________________ CM . . . . Volume VI Number 15 . . . . March 31, 2000

cover Tommy Douglas: Building the New Society. (The Quest Library, 4).

Dave Margoshes.
Montreal, PQ: XYZ Publishing, 1999.
185 pp., pbk., $15.95.
ISBN 0-9683601-4-9.

Subject Headings:
Douglas, T.C. (Thomas Clement), 1904-1986.
Saskatchewan-Politics and government-1944-1964.
Co-operative Commonwealth Federation-Biography.
New Democratic Party-Biography.

Grades 9 and up / Ages 14 and up.
Review by Alexander D. Gregor.

**** /4

Tommy Douglas is the fourth volume in "The Quest Library Collection," a new series of historical biographies directed toward the older adolescent reader. The idea behind the series is an excellent one, using the intrinsic interest of an individual life story to convey at the same time a broader backdrop of social and political history (a relationship that is effectively portrayed in the final portion of each volume by parallel time-lines encapsulating the events of the individual's life and those of the larger national and international world outside).

The goals of the biography series are achieved in an exemplary fashion in this volume. The author has a particularly engaging writing style that gives the story the quality almost of a novel, though it is obviously a carefully researched piece of work. The book traces Douglas' life from his beginnings in Scotland, through his education in Winnipeg, his ordination as a Baptist minister, and his forty-four year political career in Saskatchewan, British Columbia and Ottawa. Tommy Douglas was one of the principal architects of social democracy in Canada, and a founding member of the New Democratic Party (NDP), and its forebear, the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (CCF). A succinct but coherent synopsis is provided of the forces and events behind that movement, and these are nicely intertwined with Douglas' own life story, the major events of which help readers to understand the values and concerns that he would subsequently bring to his political agenda: his grandfather's emphasis on social cooperation; his own health care crisis as a child, when fiscally-limited access to medical attention almost cost him a leg; the experience of Depression-era Saskatchewan, with its almost complete deficiency of social and economic protections; the compelling message of the Social Gospel message received in the course of theological training at Brandon University, with its emphasis on the responsibility of the church to reform society; and the naive faith of the nineteen-thirties in the benign potential of social engineering. All of these forces can be seen to have had an impact on the programs that Douglas championed: from Medicare to crown corporations; and they let us understand how those policies derived not from idle speculation, but from very real human situations. In using Douglas as his vehicle, the author is able to examine the role of the CCF and NDP both as a catalyst and conscience in the federal parliament, and as the architect of a different kind of community in the province (Saskatchewan) which they dominated for so long, and which, in the matter of social and economic programs, proved to be a forerunner and model for the country as a whole.

The contemporary adolescent reader will in all likelihood have little appreciation of contrast between social life now and that existing for the ordinary Canadian prior to the battles over "socialism"; Tommy Douglas will go some distance toward explaining that contrast, and, with it, a good deal about the nature and origins of Canada's social, economic and political debate since the nineteen-thirties.

Highly Recommended.

Alexander D. Gregor is a professor of educational history at the Faculty of Education, University of Manitoba.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364