Friday, April 02, 2010

Book Review: How We Almost Gave the Tories the Boot by Brian Topp

I've posted a couple of times already about Brian Topp's book - once to note Topp's central role in documenting the events of the 2008 progressive coalition, and once to raise some questions about the tone taken by the book. But Lorimer Publishing was kind enough to pass along a copy for my review - and I'll take some time to offer up some comments for those who haven't yet had a chance to read it.

At the outset, I'll note that few of the events documented in Topp's book will come as too much surprise to those who have read his extensive blog posts on the coalition. If anything, the book adds more by way of prologue and explanation than it does to the events of the coalition itself, as Topp's discussion in the 1999 Saskatchewan coalition government and the NDP's strategic planning over a period of years from the time when Jack Layton took over as leader offers a useful context for how the coalition came to be and why the NDP was so well-prepared to move it forward (unfortunately in contrast to the Liberals).

Indeed, Topp makes clear that the NDP's work on the coalition was based on a far more thoughtful and positive intention than merely "giving the Tories the boot", while also having roots going far deeper than any aspect of the fiscal update that got the Libs interested in the possibility. And Topp's repeated observations on the importance of building friendly connections into all parties are reflected in the NDP's ability to develop and sell a workable coalition structure in a matter of days when the possibility arose, all while keeping some reasonably close tabs on even the party which the coalition was looking to remove from power.

If there's a point to be criticized in Topp's book, it's that his take winds up being somewhat more narrowly focused in terms of the time frame and perspectives considered than might have been ideal. And for a couple of reasons, I won't necessarily stick with the "working draft of history" line I'd previously suggested might apply to the book.

The first limitation on Topp's scope is a focus on top-level NDP/Lib negotiations with little discussion of the public movement which also coalesced around the coalition. That's understandable to a point given Topp's place in the negotiations, but results in his falling into the trap of talking about public opinion turning on the coalition without examining what the public was actually doing at the time.

The focus on top-level dealings also creates a rather glaring gap of a month in Topp's narrative between the point when Ignatieff broke off communications in December 2008, and a meeting between he and Layton in January 2009. Which seems to be a time period deserving of somewhat more exploration, as plenty of supporters (built on an NDP foundation) continued to work to promote the coalition in public based on the possibility that Ignatieff might come around once the budget was unveiled.

The second key limitation is that while Topp provides loads of detail about the events from his own perspective, the book sticks to chronicling Topp's own observations at the time rather than supplementing those with new detail from other parties' camps. And that leaves some obvious questions to be answered by others who seem to have been far more reluctant than Topp to provide an open account of the events.

In particular, Topp's narrative as to the Libs' actions in response to the coalition leaves room for at least a couple of books to be written on how the respective camps of Stephane Dion, Michael Ignatieff and Bob Rae dealt with each other and with the other opposition parties in response to the coalition. And some more answers as to the "why" in evaluating Ignatieff's skepticism about the coalition would seem to be rather crucial for the NDP in deciding how to handle future opportunities.

While Topp may not be able to offer a complete chronicle of the coalition showdown from all sides, though, he definitely provides a lively and engaging take on the events which any New Democrat will be glad to have included in the history books. So for those who haven't yet taken the time to take a look, I'll highly recommend giving Topp's book a read.

(Edit: fixed typo.)

1 comment:

  1. It is a good book to read. Self publishing is giving the opportunity to publish new books. It is faster process than the traditional publishing process. It also helps new writer to show their work.