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
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.
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
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