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Dead Centre: Hope, Possibility, and Unity for Canadian Progressives

by Jamey Heath

There is a considerable amount of frustration on display in Jamey Heath’s Dead Centre. The former research and communications director for the federal New Democrats under Jack Layton is calling for the consolidation of the considerable percentage of Canadian voters to the left of centre – as soon as possible. But he is also lashing out at the forces that keep progressive parties, specifically the NDP, marginalized in federal politics.

A who’s who of the Canadian left – Maude Barlow, James Laxer, new Green Party leader Elizabeth May, Canadian Auto Workers Union head Buzz Hargrove, and CAW VP Jim Stanford – are criticized by Heath for supporting the Liberals, a party that Heath believes can no longer claim to be progressive, if it ever really could. Heath is upset with those people because, faced with the prospect of a Conservative government in the last election, they either endorsed voting for the Liberals or criticized the NDP for attacking the Liberals. Instead of continuing to support the idea of strategic voting, which has hurt the NDP and benefited the Liberals, Heath believes the time is right for progressives to give up on the Liberals once and for all.

Throughout the book, Heath makes a convincing argument that now is the time for voters on the left to abandon the Liberals, but he fails to show how the NDP can make a convincing argument to those voters. And more importantly, he fails to show how anyone could possibly manage to satisfy all of the disparate and occasionally dichotomous elements – unions and environmentalists, rural and urban – of the Canadian left. History both recent and distant suggests it may be impossible.

Heath could also have made his case in a more efficient and coherent way. The first half of the book features too much historical analysis, going back to the 1984 and 1988 elections and including the more recent campaigns, but it doesn’t offer much that a regular newspaper reader wouldn’t already know. Considering Heath’s role in the recent votes, more inside information would have been interesting and useful.