My Dear Legs
... Letters to a Young Social Democrat, Alex MacDonald, New Star Books,
Vancouver, British Columbia, 187 pages.
Q.C. has spent more than 25 years at the centre of the CCF and later NDP
politics in British Columbia. He has acted as Attorney General, Minister of
Industry, as well as assuming the responsibility for the Department of Energy.
He is now the longest serving member of the British Columbia Legislative
My Dear Legs ...
is a series of letters written by Mr. MacDonald beginning in 1983 to his young
squash partner and friend Hugh Legg, examining the current status of the Social
Democratic movement in Canada. MacDonald's witty prose and irreverent style
takes the reader on a critical examination of the New Democratic Party and digs
to the roots of many of the problems the social democratic movement faces, not
only in British Columbia, but in Canada as a whole. Since at one time Mr.
MacDonald was secretary to CCF Leader M.J. Coldwell in the late 1940's, and
served a brief stint as a Member of the House of Commons the year prior to the
national Diefenbaker sweep of 1958.
In his letters
MacDonald deals directly with the many issues and problems facing the NDP in
the 1980's. On the question of Medicare and fee-for-service doctors payed for
by the state, MacDonald proposes a novel approach of local clinics staffed by
doctors who are paid to keep people well instead of simply providing services.
Throughout the letters, he refers to the need for an Incomes Policy that will
affect the party's relationship with both business and labour, however, an
explicit plan or method of implementation is never proposed. On issues such as
Energy and Human Rights, MacDonald draws on his experience as a Minister to
suggest modest changes in the current party position.
On the issue of
"electioneering' Mr. MacDonald seems to have his greatest trouble with the
party, reflecting uncertainty among others within the party about the basic
objectives of the NDP. He is concerned that the NDP is 'beginning to quack,
waddle and gabble like any other party for whom winning elections is the
goal". He reluctantly accepts, by the end of his letters, that "there
are two strains in the CCF-NDP movement, one idealistic; the other pragmatic,
and we need some of each."
comments frequently on the need for policy alternatives proposed by his party.
After numerous examples he concludes "the lesson for us, Legs, is to have
enough policies in our wardrobe so as not to go naked when some are
stolen". Yet aside from the few suggestions above, MacDonald does not have
many tangible proposals to fill this gap.
As well as a
serious political examination of the NDP, My Dear Legs ... is a thoroughly
readable, witty and sometimes irreverent series of political stories and
foibles. In describing the end of a session in the British Columbia Assembly,
MacDonald remarks; "historically Canadian Legislatures wind up their
sessions when the bores begin to bore the bores ... I prefer girls.'
cannot resist an opportunity to shoot at a classic NDP target when describing
his recovery in hospital in a later letter: "When I came to from the
anesthetic, there were nurses and flowers all around me I thought I must have
died and gone to the Senate."
letters are genuinely readable and amusing. MacDonald himself emerges as
likeable and witty. Most people, I would guess, would leap at the chance to
hear more or share a good cigar and a nice bottle of wine with the author at
the Union Club in Victoria. The book itself in the years to come, regardless of
the fortunes of the NDP, may prove to be the best insight into the present
state of the social democratic movement in Canada straightforward and honest,
but with some serious fundamental questions unresolved.