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Book Reviews

Building the Orange Wave: The Inside Story Behind the Historic Rise of Jack Layton and the NDP

by Brad Lavigne

Written by Brad Lavigne, the NDP’s campaign director for the 2011 federal election, Building the Orange Wave is an excellent case study in how to build momentum, promote an agenda, and get a candidate noticed. Detailing the NDP’s rise to official opposition status with Jack Layton as leader from 2002 to his death in 2011, the book is a thorough (though extremely partisan) explication of Canadian political events, with a focus on the structure and history of the party. A bit short on personality, but generous with facts, figures, and procedure, it is sure to be of particular interest to those who study the political machinations of the Canadian electoral system.

However, if you’re someone who thinks of the NDP as the kinder, gentler party – especially when headed by the immensely likable Layton – prepare to have those illusions stripped away. The cynical way election campaigns are run may prove disenchanting; even the leftie NDP isn’t immune to the hyper-macho lexicon of campaigning: “war chest,” “war room,” “lieutenant,” and the troubling and confusing term “opening the kimono.” Layton’s public admission of prostate cancer is controlled and branded, leveraged as an opportunity to present him as a “three-dimensional” regular guy. He is called a “product.” There is little to separate the people who work on an NDP campaign from Conservative or Liberal operatives.  

Lavigne breaks from his mostly reasonable, even tone when grudges appear, and he often comes just shy of outright insulting certain organizations and individuals. There’s also a wilful blindness to hypocrisy: Liberals are harshly criticized for changing policy, while the NDPers are shown to do the same without comment. Liberals are mocked for having members who don’t agree on policy, but when this happens in the NDP, it’s an opportunity to talk about the urban/rural divide.

The party’s former leader remains mostly untarnished. The reader is reminded of the fact that Jack Layton was an extraordinary person, a politician who believed in getting things done and helping people. But, as Lavigne shows, the methods used to raise him to power differed not at all from those used to elevate less noble players.