Iconic white voting boxes
Toronto felt more political than ever this election season. After a tumultuous year for the city, its mayor, and its voting public, we’re all feeling conscious of the changing political landscape—whether that breeds excitement, anxiety, or outright dread. To better navigate our rocky political landscape, it’s now necessary to stay informed beyond the typical breaking news stories and catchy headlines, and there is no shortage of great books that have been written by or about politicians and their ideas.
More and more social events are spattered with policy debates and everyone you know is either a Party volunteer or has been annoyed by one knocking at the door. This tension will likely increase as environmental catastrophe draws near and as daily social and economic injustices continue to press on the collective conscience. While our sense of political urgency means voter turnout is still nowhere near 100 percent, it still seems that our city (and province) is becoming increasingly concerned with current events and that we are still willing to engage our critical faculties.
Hopefully we’re not too browbeaten by the Ford Nation saga that we’ve exhausted any interest in higher levels of government.
By the time you read this, voting day will have passed, but to help you digest the results of the provincial election, I’ve drawn up a list of some important books on politics that might deserve a place on your shelf.
Crazy Town by Robyn Doolittle
Many are familiar with Rob Ford’s escapades, and most who don’t like him are sick to death of hearing about him. His term expires in October and if you want to supplement the inevitable media circus with some more entertainment, check out this book written by one of three journalists to have reported on his infamous (first) crack video.
Chow’s book has garnered considerable publicity since its publication this spring
My Journey by Olivia Chow
Olivia Chow’s memoir deals with her arrival in Canada from Hong Kong, her marriage to the late Jack Layton, and her very successful career in politics, which currently finds her in Toronto’s mayoral race. Christie Blatchford tore Chow’s book apart as a shameless attempt at “legacy-building” but she forgets how, in a way, Chow has to treat her politics with utter seriousness and grandiosity. It is a very big deal that a non-white immigrant woman is one of the most common household names within the Canadian political world, and contributions such as Olivia’s work toward a future where the existence of prominent female politicians is no longer seen as a “big deal.” Hopefully, Chow will inspire more diversity in Canadian politics, but until then, I refuse to believe that stories like hers have already grown tiresome.
Speaking Out Louder: Ideas That Work for Canadians by Jack Layton
I sympathize with the growing concern that the strongest hope for the NDP fizzled out with the passing of Jack Layton. His efficacy as a charismatic public figure is hard to match. When Stephen Harper cashes out and takes his big-oil money with him, someone will have to step up to take his place. Many people hoped that would have been Jack Layton. But through the efforts of Chow and many others, the NDP is still a prominent force in provincial and federal politics. As the millennials continue to grow into voting age, it’s plausible that the party’s progressive politics will continue to attract more supporters (if they summon the initiative to hit the polls). Anyone interested in the NDP should pick up this book written by its biggest figurehead and see what Layton had in mind for Canada.
The Longer I’m Prime Minister: Stephen Harper and Canada, 2006– by Paul Wells
Many people would be surprised to hear that Canada’s Prime Minister is one of the most powerful titles one can have in politics, even more powerful than the President of the United States. While the U.S. has been and still is a global mega-power, the Canadian Prime Minister is actually able to do more as an individual than the American President. Since the beginning of Harper’s lengthy stint as leader of our federal government, the Conservative golden-boy has exercised his influence extensively. Wells looks at the Prime Minister’s many years at the top in this acclaimed book; you can read an excerpt of it here.
Paikin and the Premiers: Personal Reflections on a Half-Century of Ontario Leaders by Steve Paikin
TVO has been home to many beloved personalities such as Polkaroo, the Reading Rangers, and Steve Paikin. The journalist and television host has had a very successful career reporting on politics and has even moderated electoral debates. If you need to brush up on your civics—but resent the bland dosings of poli-sci you received in middle school—pick up Paikin’s book and learn from the man who has logged more time with Ontario’s political personalities than anyone should be required to.
But if you’re looking for a more pumped-up approach to Ontario politics, listen to this rallying cry from The Dope Poet Society’s front man. At the end of the video, ProfessorD.us also performs his head-turning hip-hop hit, “Fuck Mike Harris.”