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David LaBallister

The Happy Warrior: Political Memoirs, Donald C. MacDonald, Fitzhenry & Whiteside, Markham,1988, 440 p.

When I learned that Don McDonald was writing his memoirs I looked forward to their publication with great anticipation. As someone who has followed his career with interest and admiration I expected an anecdotal, clear, no-nonsense and captivating book. I was not disappointed.

From the opening recollections of his early years to the present day, the reader is a full partner in these memoirs. The author takes us from his humble and life-shaping beginnings, his years as a teacher, journalist, broadcaster, political organizer, politician and eventually leader of the Ontario CCF/NDP.

One of the more interesting aspects of these memoirs (and there are many) is how MacDonald arrived at his decision to join the then CCF, forerunner of the NDP. It was by no means a doctrinaire decision. Thanks to these memoirs it can be safely said that no less than a conversation with retired Conservative Prime Minister R.B. Bennett contributed to MacDonald's decision to join the CCF, later the NDP which he led from 1953 to 1970.

For many years he was literally a "one-man-band" as leader, doing his own research and typing his own press releases on that "faithful 1938 Underwood". In those years facing the Tory dynasty and a sometimes complacent Liberal opposition, he worked tirelessly to build the CCF/NDP into an active and credible political force in Ontario. During those "wilderness years" election campaigns there was no campaign bus or plane just his car and interested reporters who tagged along on the campaign trail.

The mountains and valleys which any political leader faces are relayed clearly by MacDonald to the reader as if they happened yesterday. The reader has a front row -- or front bench -- seat to issues and personalities in Ontario politics. This includes the battle for accessible and universal health care; the contentious separate school funding issue; a fascinating review of the Northern Ontario Natural Gas (NONG) scandal and MacDonald's views on the role of Ontario vis-Ó-vis Quebec in nation-building.

MacDonald, intypical straightforward fashion, pulls no punches in his assessments of the political figures he encountered both on the provincial and federal stages. What surprised me was the rather brief description of the leadership of his successor Stephen Lewis. One might have expected more insight into the "Lewis years". To a lesser extent the same can be said of the treatment of Lewis' successor Michael Cassidy. Their respective stewardship of the NDP were dealt with in rather short order. We are treated, however, to an interesting analysis of the Tory Premiers of the time: Drew, Frost, Robarts and Davis.

Just under two hundred pages (about half the book) deal what could be termed "memoirs". We are then led through the "issue section" which deal with MacDonald's views on key provincial subjects including health, education, inter-governmental affairs, and agriculture. MacDonald's opinions on these topics are as relevant as today's headlines. The final section of the book "Reflections" includes a discussion of the NDP both as it relates to organized labour and to the overall Ontario political scene.

A readable, interesting and informative book by an individual who worked in the political trenches from the backroom to individual polls to the floor of the Ontario legislature, over almost a thirty year period.

Ontario politics is richer because of the active and dedicated contribution of Donald C. MacDonald. His memoirs have at the same time enriched Ontario's political history.

David LaBallister, Nepean, Ontario

Canadian Parliamentary Review Cover
Vol 12 no 2

Last Updated: 2020-09-14