“Captain Courageous,” one journalist called him. He was recounting Herschel’s daring, as a public-interest advocate, in facing up to powerful television and cable interests. It was just one of the many chapters in Herschel’s life.
Herschel is an author, playwright, public-policy consultant,
volunteer activist, and commentator, although now in his early
80's, even he is admitting that he's slowing down a bit. He has also, over the years, been a radio broadcaster, newspaper columnist, community organizer, book and theatre critic, arts correspondent, public-broadcasting advocate, regulatory analyst, corporate director and, on one memorable occasion, stage actor.
He has written major works on both economic and media issues. The economic work includes economic history, political ideology, the corporate world, business finance, business enterprise and much else – all from a critical and independent
perspective. He also has a cultural side and a grassroots
activist side. Above all, perhaps, he has written about what
makes Canada a unique place, and has helped to defend that
uniqueness with flair and gusto. “Wonderfully passionate,
sardonic and incisive,” a book reviewer once described him.
Herschel grew up in a prairie town, Vegreville, Alberta, just east of Edmonton, and went to university in Ontario (Queen’s University in Kingston). He began his career as a playwright. One of his plays, Esker Mike and his Wife, Agiluk is a Canadian classic.
For the better part of a decade, he was a freelance radio broadcaster for the CBC and Radio-Canada (the CBC’s French-language network), talking to British Columbians and covering British Columbia stories for listeners both in BC and across the country.
In the 1970s, he established the Association for Public Broadcasting in British Columbia and, later, Capital Cable Co-operative in Victoria, in a campaign to expand Canadian television on the public, non-commercial side – a campaign involving everything from grassroots organization to court actions. In conjunction with this he also become involved in contesting cable rate-increase applications and the weird and not-so-wonderful world of financial analysis in which, as an advocate and consultant, he became an old hand.
Later in that decade he was an editorial-page columnist for the Toronto Star, Canada’s largest newspaper, writing from Vancouver on the whole spectrum of politics, economics and what makes Canada tick.
But it is his non-fiction books for which he is best known - books touching on some of the most important issues of our time. His first book, A Nation Unaware, 1974, about what makes Canada different, is still
occasionally talked about some 40 odd years later.
One of the themes in A Nation Unaware was the dynamic role of public enterprise in Canada’s economic development. This was touched on again in The Privatization Putsch, 1985, debunking the privatization movement. A more recent book, The New Bureaucracy: Waste and Folly in the Private Sector, 1991, provides a telling inside look at corporate business and finance. His last book, Working Dollars: The VanCity Story, recounts the dramatic history of Canada’s largest credit union.
He has done extensive work on the mass media, not just encouraging more public broadcasting but also promoting diverse media ownership generally. His 1985 book, Closed Circuits: The Sellout of Canadian Television, is an exposé of Canadian broadcasting politics. Magazine articles, newspaper columns and chapters in some of his other books also have explored this tangled world of broadcasting politics. A recurrent theme is the pernicious rise and wasteful cost of brand-name propaganda and its imposition
In the early 1990s, he decided to get involved in politics, specifically with the federal New Democratic Party (NDP).
As a life-long democratic socialist, he was dismayed by the strategic failure of the
party and even more by its narrowness, fustiness and loss of heart. He also saw
party politics - that is, a left-wing party in politics - as the only vehicle that could check the right-wing ideological capture of the times. He set out to change the NDP – to
make it "more modern and more radical at the same time.”
In 1995, he ran for the party leadership, in a campaign of ideas
(Politics of the Future) that stirred up discussion and
stretched minds. He was the NDP candidate in Vancouver
South–Burnaby in the 1997 and 2000 federal elections.
His books, his foray into politics, much of his journalism, and his plays – most explicitly The New World Order – all have a thematic unity reflecting his own egalitarian, Canadian, un-American outlook. He is unashamedly a Canadian nationalist and also a westerner, with his roots in CCF prairie radicalism.
The opening section of A Nation Unaware is a definitive description of what makes Canada different from the United States.
For most of the 1990s he was on the board of the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia, one of the province’s major business organizations
where, among other things, he chaired the board’s Road Safety Committee
(which ushered in the company’s ground-breaking road-safety program)
and, later, the Product Committee, taking it in hand at a
time when the company was faced with an increasing challenge
in the “optional insurance” market.
he took to the theatre stage, playing Mohammad Mossadegh, the Iranian oil nationalist, in a Vancouver production of his political play,
The New World Order.
His ability to weep on command and, at a climactic moment in
the play, to utter an unforgettable cry of agony were long
In the early 1990s, triggered by his son's
schizophrenia diagnosed a decade earlier, he began taking an
active interest in helping those with serious mental illness
and their families, most importantly with the North Shore
Schizophrenia Society (NSSS). He was following the
lead of his wife, Marguerite, an NSSS mainstay who founded
the society's pioneering Family Support Centre and pioneered
as well family peer one-on-one support and crisis
counselling. Herschel's involvement ranged across the
whole spectrum of actitivies, from major advocacy, peer
family teaching, program development, and fundraising,
through to management, including a stint as president, and
playing Santa Claus at the society's annual Christmas
This work has continued in one form or another,
most recently with a
proposal for an intentional community on the Riverview
Lands in Coquitlam, the site of the now-shuttered provincial
Herschel is a member of the Writers’ Union of Canada. He has been a longtime environmentalist and is a member of SPEC (Society Promoting Environmental Conservation). Other memberships include the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, Amnesty International,
the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, the Council of
Canadians and, in connection with the Riverview project, the
Riverview Village Intentional Community Society.
He is a tennis player and member of the West Vancouver Tennis Club. He and his wife Marguerite live in West Vancouver BC.