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Reviewed by:
  • Manitoba Politics and Government: Issues, Institutions, Traditions ed. by Paul G. Thomas and Curtis Brown
  • Alvin Finkel
Paul G. Thomas and Curtis Brown, eds. Manitoba Politics and Government: Issues, Institutions, Traditions. Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 2010. 452 pp. Notes. $29.95 sc.

This is an excellent and diverse collection of papers which, in earlier versions, were presented at a conference held at the University of Manitoba in 2008 focused on analyzing Manitoba's politics and society. Its contents range from descriptions of Manitoba's political institutions and political parties to analyses of social exclusion in the province: the persistence of poverty, and its inordinate concentration among Aboriginal peoples.

The pivotal, though not necessarily the best, essay in the collection is Jared Wesley's "Political Culture in Manitoba." Wesley emphasizes the search for moderation and compromise in Manitoba politics. He presents this alleged effort to seek reconciliation for its own sake as an unalloyed virtue. Many of the essays either reinforce Wesley's appreciation of Manitoba politics, or interrogate it.

Gerald Friesen's essay, "The Manitoba Political Tradition," based on interviews with key political players, also outlines efforts of political parties and social groups to find centre ground in Manitoba. But at least one of his informants, Leslie Turnbull of the survey research firm, Viewpoints, hints that a large section of Manitobans are marginalized and play no role in the search for consensus in Manitoba society. Even the NDP's efforts to 0include women, Aboriginals, and visible minorities as candidates have done little to reduce hard-core poverty among these groups. Jim Silver's "Segregated City: A Century of Poverty in Winnipeg," argues that the character of poverty in the city has changed, but mostly for the worse. While the poor in the inner city in the early twentieth century were mostly underpaid workers and their families, today's poor are workless and often viewed as unemployable.

Nelson Wiseman's "The Success of the New Democratic Party," bridges the divide among essays in the collection that focus on the conciliatory aspects of Manitoba political culture, on the one hand, and the firm exclusion of a significant minority of Manitobans from anything that resembles citizenship in a prosperous, democratic society. He traces the changes over time in the membership, ideology, and policies of a party that began as an oppositional, egalitarian force but has evolved into a brokerage party of diverse elites. Along the way, while becoming Manitoba's natural governing party, the NDP has pioneered within English Canada in such areas as home care for seniors as well as in childcare. But it has accepted a conservative fiscal framework that severely limits its ability to effect a radical redistribution of wealth. An essay by Paul Barber explains why this political strategy, which federally and in other provinces, characterizes the Liberal Party, eluded that party in Manitoba, leaving the NDP in control over the political middle ground in the province. [End Page 278]

There are solid pieces here on the efforts of both Aboriginal and women's organizations to influence governments in Manitoba to deal with poverty and social exclusion. But interestingly, the role of unions in Manitoba, which have been so vital to the history of the NDP and its predecessors, and to protest generally, rates no article of its own and only brief mentions in a few of the essays. Similarly, ethnic minorities, including those whose support for the NDP is recognized as a pillar of their strength, are a shadowy presence in this collection. Finally, there is little sense in this book of the impact of economic development policies, which are occasionally commented upon, on either Aboriginal self-determination (the disastrous impacts of hydro-electric developments on northern Natives get scant attention) or fiscal integrity. In terms of the latter, the huge waste of public funds on private sector mega-projects such as the Churchill Forest Industries (CFI) fiasco of the 1960s/70s is a glaring omission to this reviewer, who played a role in exposing the scam that cost Manitobans $150 million. The book "is dedicated to the exemplary life of public service and the enduring legacies of the Hon. Duff Roblin" (vii). Roblin was...


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pp. 278-279
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