Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Peter C. Newman, "When the Gods Changed: The Death of Liberal Canada" (2011)

Newman is a prolific, prominent, and long-standing commentator on Canadian political and corporate elites. He is a former editor of the Toronto Star and Maclean's magazine. He gets attention when he speaks, although is perhaps not seen as the most critical or academic of writer.

When the Gods Changed is really two small books in one. The first is a post-mortem on Michael Ignatieff's short, failed leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada. By failed, I mean that he oversaw a reduction in the party's seats in Parliament, did not advance the party into the role of the official opposition, and did not take on the role of Prime Minister.

The second book is a brief history of the Liberal Party of Canada, focusing on the "glory days" of the mid-20th-century, and the establishment of the LPC as the 'natural governing party' of the country. One of the critical moments Newman points to is the 1961 Kingston Conference, wherein the LPC brought together thinkers and party members to envision the principles of what would take the party to the 21st-century.

The two halves do not entirely coalesce. They do suggest, however, that Ignatieff alone cannot be blamed for the LPC's fate. Newman suggests the decay began long before, during John Turner's reign, and might lie more with the party apparatus than any particular leader. He suggests that the party became managed by professional apparatchiks more intent on preserving their power than allowing the party membership and volunteers to advance challenging policy ideas that might provide some kind of long-term vision. He also indicates that the party's move away from social and nationalist principles to economic pragmatism gave ground to their opponents on the left and right.

A couple of related books that I've commented on include:
Michael Ignatieff, Fire and Ashes.
Brad Lavigne, Building the Orange Wave.
Brian Topp, How we almost gave the Tories the Boot.

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