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StarPhoenix Book Reviews: Return to Blakeney and the Forgotten Saskatchewan

By on February 9, 2020 0

“In an unequal society, citizens do not have the material well-being, education or security to actively participate in democracy.

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With a federal election behind us, name-calling, signs of virtue, and outrageous promises are fresh in our minds. As many say, we live in troubled times and watch with a combination of bewilderment and horror the so-called strong men in the United States, Britain and Brazil, for example, come up with simple solutions to problems. complex. As the introduction to Back to Blakeney states, “the attraction of these men stems from resentment of the rapid social and economic changes experienced by many as displacement and loss.”

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Return to Blakeney: Revitalizing the Democratic State edited by David McGrane, John D. Whyte, Roy Romanow and Russell Isinger
Return to Blakeney: Revitalizing the Democratic State edited by David McGrane, John D. Whyte, Roy Romanow and Russell Isinger Photo provided

So here we are, in these times, with a new assessment of the work of Allan Blakeney, Premier of Saskatchewan from 1971 to 1982, in a collection of essays edited by David McGrane, John D. Whyte, Roy Romanow and Russell Isinger (University of Regina Press, $ 34.95).

Back to Blakeney: Revitalizing the Democratic State emerged from a conference held at the University of Saskatchewan in November 2015 to honor Blakeney and his work. It is intended, without any excuse, to tackle the movement towards right-wing populism by now giving a voice to the anger felt by people who have been excluded from the political and economic processes of their countries. As McGrane points out in his essay, “in an unequal society, citizens do not have the material well-being, education or security to actively participate in democracy.”

People are “leaving” politics, McGrane says, and “strengthening Canadian democracy therefore requires a renewed commitment to greater equality in Canadian society, particularly through strengthening social programs.” Many taxpayers wonder how these programs are then paid for. Well, there is an essay by Alex Himelfarb on the subject of taxes itself and how governments need to develop a level of trust with their constituents so that their money is spent wisely. As we saw in the last election, all parties are rushing to cut taxes. But what does this pay-in-the-pocket attitude do to the social fabric of a country, much of which, as Himelfarb and Michael Atkinson reminds us, we take for granted?

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Nelson Wiseman, in his brief history of social democracy and the welfare state, recalls that Brian Mulroney once decried the “Swedishization of Canada” as the country widened its social safety net. However, once in the field, Mulroney called these same social programs “sacred trust not to be tampered with.”

Oh, yes, there will be plenty here to get right to the point of politicians and taxpayers who want to let the market guide what works and what doesn’t, but, in the meantime, there are plenty of thought-provoking essays here on just how messy democracy can be (Atkinson), why we still don’t see a lot of women entering politics (Melanee Thomas – that’s blatant sexism, guys), and how Blakeney, although not creating much space for First Nations at the political table, at least the dialogue has started (Katherine Walker).

There’s a good pair of essays here on Blakeney’s support for the notwithstanding clause: Dwight Newman defending Blakeney and Whyte disagreeing with her. Never having fully understood the concept, I praised the pros and cons of these thinkers and particularly liked Whyte about how our drive to find “a politically compelling national interest” drives away “diversity, the complexity and specific needs ”of our nation. Again, a simple answer to complex problems.

And finally, there are essays on religion and politics (Reg Whitaker), Federal Electoral Boundaries Commissions (John C. Courtney) and How Money Influences Politics (David Coletto). Each of these essays is convincing; Whitaker showing the strength of religion’s “transcendental metanarration” in all facets of life, Courtney concisely and clearly showing the importance of electoral boundaries and how much Saskatoon and Regina have changed over the past decade, then Coletto on the money. What closer.

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In our modern era of “permanent campaigning” and tight contribution limits, political parties must “seek out many small donations” that “get them to focus on niche issues that excite or irritate potential donors.” This is what we have achieved: perpetual campaigns and (misman) anger management.

A number of these essays are all about Blakeney and his “principled pragmatism,” as Romanow calls it, while many mention him talking about other things. Most speak of his involvement in public life, his belief in social well-being for all, his intelligence and his provincial and national heritage. Returning to Blakeney is a chance to revisit the man and his policies, something he was very good at creating – whether you like his politics or not.

And as for looking back, why not check out the stunning Forgotten Saskatchewan photographs (MacIntyre Purcell, $ 29.95).

Chris Attrell, who moved from Calgary to Shaunavon in 2006, has long wandered the back roads of Saskatchewan, fascinated and – as you can see – moved by the changes to buildings, cars and farm yards by the weather, weather and their constant erosion. .

Saskatchewan Forgotten by Chris Attrell
Saskatchewan Forgotten by Chris Attrell Photo provided

Taking pictures in daylight is something many of us think we can do, but one trick, of course, is composition. Here, Attrell reveals his skill at pulling together disparate pieces to tell a story, as he does with a pair of abandoned gas pumps and a grain elevator in the background. Or that of an abandoned barn south of Gull Lake, seen through the empty windshield of an old truck.

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It’s the night shots of Attrell, like the one on the cover of the book, that really galvanize the attention. Whether it’s one of this province’s famed living skies – as in the jet of stars over abandoned farms near Shaunavon and Climax, or on an elevator near Rosetown, or the Northern Lights across the broken windshield of a rusty Chevy Nova – the casual observer is left in awe.

And how does he get those shots of farms and cars that make it look like there’s someone inside, despite their near collapse? Well, Attrell confesses, he uses flashlights, tealights, and various other means to make places look ghostly as he lends them one more spin before they go extinct. And, as he also reveals, for a number of those old houses and vehicles, the next time he passes, they’re gone. But not forgotten, despite its title. Attrell remembers.

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