7 Books on Politics that Matter

Has there ever been a more vital moment for Canadians to be thoughtful and critical about our democratic institutions? As we head into toward the second half of an election year, these recent titles deserve our attention. 

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Could It Happen Here?: Canada in the Age of Trump and Brexit, by Michael Adams

About the book: Americans elected Donald Trump. Britons opted to leave the European Union. Far-right, populist politicians channeling anger at out-of-touch “elites” are gaining ground across Europe and South America. In vote after shocking vote, citizens of Western democracies have pushed their anger to the top of their governments’ political agendas.

Amid this roiling international scene, Canada appears placid, at least on the surface. As other societies turn inward, the international media have taken notice of Canada’s welcome of Syrian refugees; its federal cabinet, half of whom are women; and its acceptance of climate science and mixed efforts to limit its emissions. It seems that Canada is not as bitterly split as the electorates to the south or in Europe.

But Brexit and a Trump presidency were unthinkable until they happened. And Canada has already seen its own forms of populist resentment rear their heads—carbon tax fights, populist premiers, free speech debates. Could it be that Canada is not immune to the forces of populism, social fracture, and backlash that have afflicted other parts of the world?

Pollster and social values researcher Michael Adams takes Canadians into the examining room to see what risks the country faces. Drawing on recent social values surveys of Canadians and Americans—as well as decades of tracking data in both countries—Adams examines our economy, institutions, and demographics to answer the question: could it happen here?

Why we're taking notice: From the Winnipeg Free Press: “Could It Happen Here? is not only another of Adams’ cogent investigations into Canada’s national mood, but an excellent primer on recent turmoil around the world.” 

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Doing Politics Differently?: Women Premiers in Canada’s Provinces and Territories, edited by Sylvia Bashevkin

About the book: Women have reached the highest levels of political office in Canada’s provinces and territories, but what difference has their rise to the top made? In Doing Politics Differently? leading researchers from across the country assess the track records of eleven premiers, including their impact on policies of particular interest to women and their influence on the tenor of legislative debate and the recruitment of other women as party candidates, cabinet ministers, and senior bureaucrats. By comparing the performance of women leaders and then contrasting it with the men who preceded and succeeded them, this innovative volume probes the importance of demographic diversity in top public office using a variety of powerful analytic lenses.

Why we're taking notice: In 2013, Canada had six woman premiers and it seemed like a glass ceiling had been broken. Six years later there are no woman premiers—what happened? How can we do better? 

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Outside In: A Political Memoir, by Libby Davies

About the book: Libby Davies has worked steadfastly for social justice both inside parliament and out on the streets for more than four decades. At 19, Davies became a community organizer in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. She went on to serve in municipal and then federal politics, advancing to the role of Deputy Leader of the New Democratic Party.

Davies looks back on her remarkable life and career with candid humour and heart-rending honesty. She addresses the challenges of her work on homelessness, sex workers’ rights, and ending drug prohibition. She illuminates the human strengths and foibles at the core of each issue, her own as well as those of her colleagues and activist allies. Davies’ astute political analysis offers an insider’s perspective that never loses touch with the people she fights alongside. Outside In is both a political and personal memoir of Davies’ forty years of work at the intersection of politics and social movements.

Why we're taking notice: Read the excerpt published in The Toronto Star this weekend. "Now I understand that in order to do the important work of elected office, women—and men—need to transform Parliament into a place where sexism is called out and patriarchy systematically dismantled."

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Teardown: Rebuilding Democracy from the Ground Up, by Dave Meslin

About the book: A handbook of democratic solutions in troubled times, from the activist the media call a "wizard," a "mastermind," "the ultimate ideas guy," a "mad scientist," a "start-up genius."

Our democracy is a trainwreck. Our elections feel hollow and our legislatures have become toxic. Fierce partisanship, centralized power, distorted election results and rigged systems all contribute to our growing cynicism.

Voters are increasingly turning towards the angriest candidates, or simply tuning out completely and staying at home. But as Dave Meslin's career has shown, we can fix things. We can turn elite power structures upside down. We can give a voice to ordinary people. But it means fixing things from the bottom up, and starting locally. It's hard to change the world if you can't change a municipal by-law. Teardown shows readers how to do both. And it will show us that these two challenges are not fundamentally different.

From environmental activism to public space advocacy to the ongoing campaign for electoral reform, Dave Meslin has been both out on the street in marches and in the back rooms drawing up policy. With Teardown he reminds us that the future of our species doesn't need to look like a trainwreck. That we're capable of so much more.

It's time to raise our expectations: of the system, of each other and of ourselves. Only then can we re-imagine a new democracy, unrecognizable from today's political mess. This book is a recipe for change. A cure for cynicism. A war on apathy.

Why we're taking notice: We loved political writer Edward Keenan's column about the book and how simple fixes to big problems are possible.  

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Too Dumb for Democracy?: Why We Make Bad Political Decisions and How We Can Make Better Ones, by David Moscrop

About the book: Brexit. Trump. Ford Nation. In this timely book, David Moscrop asks why we make irrational political decisions and whether our stone-age brains can process democracy in the information age.

In an era overshadowed by income inequality, environmental catastrophes, terrorism at home and abroad, and the decline of democracy, Moscrop argues that the political decision-making process has never been more important. In fact, our survival may depend on it.
Drawing on both political science and psychology, Moscrop examines how our brains, our environment, the media, and institutions influence decision-making. Making good decisions is not impossible, Moscrop argues, but the psychological and political odds are sometimes stacked against us. In this readable and provocative investigation of our often-flawed decisions, Moscrop explains what's going wrong in today's political landscape and how individuals, societies, and institutions can work together to set things right.

Why we're taking notice: "I was constantly surprised by the gap between who we think we are and who we are." 

 

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Métis Politics and Governance in Canada, by Kelly Saunders & Janique Dubois

About the book: At a time when the Métis are becoming increasingly visible in Canadian politics, this unique book offers a practical guide for understanding who they are and the challenges they face on the path to self-government. It shows how the Métis are giving life to Louis Riel’s vision of a self-governing Métis Nation through the ongoing application of principles of governance that emerged during the fur trade. Drawing on the Métis language—Michif—Kelly Saunders and Janique Dubois demonstrate how the Métis have adapted their governance structures within the Canadian state context to meet the everyday needs of Métis citizens.

Why we're taking notice: A book that delivers insight into the history, present, and future for Métis people in Canada and provides an example of governance approaches relevant to other Indigenous peoples. 

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Love & Courage: My Story of Family, Resilience, and Overcoming the Unexpected, by Jagmeet Singh

About the book: From the leader of Canada’s New Democratic Party—Jagmeet Singh—comes a personal and heartfelt story about family and overcoming adversity.

In October 2017, Jagmeet Singh was elected as the first visible minority to lead a major federal political party in Canada. The historic milestone was celebrated across the nation.

About a month earlier, in the lead up to his election, Jagmeet held community meet-and-greets across Canada. At one such event, a disruptive heckler in the crowd hurled accusations at him. Jagmeet responded by calmly calling for all Canadians to act with “love and courage” in the face of hate. That response immediately went viral, and people across the country began asking, “Who is Jagmeet Singh? And why "love and courage"?”

This personal and heartfelt memoir is Jagmeet’s answer to that question. In it, we are invited to walk with him through childhood to adulthood as he learns powerful, moving, and sometimes traumatic lessons about hardship, addiction, and the impact of not belonging. We meet his strong family, including his mother, who teaches him that “we are all one; we are all connected,” a valuable lesson that has shaped who he is today.

This story is not a political memoir. This is a story of family, love, and courage, and how strengthening the connection between us all is the way to building a better world.

Why we're taking notice: While "this story is not a political memoir," it's still relevant as Canadians prepare to make their choices in this autumn's election and look for deeper understanding of Singh as a political leader and a human being. 

May 13, 2019
Books mentioned in this post
Could It Happen Here?

Could It Happen Here?

Canada in the Age of Trump and Brexit
edition:Paperback
also available: Hardcover eBook
More Info
Doing Politics Differently?

Doing Politics Differently?

Women Premiers in Canada’s Provinces and Territories
edition:Hardcover
also available: eBook Paperback
More Info
Teardown

Teardown

Rebuilding Democracy from the Ground Up
edition:Paperback
More Info
Teardown

Teardown

Rebuilding Democracy from the Ground Up
edition:Paperback
More Info
Love & Courage

Love & Courage

My Story of Family, Resilience, and Overcoming the Unexpected
edition:eBook
also available: Paperback Audiobook
More Info
Too Dumb for Democracy?

Too Dumb for Democracy?

Why We Make Bad Political Decisions and How We Can Make Better Ones
edition:eBook
also available: Paperback eBook
More Info
Métis Politics and Governance in Canada

Métis Politics and Governance in Canada

edition:Hardcover
also available: eBook Paperback
More Info
Métis Politics and Governance in Canada

Métis Politics and Governance in Canada

edition:Hardcover
also available: eBook Paperback
More Info
Love & Courage

Love & Courage

My Story of Family, Resilience, and Overcoming the Unexpected
edition:eBook
also available: Paperback Audiobook
More Info
Love & Courage

Love & Courage

My Story of Family, Resilience, and Overcoming the Unexpected
edition:eBook
also available: Paperback Audiobook
More Info
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