Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Book Review: The Blaikie Report

Among other highlights of the Saskatchewan NDP's leadership convention this month, I was able to meet and chat with longtime NDP MP (and later MLA) Bill Blaikie, who attended in large part to introduce party members to The Blaikie Report. And I appreciate the opportunity to review the book - particularly given that others have already had their say since its release.

Blaikie's book reads in part as autobiography, in part as polemic. And on both fronts, he nicely highlights how little Canadian politics have changed over the past several decades, with the appropriation of religious messaging by the far right serving as one of the few genuinely radical developments.

Blaikie starts by tracing his own social gospel views back to the CCF-NDP's early leaders and beyond, describing the social gospel as reflecting a religious critique of capitalism (which itself gets treated by far too many political actors as an infallible matter of faith).

Blaikie then applies the social gospel lens to his dizzying range of political experience - from culture wars to constitutional wrangling to the passage of the Canada Health Act. And whatever the source of one's concern about corporatist government, the themes found in Blaikie's book will be highly familiar to anybody involved in social democratic circles - from countering astroturfed "taxpayer" outrage by pointing out the preferential treatment granted to corporations, to the meaning and importance of sustainable development.

That said, a few chapters particularly stand out not merely as reflections on Blaikie's experience, but as arguments worth expanding on when it comes to issues which are still central to Canadian political debate. Chapter 8 makes a strong case as to the longstanding difference in political cultures between the NDP and the Libs - and how issue advocates can't expect to succeed in changing the terms of policy discussion without clearly articulating which party best reflects their underlying goals. And Chapters 15-16 offer both blistering criticism of the "chosen powerlessness" associated with free trade agreements, and a reminder that citizens' movements have been able to effectively counter the supposedly inexorable movement toward ever more corporate power.

But of course, any public movement depends on rallying together as many citizens as possible. And the NDP at all levels will do well to keep in mind Blaikie's core argument that a social democratic movement and party can only succeed by reaching out to voters and communities who share our values - whether or not those values are rooted in faith.

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