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In Search of a New Left: Canadian Politics After the Neoconservative Assault

by James Laxer

This book is grotesquely mistitled. It is not – except for its last chapter – about the search for a new Left, or even about Canadian politics in the neoconservative era. Instead, In Search of a New Left: Canadian Politics After the Neoconservative Assault is a potted (and chronologically confused) history of global events since the end of World War II, with a pabulum history of Canada tossed in for good measure. Beyond a paean of praise for Tommy Douglas who laid the groundwork for Medicare and an interesting chapter on the Waffle (the nationalist and socialist group within the NDP with which Laxer was heavily involved at the end of the 1960s and early 1970s), there is nothing here new, startling, or even well written. Laxer is very harsh on Ed Broadbent, the NDP leader before last; he dismisses Audrey McLaughlin, Broadbent’s successor; and he is condemnatory of Bob Rae, the Ontario premier who led the provincial party to oblivion. He has praise for almost no one currently active, in fact, other than Glen Clark, the new B.C. premier, who preaches class war and practices B.C.-first policies with a shrillness and invective never before heard.

And the future of the Left? If Laxer’s account – a mere 19 pages – is correct, we might fairly conclude its future is all behind it. He wants a new NDP to be nationalist and internationalist, to support the self-determination of Quebec, to favour employment equity and native rights. This is new and attractive? And how is it different from the present NDP?

Canada needs a strong left-wing party to counterbalance the rightward tilt of our polity. Instead of Laxer’s tired formulas, why not return to the old social-democratic heritage to find policies that support a strong central government able to act in the interests of all Canadians, that can implement national programs and counter provincialist and regional dogma? A program like that, something now completely absent on the federal scene, would attract support and give the Left a chance to go places. Regrettably, Laxer’s tired bromides are a prescription only for the complete elimination of Canadian social democracy.