, in the early 1950s, be vilified
for criticizing Ike Eisenhower, the president of the United
States, as if doing so were somehow treasonous in Canada
itself. Then came John F. Kennedy, and we were supposed to
venerate him and his fashionability.
I resisted, despite all the fawning. It didn't impress me
that Kennedy was a Democrat. He was an American, and it was
soon clear, from the way he tried to bully Diefenbaker, that
he was as pushy and Americanistic as they come. Besides, it
was the system that counted and Kennedy, whatever his
surface style, wasn't about to challenge that. I couldn't
fathom commentators who ignored this latter point, which for
me was obvious - the role of the system and of those who
held real power, particularly economic power.
I grabbed onto anything that expressed my feelings. I
remember, for example, hearing about a book by James M.
Minifie, the CBC's correspondent in Washington. It was 1960.
Minifie's name and voice were familiar across the country.
The book was called Peacemaker or Powder-Monkey. It
recommended Canada leave the North Atlantic Treaty
Organization and lead a neutralist third force, to diffuse
the Cold War. This position was unexceptional for a CCFer,
but Minifie had an altogether different, quasi-
establishment status. I was astonished. I bought a copy and
read it avidly.
I also bought a copy of George Grant's Lament For A Nation:
The Defeat of Canadian Nationalism, which appeared in 1965.
Grant was a professor of religion at McMaster University. I
wondered what a professor of religion was doing writing a
book about politics.
Grant's thesis was that Canada was finished as a sovereign
country - had been finished since the early 1940s, when
Canada closely tied itself to the United States in the
war-production effort. Grant described how John Diefenbaker
had been brought down because he hadn't gone along with the
Americans over nuclear warheads. His argument was much
deeper than that, however. It had to do with the nature of
politics and society. The Liberals, or at least the Liberals
who had power in cabinet, believed in the American
materialist credo and idolized the Americans. Even if they
disagreed with what the United States was doing, they
wouldn't challenge the Americans openly. What falsely passed
for conservatism, meanwhile, wasn't much different. Most
members of the Progressive Conservative Party, in Grant's
view, were Liberals under another name. Real conservatism in
Canada had become impossible, Grant wrote. It was doomed by
"progress," modernism, the march of universal homogeneity,
the triumph of the American way. Diefenbaker's nationalism
and anti-American rhetoric was just so much "political
Lament For A Nation was a depressing book. Instead of being
discouraged by it, however, I was elated. Grant actually
felt the same way I did about the country. His problem was
that he was a conservative, and being a conservative in that
colonial situation was in fact hopeless. He was right on
that score and deserved to be depressed. I, though, wasn't a
What about socialism? Grant actually spoke like an old-style
socialist. The villains of the piece were "corporate
capitalism" and "the economic self-seekers." He used exactly
those phrases. He wrote that "no small country can depend
for its existence on the loyalty of its capitalists." He
talked about how Canadians had used government and public
ownership to protect the public good. He dismissed
Diefenbaker's small-town free enterprise ideology as
altogether inadequate. He called for a collective strategy.
So far, so good. Yet to take the logical step from there,
and become a left-winger - to actually say we should all be
voting NDP - was beyond him. Some people because of where
they grew up, who their family was, their self-image, their
cultural fix, their sense of status, just couldn't do it.
I had no such mental block, nor did many others. An economic
nationalism movement began to develop, with more and more
people coming to the conclusion that if one wanted a
sovereign Canada, one had to be a socialist - the conclusion
I had arrived at intuitively more than a decade before.
Once, when I was still a student at Queen's, I was invited
by a Conservative friend to visit the family cottage on a
lake near Pembroke. My friend's mother, a staunch
Conservative, turned out to be deeply attached to the CBC.
How was that possible? I had a difficult time with the
notion. I knew the Conservatives had created the CBC, or at
least its predecessor, the Canadian Radio Broadcasting
Commission, in 1929, but that was a long time ago. Ever
since, they had attacked it and the whole idea of public
ownership of the airwaves. This was logical, given what
Conservatives were. If my friend's mother believed in a
publicly owned broadcaster and Canadian programming, then, I
thought, she should have been a CCFer like me. I felt the
same way about Walter Gordon, the Liberal nationalist. I
took it for granted that he would either be neutered or
betrayed by the Liberals, and he was.
Years later I got to know Peter Pollen, a Ford dealer and a
former mayor of Victoria. We campaigned for a
subscriber-owned cable licensee in the city and became
friends. Pollen had been a Walter Gordon nationalist and had
never forgiven the Liberals for what they had done to
Gordon. Once, subsequently, a prominent Liberal had asked
Pollen if we was interested in running for the Liberals
federally. Pollen replied, "The only way you could make me
run for the Liberals would be if you had my daughters lined
up against the wall and were about to execute them." Pollen
still maintained his nationalism - he later became close to
Mel Hurtig - but, after Walter Gordon, he turned to the
Conservatives. I didn't even try arguing with him on that
one. I valued our friendship too much. "What a chimera is
man!" wrote Blaise Pascal, probably thinking of a Peter
Pollen at the time.
By the early 1970s, the nationalist current had gained
momentum. A "non-partisan" Committee for an Independent
Canada was established. I joined it. Books appeared with
titles like Silent Surrender: the Multinational Corporation
in Canada and The Battle for Control of Our Economy. I read
them all. The appearance of this growing documentation - the
realization that there were people elsewhere in the country
doing this kind of work - was exciting. Mel Watkins had
earlier headed up a government task force on foreign
ownership, arranged by Walter Gordon. Then Watkins, together
with a graduate student, Jim Laxer, and others formed the
radical Waffle group within the NDP. The NDP establishment,
led by David Lewis, was plenty nationalist itself.
All of a sudden I had a nationalist movement speaking for
me. Nationalism for me had never been chauvinistic,
sentimental flag-waving, which people selling out the
country were only too willing to indulge in, hypocritically,
especially in public places. It had been defending the
creation of an unAmerican society in Canada, or a
non-American-capitalist society. It was an extension of my
being a CCFer. I was a CCFer in the first place - the CCF
only existed - because this was Canada and not the United
A University of Toronto professor, Gad Horowitz, had
explained it all in another new book, and I had bought that
one and read it, too. Horowitz's book was on Canadian labour
in politics. To lead into the subject, however, he had
written an introductory chapter about socialism at large in
Canada, and it was brilliant. Why, he had asked himself, was
socialism a real force in this country - had even been
government in one province, Saskatchewan - whereas in the
United States it was dead? To answer this he had to look as
well into conservatism in Canada - the tory strain, or "tory
touch," as he called it - which was also absent in the
United States. Toryism in Canada, Horowitz recounted, fed
the growth of socialism, which was a response to it. Nothing
similar happened, or could happen, in the United States. The
elements weren't there. By the time Horowitz was finished he
had established just how unique a place Canada was.
I take Horowitz's book off the shelf and, after 30 years, I
am struck by the impact it must have had on me. Key phrases
in that first chapter have been carefully underlined with a
straight edge, salient paragraphs are marked, and there are
neat notations in the margins, in ink, as if I had
deliberately made the notations permanent.
Horowitz borrowed heavily on the the analysis of an American
historian, Louis Hartz, who had the root insight about the
original character of countries. As Hartz explained it, the
United States was born without a feudal past, that is,
without toryism. Whatever toryism there might have been -
and it had been weakened by New World circumstances -
virtually disappeared with the Loyalists who fled to Canada
during the War of Independence. The United States, as a
result was a pure "bourgeois liberal fragment." Americans in
a homogeneous mass subscribed to the myth of liberal
individualism. There were no contending ideological
traditions. Anything outside this myth, like socialism, was
treated as alien, because in fact it was alien. Socialism
had no chance of putting down roots. Europe and, to a lesser
extent, Canada, however, were different.
This explained a great deal and also a great deal of how I
felt. We had ideological diversity in Canada and, with it, a
fair degree of tolerance for others who saw the world in a
different way. (For the same reason, we were able to relate
to the British and to Europeans in a way that was impossible
for Americans.) This difference between Canada and the
United States was striking and obvious. It was reflected in
personal experience and in our history, especially in the
history of the CCF and its antecedents.
It was true that many people, particular in tory Ontario,
had paid for being CCFers, but that in the end was just the
cost of battle. There was none of the Americans' absolutist,
stifling conformity and none of its blanket waves of
anti-socialist hysteria. Whatever anti-socialist
fear-mongering was manufactured here - and such scare
tactics were a typical and convenient anti-CCF stratagem
everywhere - its propagators at least had a fight on their
hands. So I was at home here - was a product just of the
difference that Horowitz had described - whereas if I had
gone to the United States, I would have had to remake my
soul. I really was unAmerican.
Horowitz came up with another insight, equally brilliant: that socialists and tories in Canada, while opposites when it came to their views about equality, nevertheless shared much common ground about the country. They both believed in the organic nature of communities. Communities were more than just a disconnected agglomeration of individuals, in their common view. Conservatives in Canada, as a result, had been quite willing to use the state, including crown corporations, for common purposes as they saw them. They also believed in the welfare state - for paternalistic reasons rather than from egalitarianism, perhaps, but from a sense of communal responsibility all the while. This was also outside the American myth. "Progressive conservative," in Canada, wasn't necessarily an oxymoron.
To describe those Canadian conservatives who had a deep sense of community and
were ready to act on it, Horowitz coined the name "red tory," which quickly became
common parlance in Canada but would be meaningless to Americans. George Grant was a red tory. Red tories were quite a bit different than unreconstructed, violently anti-
socialist right-wingers like George Drew, the premier of Ontario and then leader of the
federal Conservatives in the post-war years. I could see now why my Ontario friend's mother could be both a Conservative and a fierce defender of the CBC. There were also cross-overs from the left - socialists with a conservative streak to them. To make things even more complicated, Liberals, whose strategy was to straddle the centre, had historically been more willing than Conservatives to act like socialists and do things in a Canadian way, especially to head off the CCF whenever it gained strength. The sense of Canadian community that Grant had thought was doomed was much deeper and more rooted than he had imagined. The Liberal and Conservative parties themselves, however, by the late 1960s, had given way to the American takeover.
There was more to the takeover question than just American ownership and control
and the draining away of dividends and royalties. We were also fighting against the
idea that Canadians, being second-class, couldn't do anything on their own - that only
the Americans were capable of inventing new things, building large enterprises, and
mastering technology, just as we were supposed to believe that we couldn't make feature
films. This psychological colonization paralyzed originality. It was taken for granted, for example, that Canadians were incapable of running an oil company of their own, although it was our oil that was being pumped out of the ground. Exploration programs were considered somehow esoteric and supernatural, fraught with gotterdamerung
risk and unreachable technical lore. Forget that we had geologists and engineers who
were as good as any in the world, and that exploration is really a straightforward
business. Only the American gods could manage, or other foreign gods who, although not
Americans, somehow also had divine mastery. We had to leave it to Imperial Esso and
Foreign ownership, and the branch-plant fragmentation that resulted, reinforced
this psychology. Canadians could only go so far in this colonized economy - were denied
the chance to make major decisions, innovate, and build a culture of enterprise -
because the decision-making power, the control over technology, and especially the
control over investment were at head offices in the United States.
I took an interest in anyone who showed a spirit of independence. Some smelter
workers in Trail had organized an independent Canadian union which was fighting to take
certification away from the United Steelworkers of America, an "international," that is,
American, union. I did a Five Nights A Week documentary on the affair. A couple of
professors at Carleton University, Robin Matthews and James Steele, protested the
takeover of university arts departments by Americans. I understood immediately what
their argument was - was struck by their revelations - and took an interest.
I knew a little bit about Matthews, nothing about Steele but, I thought, whoever they were, they had a lot of guts. Other faculty members denounced them as reactionary, McCarthyist, sanctimonious, offensive, ingenuous, xenophobic, immoral, unprofessional and everything else in the academic repertory of hostility. The media didn't treat them any better.
Matthews and Steele, however, stood their ground. What they said was only common
sense, and was recognizeable. Americans had been hired in growing numbers by expanding Canadian universities, because they had paper doctorate qualifications in their resumés, and there were a lot of them, and their degrees carried the presumed status of their American universities. These Americans, in turn, in faculty hiring committees,
recommended yet more American applicants, in a kind of old boys' network. They
discounted Canadian applicants, especially Canadians with backgrounds in Canadian
studies, which they deemed second-class by definition. The Americans had no Canadian
backgrounds themselves, but they confidently made these judgements anyway. Many
Canadian colleagues, trained in the United States and sharing the same American
assumptions, nodded their heads.
The same thing went for the curriculum. Canadian subject matter didn't count for
much to them. Bizarre as it may seem today, there were English departments where
battles had to be fought to offer even one course on Canadian literature. The notion
that having done work on Canadian subjects made a teaching applicant more qualified
rather than less to teach at a Canadian university was deemed sophistic and dangerous.
As for the implications of all this - that Canadian students would be taught in their
own country as young Americans, with marginal Canadian background and insight - they had been ignored until Matthews and Steele raised the issue, and then they were blindly
dismissed as unimportant. It was, of course, just these American academics who were
intolerant, chauvinist, narrow-minded and, most of all, arrogant. To add to the irony,
Canadian universities were saddled with a lot of second-class, surplus Americans who
hadn't been able to find work at home.
I knew the story from the inside, from my own personal contacts at the University
of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University. I wrote an opinion piece on the scene
at SFU for the Vancouver Sun. Unfortunately, I relied too much on one of my informants
and several of my details were wrong, and I was attacked in letters to the editor. I was shaken and tense. I went to the opera one night that week with my wife, something we rarely did, but instead of enjoying the opera, I could only mull over again and again what had happened, and wonder how I was going to be hit the next day. It taught me an
unforgettable lesson: always doublecheck your facts and make sure you get them right.
The colonization, though, was nevertheless at work. SFU was particularly bad. The Americans there were supposed to be the radical ones, but they were radicals American-style, University of Berkeley socialists, salon Marxists, removed from any real-world political activity and fanciful because American.
I knew one of these Berkeley "radicals" at SFU. His convictions were marvelously
untrammelled and absolute. It was entertaining to listen to him and to watch him. He
excoriated conservative Canadian society as if it were the most reactionary and backward
imaginable. This was all the odder coming from someone located, at least temporarily,
in British Columbia, with a real radical tradition - whose later NDP premier, Dave Barrett, Barron's magazine would call the Allende of the North. My attempt to explain that Canada had its own kind of radicalism, and that perhaps it ran deeper than anything in the United States, got nowhere, which puzzled me, since I assumed he would be interested. As for the proposition that socialists and many conservatives in Canada shared some common values...that one went by him completely. He seemed to be blind to the existence of the NDP, too. I thought this was because the NDP was too traditional a party for him, but as I listened to him, I realized that it was because he had little or no contact with Canadian politics. His political fix probably came from reading something like Ramparts, a recherché American anti-establishment magazine, or from the Sunday edition of the New York Times. The NDP simply didn't show up on his cultural sonar screen. Although he had been in Vancouver for several years, he might as well still have been in the United States.
One of the high points in the life of this Americanized intellectual ghetto was the visit to SFU of Herbert Marcuse, a fashionable Marxist teaching at San Diego. I thought there might be a story there for CBC radio and, always on the lookout for pieces I could sell, I went along to catch the action. The amphitheatre was packed.
Marcuse dismissed the working class and labour unions as the mainspring of any
forthcoming "revolution." Labour, he explained, had been completely taken in by the
establishment. This was quite revealing - about Marcuse - given that the major part of the Canadian labour movement was affiliated to the NDP, and that some Canadian unions were outspokenly anti-establishment. The revolution would start with the students, he went on. I thought of the button-downed arch-conservative students at the University of
Western Ontario. Marcuse, at one point early in his speech, realized that he had been
using American illustrations. "Canada is the same as the United States anyway," he
quipped. "I looked around on the way here from the airport. There is no difference."
There was a gust of appreciative laughter. I was the only one, at least within earshot,
who hissed. It was all too fashionable and fanciful. I left early without a story, bored and disgusted.
The nationalist argument, despite the obstacles, touched a growing number of people. During Canada's one period of independence, from the 1930s to the end of World War II, the country had done some remarkably creative, bold, and self-reliant things, culturally and economically. When the American takeover accelerated in the 1960s, we still had the historical memory of what it had been like to be ourselves and eventually we began to push back.
13. Disillusionment with the feds
[We pick up the story here after my tangling in the 1970s and early 1980s with the Canadian Radio-Television Commission, recounted in Closed Circuits: The Sellout of Canadian Television.]
I now saw the country differently, however, and that I couldn't put behind me. My
identification with a Canada led by a creative federal government was gone, just gone.
That world, with its powerful imagery - and it had existed, it wasn't just my growing-up
Canadian that had made it seem so - I knew now was finished. Gone with it, too, was the
particular joyous quality of what it was to be a Canadian in the post-war years. Maybe,
as Pierre Berton later suggested, it had all ended in 1967, Expo year. "The last good
year," Berton wrote. Whenever the turning point, it was over.
I was saying goodbye to my Mackenzie King childhood - saying goodbye to that
singular idea of the federal government, Ottawa and its artifacts, the Parliament Building and the War Memorial, the pan-Canadian imprint of some of the crown's great nation-building ventures like Trans-Canada Air Lines and the CBC radio network, the cachet of External Affairs, the élan of the Canadian public service, which had previously had so much symbolic potency for me. It was like an out-of-body experience, with my external consciousness observing my original self changing. Here was this guy who, as a university student, was worried that the federal government might not be able to hang on to exclusive jurisdiction of broadcasting - who with dismay had read how the provinces had won jurisdictional battles against Ottawa in the interwar period - now thinking that anything which could be shifted to provincial jurisdiction should be. Not only the Saskatchewan episode but also my own experience had pushed me into it. The federal government, I had concluded, was too remote, and the country too large and diverse, for grassroots creativity to make headway, especially innovation that would actually put the public good ahead of entrenched and manipulative business lobbies.
I knew how much of a change this was for me. I had regarded the federal government, even a Liberal federal government stuck in Central Canada, as a vehicle of
the Canadian common good. It was municipal politicians in the pockets of developers,
and reactionary, entrenched provincial politicians like Maurice Duplessis, whom one
hated to see have control over anything. The federal government, by comparison, was
enlightenment and imagination, and Canadianism. It might be distant but that distance
could be good. It meant the government saw the whole picture and was less vulnerable to
local demagogy and to squawking, pressure and economic blackmail from self-interested
businessmen and corporations on the make. Somehow, too, the liberal side of Ontario and Quebec politics usually held sway federally, in Liberal governments, which gave them
their particular cachet. I could relate more to the liberal culture of the federal Liberals in Ottawa than I could to W.A.C. Bennett and Social Credit in Victoria.
Now, however, it was the federal government and its senior echelons who were captive to corporate lobbies, or who were so bogged down in inertia and narrowness that
they might as well have been, and there was nothing I and my organizations could do about it. It wasn't so much that Ottawa was geographically distant from Vancouver,
although that was a factor. The federal scene was culturally and socially distant from
I had worked at it. I had allies inside the Department of Communications and was able to arrange meetings with both a deputy minister and the minister at the time, Jeanne Sauvé. My contacts in the department even managed to have an independent study done on the question of competing applications for licences, which found in our favour. That was as far as it went. The study, which was supposed to inform government policy,
was arbitrarily shelved without even a news release letting people know of its findings.
Our British Columbia organizations just didn't have the leverage.
Should I not have put together a national organization instead, which would have had more muscle? There was a national organization, or at least an English-speaking "national" organization, the Canadian Broadcast League. I was on its board. Its diversity and its respectable Ontario culture defeated it. No matter how much explaining I did about the need for a bolder approach, going beyond defending the CBC, the League kept running around in circles. It had no grassroots base, either. I tried Quebec. The Institut canadien d'éducation des adultes, in Montreal, was close to me in their thinking, and I could talk to them in French. I went out of my way to make contact. They were sympatico, but they were so engrossed in the Quebec scene that a working partnership couldn't develop. What trapped us most of all, however, were the inept and indifferent national media, working out of Toronto and programmed by their superficial southern-Ontario journalistic culture. British Columbia hardly showed up on their radar screen.
This set me thinking. In Vancouver and Victoria we were able to get our argument out and establish presence, even occasionally, although not always, on media whose
ownership was hostile to us. The provincial government and provincial legislature were
close to hand, too. Political connections were more open and informal. One also knew
more people closer to home. There was more of a shared political outlook. The provincial political scene, in other words, was within the scale of grassroots activity, especially for a political movement or an organization trying to innovate. One had more of a fighting chance to overcome an entrenched interest or ideological opposition in British Columbia. I also thought back again to Saskatchewan: how provincial jurisdiction had allowed it to innovate and how effective its left-wing populist democracy had been. The quality of democracy had a better chance in a smaller jurisdiction, as long as people paid it sufficient attention and came out to vote, which they did with provincial politics.
In skirmishes between Ottawa and the provinces, I now sympathized with the provinces. I joked about being a "western patriot" and a "quasi-separatist." Sometimes
I wasn't sure I was joking. I did allow that the federal government could share
jurisdiction over broadcasting with the provinces - the nationalist impulse that created
the CBC was as much a part of me as ever - but that was all I would concede to the
federal side. A friend of mine in North Vancouver, who was originally from Winnipeg,
is what I call a "Laurier Liberal" - someone who believes still in the uniting majesty
and romantic transcendence of the federal government. I would kid him about my not
being surprised, because Winnipeg was just a western suburb of Toronto, like Etobicoke.
I would rib him about his sentimental, out-of-date loyalty to the "Dominion" government
whenever events on Parliament Hill gave me a chance, which was often. Joe Clark's
aphorism, that Canada was a "community of communities," made more and more sense to me.
I had always been a fan of British Columbia politics, too, and now relished them even more. British Columbia politics were polarized and dramatic, which was why I liked them. Any national media coverage of them would tut-tut about the polarization, as if respectable people didn't do that kind of thing. So would the Vancouver Sun and Vancouver's pretentious Liberal crowd, whose mediocrity and shallowness the newspaper faithfully reflected; the paper would always go on about the extreme right as they saw
it (Social Credit), the extreme left (the NDP), and the wickedness of polarization - that is, "Vote Liberal." The more they brayed about polarization, however, the more I knew how right it was, for what polarization did was force issues and differences vividly to the public stage and give real substance to the idea of democracy.
Poor Ontario didn't have it, because the NDP wasn't strong or bold enough, and Alberta's one-party state didn't have it. What they had, instead, was conformity and capture by business lobbies. Without ideological variety, politics and government became an exercise in balancing contending interests, as in the United States. The federal Liberals had gone far down that road as well. "Brokerage politics," it was called. Different interests, however, didn't have equal resources. Large corporations, with their ability to finance well-heeled lobbies and expensive mass-media political propaganda, from their cash flow, had a staggering advantage. Any semblance of democratic politics would be gradually superceded by "money politics." Washington became a town not of public discourse, but of lobbyists, lawyers and limousines. Ottawa was becoming the same. The relentless decline in voter turn-out in the United States was an inevitable symptom.
In 1987, McLelland & Stewart, under the imprint of Doug Gibson, published a book
about it by reporter John Sawatsky, The Insiders: Government, Business and the
Lobbyists. I reviewed the book for the Vancouver Sun. Sawatsky's account was scrupulously non-partisan, carefully describing in detail the nuts and bolts of what was
taking place. A few months later I received a call out of the blue from Gibson, who told me I was the only reviewer who had understood what the book was about. I was flattered, but also astonished. Weren't the implications of brokerage politics, inevitably dominated by lobbies and public-relations firms, obvious?
By contrast, places where political parties had broad and clearly different visions of the public interest - parties with opposing ideologies strongly articulated, "polarization" in short - were immune to brokerage politics. B.C. was such a place. Sure the province had almost always been governed by right-wing parties. At least, though, there was a strong left-wing party to argue the case, enliven political discourse, and add to public understanding. It was always possible, too, that the left-wing party might win an election, and it had done so once and dramatically changed the province for the better. Without the polarization, right-wing drift would be inevitable: business lobbies like the forest and mining industries had the cash for it, and the media, except for the CBC, were under the control of right-wing owners. That wasn't democracy.
The clucking from outsiders, and from the Vancouver press inside the province, was
particularly loud about the partisan shenanigans in the B.C. legislature. They got that
wrong, too. Would they have preferred the Alberta legislature - deadly dull, perfunctory, where democracy didn't happen? Did they want us to be respectable Ontario clones? I revised my view of W.A.C. Bennett. He had been laughed at by Ontario and Quebec commentators because he didn't fit their staid idea of what a distinguished premier should be. They had poked fun at his staccato-like talk and bumbling awkwardness at a provincial-federal conference. Because he didn't relate to Quebec the way they did, they wondered out loud what country he was living in. I laughed with them. Now, in retrospect, I realized I should have been laughing at the Central Canadian commentators instead, in principle, although I had disagreed with Bennett about almost everything.
The more the national media raised their collective eyebrows about British Columbia, its combative and colourful legislative battles, its political polarization, and its non-conformist characters - the more they called it Lotus Land - the happier I was to be living in the province. We were entertaining. They considered us bizarre and unpredictable. We had a reputation to defend. Years later, Bill Vander Zalm was elected premier, with his smarmy charm, kitschy cultural bent (the cookie-cut-out Fantasy Gardens), his pompous religiosity, and his folksy, neo-primitive, woolhead, right-wing ideas. My Toronto friends were appalled at his antics. They wondered how I could bear to live in a province with Vander Zalm as premier (this was before "fucking goddamned" Harris, as my wife calls him, arrived on the Ontario scene). I basked in my Toronto friends' perplexity. I took a jocular pride in B.C.'s living up to its image. "I wouldn't have it any other way," I told them. (And Vander Zalm did himself in, with a flourish, and we had another NDP government as a result.)
I was like a character in A Nation Unaware, written 15 years earlier. I had explained that it was a waste of time to try to solve the contradictions between Quebec and the rest of Canada and between the regions and the centre. They weren't meant to be "solved." They were our very dynamic. If one persisted in trying to solve them by thinking things through in the abstract, one would end up paralyzed. I had in mind in particular the anguished efforts of some Québecois intellectuals and journalists to do so. Somewhere along the line, one had to act at whatever point in the contradiction one found oneself. Now I myself was an "actor" in the contradiction between the regions and the centre, rather than the writer enjoying the spectacle. I had written off the centre as hopeless, arrogant, byzantine and riddled with powerful lobbies and their PR firms, and wanted to give provinces as much room as they could possibly handle.
24. The campaign begins
I was in the waiting area in Svend Robinson's riding office on East Hastings in Burnaby waiting to see him. It was almost a sure bet by this time that he would throw his hat in the ring. This would be our second meeting. A year earlier I had made it a point to get together and had given him a couple of my books. I had never met him before. Now I felt I owed it to him to let him know personally, and in advance, what I was about to do, because I was an admirer and wanted him to know it. His involvement in the Sue Rodriguez case and his participating in a blockade although it meant going to jail, albeit briefly as it turned out, had shown spunk and conviction. Detractors, who mocked him as a publicity chaser, missed the point of what it actually meant to take a stand. It was his coming out of the closet, however, with his high profile, that I had mostly in mind. I knew that had involved an extraordinary amount of courage.
I looked around me in the outer room where I was sitting. There were stands and
shelves with his newsletter and with government and other documents. A large desk in
the middle had all of the usual equipment, reference books, and paper that signalled a
busy office. Svend, who had let me in - there were only two of us there - was in his inner office next to the street finishing off a series of lively phone calls that he had already lined up. I watched him through the inner office's glass walls, imagining the conversations. He was, I speculated, in the final stages of lining up his support before plunging in and, judging from his animation, things were going well.
I smiled at the contrast. I was starting off without any support. Bill Blaikie, or Bill Blaikie supporters, had done somewhat the same thing as Svend, in their case putting ads in NDP papers testing support and inviting contributions. Rumour had it that unlike Svend, Blaikie hadn't found enough support to satisfy himself and would back off. I was coming at it from a different direction. I was running to present a set of ideas - to make an argument - so support at this stage was irrelevant. Watching Svend though, I couldn't help feeling like a hungry orphan boy pressing his face against the restaurant window.
He finally finished his calls and came out to get me. I sat down opposite him in the inner office. He looked at me with an expression of lively interest. "Oh, oh," I thought, "he probably thinks I've come here to offer my support." Why else would I be there? I had imagined this scenario and had decided ahead of time the best way to handle the situation would be to get to the point quickly.
"This is going to come as a surprise," I said, trying to put him on his guard. "It's not what you're expecting...but I wanted to tell you about it personally." Then I let him know what I was intending to do.
He paled and leaned back in his chair, as if I had sucker-punched him, which it felt to me I had. I briefly went into the reasons behind my decision. He had already recovered by the time I paused, and there was a glint in his eye. He tried talking me out of it. He asked me if it wouldn't be more useful to bring my concerns to him. He was interested. I explained to him why it wouldn't work.
"You don't stand a chance of winning," he said.
I shrugged passively.
He kept pressing, now playfully and provocatively. "I'm in the middle of a debate," I thought, "and I'm on the defensive." I remembered that Svend was a lawyer by training. In the end, though, there wasn't too much he could do, since I had long ago thought the matter through.
We parted amicably, at least on the surface, and I left thinking what an uphill battle I had in front of me.
Lloyd [Lloyd MacDonald, my campaign manager] and I, however, had made progress in our own terms. We now had the banner and an attractive black-and-white glossy leaflet, plus telephone and fax lines, a 1-800 number, my own email address, and a phone with an answering machine that Lloyd had picked up.
We had a slogan I had come up with, that caught the essence of what we were trying
to do with the party, and marked us off - "Politics Of The Future."
I had as well, at this stage, produced about a dozen of an anticipated 20 or so policy circulars. I had finished them working with an editorial committee of Lloyd, Tom, Stephen, Marguerite and Donna Wong-Juliani. Donna was a longtime theatre friend, who had once run Telefilm Canada's Vancouver office and also, at one point, been my agent. She had that same historical sense of the country as the others. I had circulated drafts and made revisions based on their feedback. The circulars were now printed up, each only a single sheet long, numbered, on coloured paper, and split into two columns for easier reading. The length was right and, what was even more important, the single sheet avoided stapling. Over the individual titles, and repeated in all of the circulars, was a neat boxed banner, "POLITICS OF THE FUTURE, Herschel Hardin Leadership Campaign."
I went to see Bob Quart, the CEO at VanCity, on another errand. I had to tell him the manuscript of the credit union's history would be delayed even longer. He was not a happy man and let me know it. On the other hand, I was the only one who could finish the history. Moreover, if someone had decided to run for leadership of a federal political party - theoretically to become the leader and then prime minister, farfetched as the prospects might be in reality - and if he looked determined, as I did, the chance of dissuading him, by threats or otherwise, wasn't very great.
Besides, Quart wasn't the kind of person to break someone's kneecaps, and he had a
residual respect for the political process, especially at the national level. He had grown up bilingual, with a Québecoise mother, in Quebec City. His paternal grandmother, Josie Quart, a Conservative, had been a senator. Quart himself, as a young man, had chauffered John Diefenbaker on a Diefenbaker campaign visit to the region. Having
despaired of changing my mind, he wanted to know, since I was running for leadership of
a national party, whether I spoke French. He said it was pretty well a necessity now.
When I told him that I did speak French, he was at least somewhat consoled.
The policy circulars were put together by Gail Smith, a work-at-home former legal
secretary in North Vancouver who had transcribed my VanCity interviews. I had hired her
for the VanCity work from an appallingly long list of 135 applicants because she had what I called "quiet wrists" - she used her fingers to type, with her hands and forearms steady. My selection method proved to be brilliant. She now agreed to look after reproducing the circulars and to act as a distribution and mail-out centre. I was paying her but finding somebody quickly to do it on a voluntary basis was beyond us.
This did now make me think about money, however. Other than Stephen's few bucks,
the campaign didn't have any. We had been too busy to put our minds to fund-raising, and I wondered how successful we would be. I decided I would spend up to $10,000 of my own money if I had to. It would be a fair chunk of change but, then, I was going to be
doing this only once in a lifetime. A $10,000 outlay was about the cost of an extended
holiday for two in Europe, I rationalized.
I had also talked Lloyd into being my campaign manager ...well, sort of, at least in name. It would be embarrassing if I didn't formally have a campaign manager, I told him. We agreed that he would look after campaign headquarters messages and paperwork, which would leave him free for his other plans, and that I would take care of any
organizing. This wasn't ideal, but it was much better than I had hoped for. I already
owed Lloyd a lot. The campaign would not have have got off the ground without him.
Lloyd meanwhile had called the NDP provincial office to arrange a table at the
forthcoming provincial convention. We drew up a schedule for our little group to come
and help out. I crafted a news release making the announcement. When the first full
day of convention opened, Saturday, April 1 - I noticed the symbolism - delegates were
greeted with a Herschel Hardin table covered with campaign literature and copies of my
books, a big two-foot by six-foot banner strung up behind it ("HERSCHEL HARDIN" with a diagonal cutaway, "LEADERSHIP CANDIDATE" complete with party logo), and Herschel Hardin, the candidate himself.
33. Buying a suit
My other April campaign objective was to buy a suit, a couple of new ties, and other clothes. I had read somewhere that it was important to do that first, because once into a campaign proper, one would never find the time for it. I had one suit, a high-quality grey-blue worsted, but it had narrow flared legs and was long out of style. I called it my "funeral suit" because I only wore it to funerals, and even there, although a careless dresser, I felt I was cheating on the dead by being so flagrantly déclassé.
A Surrey political acquaintance insisted I buy a blue suit
"Blue is a power colour," he said. "If you don't buy blue, you're guaranteed to lose."
"What are you talking about?" I kidded him. "Where's your evidence? Where's your
"I don't need evidence," he said. "I know. I can tell you. You've got to buy dark blue."
I set out with my style consultant, Marguerite [my wife]. Dave Barrett wore a dark blue suit, I reminded myself. Because of a slight sway back and a size with a limited selection, however, the only blue suit we could find that fitted me was in a ritzy Italian tailor boutique in the high-rent Park Royal Mall in West Vancouver. The suit was powerful and elegant... and made me look like a Mafia boss. I swaggered in front of the mirror. Besides it was $400, and it had been so long since I had bought a suit, I hadn't culturally progressed to that price level yet. We ended up buying dark green, with micro, black cross-hatches, at Eaton's.
I hated buying clothes, partly because I was red-green colour-blind and wasn't always sure what I was doing. I would hang on until everything I had was frayed, washed out, coming apart, or ridiculously out of style. My favourite shirt was a dark blue one because I could touch up the worn collar points with a ballpoint pen. On the other hand, once I had actually managed to buy a new item or two, I would want to take advantage of being in the zone to stock up so I wouldn't have to do it again for a long, long time.
We consequently bought a blazer in addition to the suit, to have dark blue on hand. I hadn't worn anything so straight as a blazer for 40 years, but Lloyd was a blazer proponent. He said it was good all-purpose. We also bought shirts and ties, and sports shirts and slacks. I had a casual sports jacket at home as well. I was ready. "If nothing else comes of all this," I thought, "at least it drove me to buy some new clothes."
Lloyd, the adjudicator who counted, liked the dark-green campaign suit when he saw
it. I went with dark green. .....
35. Early stops in Edmonton and Grande Prairie
They expected me to show up simply by being asked. I was supposed to go to Halifax in a
week for a renewal conference - pay the fare, fly through four time zones, participate in a leadership debate, fly back. I had also received a call from Ottawa Centre that had decided impromptu to hold a leadership debate at the end of June. Lorne Nystrom and Alexa McDonough were now in the race. All the others would be there, the voice from
Ottawa told me, so it was important that I come. I deferred a decision. I didn't want to pay the fare simply because a few people in Ottawa thought a leadership debate would be fun. I also had a Kelowna appearance scheduled on the same day.
I arrived in Edmonton a day early. I knew Ross Harvey, the Alberta NDP leader, when he was briefly a Member of Parliament. As an expert on crown enterprise, I appeared at his request before a Commons committee discussing the future of Petro-Canada. I took advantage of my extra time in the city for a special session with Ross and others, at the NDP's Alberta headquarters, where I was able go into my argument in considerable detail.
The larger Edmonton gathering the next day - of the Alberta Council of Federal Ridings - was in a cavernous box of a community centre in the city's west end. Every
meeting counted because this time the membership at large would be voting - not to decide the leader but in a qualifying round. In order to go to convention I would have to either chalk up 15 per cent of the overall vote or win one of the regions (Atlantic, Quebec, Ontario, Prairies, B.C. & Yukon, the labour section). For the overall vote calculation, the labour section was weighted at 25 per cent, about 10 per cent below their convention delegate entitlement.
The participants seemed almost lost in the big hall. At breaks and lunch time,
organizers scurried around, and people walked in and out or congregated in the entrance
area. A cardinal rule of political campaigns is that a candidate is never left alone at a meeting. He or she looks too bereft and is diminished. If people aren't gathered around, or the candidate hasn't anyone to talk to, an aide steps in. The trouble was, I didn't have an aide. At the time I didn't know the maxim about never being alone, but I felt it. Standing in isolation, looking around - a supposed leadership candidate and important person - was murder, like being frozen, helpless and screaming on the inside, in an Edvard Munch painting.
If I didn't have a natural incentive to keep talking to people, the tactical need not to be physically isolated would have made me do it. I wanted in any case to talk to as many people as I could. I had begun enjoying it - coming up to someone, shaking hands, introducing myself, learning a little bit about them, making contact. With my candidacy now a matter of record, I could also introduce myself without misgiving.
Somebody in a conversation referred to me in passing as "a politician." I did a
doubletake...of delight. I had a new and desirable persona, desirable at least for me who wanted to be seen as a politician.
I also started applying myself to remember names. I wrote the names down on whatever meeting document I had in hand and then, looking at them again, I tried fixing
in my mind their connection to the people in question. I had never been able to
remember names. I did a quick self-diagnosis on the root of my problem. When I met
someone, I was so intent at the encounter itself that I paid no attention to the name being given to me. A few second later I had already forgotten it. I needed, instead, to concentrate on the name in those first few seconds. This was harder said than done
because the eyes and faces in front of me kept diverting me. Often I would have to ask
for the name a second time.
The scribbled names on random pieces of paper soon proved awkward. Shortly after
I bought a bound, hard-cover notebook to systematically keep names and phone numbers, location by location.
The leadership debate was to take place that evening. I left the afternoon proceedings early and headed for a friend's place, where I was staying. I decided to take the bus instead of a taxi - to save a few dollars and also because I had the time and wanted to relax. I knew Edmonton well. It was my home city, Vegreville being only 65 miles away. My father's large extended family had been in Edmonton, and my parents had moved there when my father retired. I walked a few blocks from the hall so that nobody stepping out from the meeting for a breather or a smoke would see the leadership candidate standing by his lonesome at the bus stop. The slow bus ride, crossing the city and then, in another bus, crossing the North Saskatchewan River, was a tonic. I had once made a canoe trip on that river, from Edmonton to Prince Albert.
I had the names of a few people from the cultural community in Edmonton who had a
left-wing bent and might want to give me a hand. Talking to them on the phone, I came up dry. They agreed with what I was trying to do, or at least they seemed to agree, but the possibility of accomplishing anything within the NDP was too remote for them.
A fair crowd showed up that night back at the community hall. Lorne Nystrom was
supposed to have participated, but an illness in his family forced him to cancel. I watched clinically as Svend spoke. He cited with outrage the case of a young girl chained to her loom in a carpet factory in India, whose products were sold in Canada: this was how degraded our system had become. He pulled a couple of newspaper articles out of his pocket, whose stories illustrated other outrages or follies of the powers-that-be. These anecdotes showed Svend's passion and humanity, but they were scattered, disorganized. "He's struggling," I reflected. He hadn't yet figured out what to say in a leadership campaign, a situation he had never been in before.
My turn was next. I had prepared a speech for seven minutes, the time we were
given. At the last moment, because Lorne didn't appear, this was extended to ten
minutes. I hurriedly scribbled a few things down on my notes to fill in the extra time.
I didn't have bifocals and didn't like them. In making a speech, I would slip on my
glasses briefly, take in a whole section of skeleton notes, remove my glasses, make
contact with the audience again, and wing it. This time, however, to pick up the extra
scribbled entries, I had to keep stopping, glasses on, glasses off. This threw me off
so badly that I lost track of where I was altogether and had to take yet more time to
find my place. I began sweating. I was conscious of going through something I had
never, in decades of making speeches, experienced. The audience was a sea of faces
looking straight at me, waiting imperiously. I uttered a couple of more sentences.
After that, I added a few more. Now I was completely lost. I didn't know what to say.
For a moment I thought I was going to have to stop and sit down, but I resisted. I was
like a banker who, faced with a threatened run by depositors, knows nevertheless that
anything is better than shutting one's doors. I looked at my notes again and kept
adding extra sentences, stolidly, until my time expired.
When it was over, I talked to an acquaintance about how unusual it was for me to
break down and hesitate like that. She hadn't noticed. She said the speech was fine.
I was looking for more impact, however - for a kind of communication whose immediacy I
could feel. I swore to myself the breakdown wouldn't happen again.
Grande Prairie, in northwestern Alberta, was my next stop. I revised my notes a second time, laying out the progression of the argument clearly without worrying about the exact time it would take to deliver. The idea was to connect with my subject matter
and keep going until the signal that only one minute was left. Then, according to the plan, I would quickly identify the other issues I hadn't yet discussed and move to my conclusion. I could in this way switch to my ending anywhere in the speech.
Elroy Diemert, an English prof at Grande Prairie Regional College and an environmentalist, had arranged the Grande Prairie session. He had been at the Edmonton
meeting and drove me up to Grande Prairie the next day. The highway took us through
wide-open parkland - long trajectories with not much in between. This gave me a chance
to engage Diemert in my strategic argument and to prod him politically as he resisted
coming over to my camp. I was becoming bolder, and what else is there to do on a 285-
mile car trip?
I had never been up that way before. My own wanderings north in Alberta had been to the northeast - St. Paul, Bonnyville, Cold Lake, Grand Centre. Entering Grande Prairie, I felt the same quiver of loneliness I had experienced on a working excursion to Inuvik and Aklavik. One was just out there in space. The city sat in its place in the Peace River Block like a Foreign Legion fortress in the Sahara - something substantial out of nowhere, in its case much more than a town, yet still oddly dominated by its grain elevators.
A hotel meeting room was booked for the session that evening. Again, Svend and I
were the only speakers. Almost from the moment I began, I could feel my words
carrying...see people listening with rapt attention. I was speaking to them directly,
with argument, feeling and intensity, pushing them to think and consider. After the
question period, a few people came up to talk to me, including Art Macklin, former head of the National Farmer's Union. This became my benchmark for each appearance: a few people engaged enough in my strategic argument to want to say something later. Svend, because of his celebrity image, could count on a circle of well-wishers almost automatically. For me, on the other hand, these post-meeting encounters were a good measure of whether I had managed to get across.
Svend himself also did better than the evening before, in his own way. He too had
realized he had problems, I thought, and had gone to work on them. The observation gave me pleasure. I liked the idea of being able to be performer and discerning critic at
the same time.
I knew now that regardless of how many votes I generated, my campaign was going to
work, and that I had made the right decision in Lloyd MacDonald's kitchen. I would reach people. With some variations, I used virtually the same speech - the Grande Prairie speech - all the way through to the end of the campaign in October.
It would begin with some introductory remarks - how glad I was to be there, or that the party needed to change and I needed people's help to change it - or a light-hearted comment on a personal connection to the place. If I had the time I would throw in a joke or two. I would quickly, though, get to the critical analysis: We had been a strategic failure. Yet democratic socialism was more appropriate than ever.
I would then explain the strategic failure, beginning with our abandonment of economic issues, much as outlined in the lead paragraph in my leaflet "Accepting the Challenge." This segued into our having missed the deficit issue - having missed the chance to turn the tables on the right - and pokes at Preston Manning and Paul Martin. The political fun, and strategic importance, of debunking waste and folly in the private sector might be mentioned here as well.
From there I would go into an exploration of the future economy, a social economy, the post-market society, touching on its different aspects - its new kinds of work, a larger rather than smaller public sector, the self-employed as a new factor, how democratic socialist the future economy would be. I would jibe at the right-wing dogma of "the market über alles" - a key metaphor.
Making the mass media a key political issue would be the next segment and then, if I had time, my attack on commercialization and an outline of the "post-propaganda society." Culture as a major issue would come in at this point.
I would then sum up: the need to be a political movement and not just a political party, and what that involved, and usually, after that, my short philosophical explanation of what democratic socialism is.
This was the skeleton of the speech. It was, however, the evocative elaboration of the argument, "concrete" references, metaphor, detail, turns of phrases, and historical allusions, as I went along, that made the speech each time. Most of this material was in the policy circulars. The language was important. When I said, "Gradually we found ourselves boxed into a small corner, without sufficient amplitude as a party for the breakthrough were are always looking for," I was catching in a phrase what had really happened to us.
47. Finding a book on Karl Polanyi in Regina
Somebody in Regina had mentioned an alternative newspaper called Prairie Dog, the Regina equivalent of Now in Toronto or the Georgia Straight in Vancouver, except more
left-wing, so I dropped by to say hello and see if I could drum up some free publicity. The Prairie Dog people were in the basement of a ramshackle little building on the edge of downtown. Unlike Now and the fat Georgia Straight, they were having a tough time of it, trying to scratch up money for another issue which, I was told, would come out whenever they managed. They weren't at the moment publishing.
They also had a left-wing bookstore on the premises, or at least a few shelves filled with books for sale. I was taken by it, not because of the books but because the characters running Prairie Dog - that is, trying to run it - considered books and the ideas in them important.
Just for the heck of it, and to show my appreciation, I browsed through the shelves. It was like visiting a political cell. I was enjoying myself. Suddenly my eye stopped at a slender white bookspine with the words "THE LIFE AND WORK OF KARL POLANYI" in capital letters. I hadn't seen that particular Polanyi title before. I had the rush of excitement that comes at discovering something with special esoteric meaning for oneself, and I bought the book. I carried it with me for the rest of the campaign.
The book turned out to be an anthology of 26 academic articles about Polanyi, from a memorial centenary conference held in Budapest in November 1986. The date also coincided with the 30th anniversary of the Hungarian revolution. I began reading the
articles before going to sleep at night, somewhat like a travelling salesman reading a few passages from the Gideon bible before turning off the light in his hotel room. What few people knew, because I rarely had time in my appearances to talk about it - although I always had the urge - was that my leadership campaign was a Karl Polanyi campaign. I
had in fact originally intended to write a policy circular on the value of articulating political philosophy; the circular would have been largely on Polanyi. I was a Polanyist, if there was such a word.
Karl Polanyi, I liked to say, was to democratic socialism what Adam Smith was to
liberalism and Karl Marx was to communism. Sitting in airplanes, travelling from stop to stop, I would reminisce in my mind about Polanyi and what a cutting political irony it was that more people did not know his work and what it signified. I felt like a proxy for him - I, the leadership candidate in a minor party in an unimportant country, without a snowball's chance in hell of winning even there, yet boldy talking transformational ideas.
Polanyi was Hungarian, born in 1886. In the interwar period he was in Austria, writing for Vienna's leading economic weekly, the Osterreichische Volkswirt, latterly as foreign affairs editor. When Hitler came to power in Germany in 1933, the publisher of the paper no longer wanted Polanyi around. Reading the writing on the wall, he emigrated to England and later went to the United States. His wife, however, was not allowed to follow him to the United States because of her revolutionary past. Eventually they settled in Canada - in Pickering, Ontario - where Polanyi spent his last years. His daughter, Kari Levitt, was the author of a book about the American corporate takeover of Canada, Silent Surrender, which I knew all about from the heady Canadian nationalist days of the early 1970s. As the book critic at the time for Critics-on-Air on CBC radio, I had probably reviewed the book.
Polanyi's magnum opus, The Great Transformation, was first published in New York and Toronto, under the Holt Rinehart imprint, in 1944. Polanyi had set out in the book to explain the rise of fascism in Europe in the 1920s and 1930s. He ended up going back to the end of the 18th century in Britain, the subsequent breakdown of the old paternalistic conservative order, and the advent of the "self-regulating" market economy in the 19th century, dwelling especially on the free market for labour.
This latter radical, "liberal" revolution was economically exhilarating but socially devastating. Its leading symbol was the "Satanic mills" of the Industrial Revolution, where workers (including women and children) were just another commodity. Polanyi documented that wherever this pattern occurred, and regardless of ideology - in "liberal" Britain, Bismarckian Prussia, the France of the Third Republic, the Hapsburg Empire - there was a spontaneous counter-reaction. The various regimes established tariffs to protect their economies against the wayward disruption of unregulated trade. They implemented child labour laws and even some other rudimentary labour legislation, including workers compensation. They introduced public-health measures. The different individuals who took the lead were all over the ideological map, from a multitude of parties and social strata.
Polanyi called this the "double movement" - the destruction of the old conservative order by the rise of the self-regulating market economy and then the reaction against the havoc it created, with societies moving to protect themselves. This together was "the great transformation."
Of the 300-page analysis, one telling observation particularly stayed with me. Polanyi explained how the picture of economic devastation of working people during the Industrial Revolution was actually erroneous. The "factory system" on average improved their standard of living over the previous century, measured in strictly economic terms. Their lives, however, were as black and desperate as the imagery suggested because the
society in which they lived - what we would call "community," with its relationships,
respect and support - had been destroyed.
On this score, Polanyi departed both from liberalism and communism, which saw the
world in terms of economic factors and discounted everything else. The two ideologies
were just opposite sides of the same counterfeit materialist coin. For Polanyi, on the other hand, people were first of all social beings, not economic ones. This was in the very nature of what people were.
This brought him to the 1920s where the economies of whole nations were made
subservient to a market device, the gold standard. Some European societies broke down
under the demands that adhering to the gold standard placed on their economies. The
disruption and authoritarianism that followed produced fascism.
Polanyi, in his role as economic anthropologist, also looked into primitive and archaic economies as part of his continuing exploration of what made people tick economically. A collection of essays in the field, published in English after his death and of which I had a copy at home, included among its seemingly arcane subjects the state economic sphere in 18th century Dahomey, ports of trade in early societies, cowrie (shell) money, and the household economy in ancient Greece. He had already done work on the Trobriand Islanders, the kingdom of Hammurabi in Babylonia, and other primitive and ancient economies for some of the introductory background analysis in The Great Transformation.
His findings here also contradicted the conventional wisdom of market-system doctrine. He discovered, for example, that the motive of gain was not "natural" to man. It was Polanyi's exploration of how economic activity related to society, however, that rivetted me. He had found that "economic systems, as a rule, are embedded in social relations," rather than society being subordinated to economic systems, as proponents of the self-regulating market would have it. People and their societies were primary, in other words - again, people were first of all social beings - and the economic rules and systems they devised were secondary to that, throughout time.
"Economic systems, as a rule, are embedded in social relations..." The phrase, the sheer aptness of the phrase, the word "embedded" itself, its aptness, became imprinted in my mind. Reading Polanyi was to be launched on a voyage of profound discovery.
So the attempt to subordinate people and society to mere economic rules - in our case, the market - wasn't simply wrong-headed, instinctively in human terms and in the
way it treated people and their environment. It was an anthropological aberration. There were only two brief periods in history when it had happened, mid-way through the Industrial Revolution and with the gold standard in the 1920s. Those two arrangements,
by the artificially imposed, perverse nature of them, weren't sustainable.
Polanyi also explained how the doctrine of the self-regulating market made a profound mistake about what people and the world they live in really are. Polanyi's terminology for them was "labour" and "land." The assumption of market dogmatists required they be treated as commodities, but this was a fiction. Labour was people, and land was nature. They weren't produced for sale, and weren't commodities at all, but were the very primary stuff of life, to be respected as such in their own terms.
What Polanyi was doing in effect was exploring the appropriate role of markets in society. Having read Polanyi, I had already thought this through and realized that it was the central question around which everything else turned. It was, in short, the most important political question of our time.
Now turn to my definition of democratic socialism, in Policy Circular 2: