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Carbon tax. Child care. Deficits. Campaign soundbites are designed to be clearly understood and easily repeated, but they don’t always capture the bigger issues at play. So far in the current federal election campaign, we’ve seen climate strikers protest Canada’s dire lack of leadership on climate change; Jagmeet Singh call out Justin Trudeau’s long-buried donning of blackface; Maxime Bernier express blatantly xenophobic views about immigration; and Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott emerge as two candidates looking to challenge the old boy’s club of Canadian politics. Below is a roundup of six books that dive deeper into each of these issues. Want to know more? Get reading!

1. Protest and Democracy

The climate strikes that took place in Canadian cities last Friday had unprecedented turnout — from an estimated 500,000 in Montreal to 100,000 in Vancouver and thousands in Toronto, Victoria and Edmonton. The crowds speak to the fact that Canadians care about climate change, despite the fact that climate policy in Canada remains terrifyingly inadequate. The packed climate strikes also hark back to another period of protest in recent history: the demonstrations that sprang up around the world in 2011, from the Arab Spring to Quebec’s printemps érable to Occupy Wall Street. Edited by Moisés Arce and Roberta Rice, Protest and Democracy (University of Calgary Press, 2019) looks at the longterm effects of 2011’s protests on global politics. It also takes seriously the idea that showing up in the streets is a form of democratic participation equal to showing up at the ballot box.

2. Un-Canadian: Islamophobia in the True North

Islamophobic and openly anti-immigration candidates have run in elections at almost every level of government over the past three years, from Faith Goldy’s candidacy in the Toronto 2018 election to Maxime Bernier’s current bid as head of the People’s Party of Canada, which wants to dismantle official multiculturalism. Un-Canadian, by Graeme Truelove (Nightwood Editions, 2019), focuses on the spread of Islamophobia in Canada since 2001. But, as Truelove points out, xenophobia’s roots go back even further and can be found at every point in Canadian history.

3. The Cure for Hate: A Former White Supremacist’s Journey from Violent Extremism to Radical Compassion

Donald Trump’s election in 2016 gave white supremacists everywhere implicit permission to express their views. The effects of this have been largely experienced by people of colour in Canada, with police-reported hate crimes in this country rising by 47 per cent from 2016 to 2017. Tony McAleer, who grew up in Vancouver, was a long-time member of the White Aryan Resistance who later renounced white supremacy and now runs a non-profit organization called Life After Hate. The Cure for Hate (Arsenal Pulp, 2019) recounts how McAleer became drawn to neo-Nazism and offers tactical advice about how to diffuse white supremacy at both the interpersonal and collective levels. 

4. Too Dumb for Democracy: Why We Make Bad Political Decisions and How We Can make Better Ones

How did Rob Ford get elected mayor of Toronto? Why did 46 per cent of Americans who cast a ballot in 2016 vote for Donald Trump? And how did Brexit even happen? These three examples alone demonstrate that voters in democracies often make bad collective decisions in spite of overwhelming evidence that they should do the opposite. In Too Dumb for Democracy (Goose Lane, 2019), political scientist David Moscrop turns to neuroscience to figure out why this is the case — and to find solutions for our shared stupidity.

5. Doing Politics Differently? Women Premiers in Canada’s Provinces and Territories

In January of 2014, five of Canada’s 13 premiers were women. As of October 2019, none of them are. How do women premiers influence politics and policy? Doing Politics Differently? (UBC Press, 2019), edited by political scientist Sylvia Bashevkin, attempts to answer this question. The book examines the governments of not only recent premiers like Alberta’s Rachel Notley and Ontario’s Kathleen Wynne, but also those of Kim Campbell, Canada’s only female prime minister, and Prince Edward Island’s Catherine Callbeck. The questions posed by Bashevkin’s book are important ones, as the issue of gender parity in politics hasn’t gone away: while a record number of female MPs were elected in 2015, women still only make up 26 per cent of parliament.

6. The Trudeau Formula: Seduction and Betrayal in an Age of Discontent

Liberals all over Canada rejoiced when Justin Trudeau’s election in 2015 brought an end to Stephen Harper’s nine-year prime ministership. Trudeau’s open embrace of feminism and bold policy promises also energized voters made cynical by Harper-era austerity. Four years later, the Liberals’ failure to deliver on many of their promises has been overshadowed only by the public’s disillusionment with Trudeau himself. This disappointment arguably reached its nadir two weeks ago, when three images of Trudeau donning black and brownface were released to the public. But, as Martin Lukacs argues in The Trudeau Formula (Black Rose, 2019), we all should have seen this coming. Lukacs investigatives the political machine behind Trudeau’s “sunny ways” and ultimately argues that real change was never on the agenda. You’ll have to read the book to decide whether or not Lukacs is correct, but either way, The Trudeau Formula is essential background for an election campaign that has exposed the utter banality of racism in Canadian society.

Christina Turner

Christina Turner

Christina Turner grew up in Toronto and spent five years in Halifax, where she earned a BA from the University of King’s College. She then picked up and moved to the opposite side of the continent,...