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How We Almost Gave the Tories the Boot: The inside story behind the coalition [Paperback]

Brian Topp
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Feb. 4 2010
In November 2008 the opposition came very close to replacing Stephen Harper with a new government. It was an astonishing few days for Canadian politics; opposition party leaders came together, announcing a formal coalition of the Liberals and the NDP, while the Bloc offered guaranteed support for the new government in the House of Commons. This came at a time of crisis. Many of the world's large financial institutions were tottering, leading to unprecedented government intervention in the U.S, the U.K. and elsewhere. Prime Minister Stephen Harper had attacked the opposition parties through a move to deny them public funding, along with other proposals which enraged them. There was no sign that he was ready to put aside his neo-conservative ideology to take action to address the worst recession in the past 50 years. Brian Topp lived through this period as the key negotiator for the NDP, and in this book he offer's a day-by-day insider's account of how the coalition was put together - and how it fell apart. Topp participated in many key meetings to get the coalition under way. His narrative is built around the words of the participants, front-line as well as backroom, as they work to establish a deal, and then try to hold on to it in the face of a withering attack from the Conservatives. Among the key players in this story are Stéphane Dion, Michael Ignatieff, Jack Layton and Dawn Black - and behind the scenes Ed Broadbent, Jean Chrétien, Roy Romanow and Allan Blakeney are active too. Ottawa insiders will learn much from this book about exactly who said and did what when from this book. More importantly, Canadians interested in federal politics will be able to get a fresh and revealing view of the way Ottawa actually works today. Coalition governments are very unusual in Canadian federal politics, but Brian Topp argues they offer a promising alternative to both hyper-centralized "majority" governments and to relatively unstable minority ones.

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Review

"How We Almost Gave the Tories the Boot is full of other surprises, even for those who closely followed the saga." (Norman Spector Globe and Mail)

"The first extensive insider account of the coalition negotiations." (Chantal Hébert Toronto Star 20100101)

"I'm one of the people having a great bit of fun reading NDP strategist Brian Topp's memoir of the coalition crisis… A little bit of history fresh enough to have the tang of gossip…" (Rex Murphy 20100101)

"A terrific read." (Kathleen Petty CBC Radio's "The House")

About the Author

Born and raised in Montreal, Brian Topp studied history at McGill. He became active in the NDP in 1988 and went to Ottawa in 1989 as a staffer for NDP MP Phil Edmonston. During the 1990s he served as deputy chief of staff to Saskatchewan premier Roy Romanow and saw the implementation of a successful coalition agreement between the provincial NDP and the Liberals. He subsequently moved back to the federal arena, managing the NDP war room in the 2004 federal campaign, and acting as national Campaign Director in the 2006 and 2008 elections. In June 2011 Topp was elected President of the New Democratic Party of Canada and was a close advisor to party leader Jack Layton until Layton's death in July. As a close advisor to the late Jack Layton, and intimately involved in composing Layton's final letter to Canadians, he was seen as a top contender to become Party leader. In March 2012 Topp lost his bid to become party leader when Thomas Mulcair was selected on the 4th ballot at the leadership convention held in Toronto.

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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A great read, but a missed opportunity March 27 2010
Format:Paperback
Despite a remarkably inacurate title, this book is a very interesting and fun read. The work is written from a refreshingly authentic insider's view, and offers unparalleled insight into how staffers, leaders, and caucus members from the both the Liberals and the NPD crafted and honed the 2008 coalition deal, and then sold it to their own internal naysayers. However, that is what this book truly offers: a rare inside look at how ideas within a party form, are debated, and grow to become the outward party strategy and message. What it does not offer is anything resembling the book's title (and presumed thesis): that the coalition ever came within a mile - let alone a hair - of removing the Tories from power. If anything, the evidence suggests that even taking into account inside information coming from the highest-placed party sources, the coalition never had a chance. At best, the book suggests that there was a window of a few hours in which the coalition had enough momentum to alter the Canadian political scene; at worst, it suggests that this goal was never actually possible. Nothing in this account suggests that anyone outside the leadership and staff of Liberal and NDP party caucuses ever supported the idea, just that the two parties eventually did. In other words, the book could have taken the opportunity to explain just how rare such high-level cooperation between two (even three) political parties is and how it was acheived, as well as highlighting the true impact that staff, party elders, and caucus members - all of whom are not regularly covered in 8-second nightly news spots - have in influencing the diretion of their parties. Read more ›
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Too often the workings of government in Canada are shrouded in mystery and speculation. Just as often the public are left wondering how ideas, policies and agreements are reached amongst our elected representatives in Ottawa and the provincial capitals. From this endless night of conjecture comes a startlingly clear view of the closed door negotiations of some recent events that monopolized the headlines from the end of 2008 until early 2009. Brian Topp's new book is an vivid account of the negotiations that lay behind the attempt to form a working coalition between the Federal Liberal Party and Federal NDP, who abetted by the Bloc Quebecois hoped to brush aside the minority government of the federal Conservatives the after the election in the fall of 2008.

The author Brian Topp was the NDP Federal Campaign Director during the 2008 vote and so he is well placed to provide this riveting first-person memoir of the high level negotiations he took part in. Topp played a lead role for the NDP in the promotion and negotiation of the coalition. He was also instrumental in formulating the idea of a coalition during a NDP election planning conference in October of 2008. Throughout the book Topp often excerpts word for word messages sent and received from his Blackberry and this only helps to add to the insider feeling this book has.

In fact the book is so loaded with email and text chat that it seems as if a new genre of political writing is evolving before the readers eyes. No doubt as messages were being sent no one foresaw them forming the basis of this book and their unguardedness only adds to the behind the scenes atmosphere of the book. Gone are the smoky backrooms of the corridors of power, seemingly replaced by an unlimited data plan and an omnivorous 24 hour news cycle.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Exciting behind the scenes look Nov. 19 2011
Format:Paperback
This is a pretty detailed chronicle of the events surrounding the formation of a Liberal-NDP coalition in late 2008. Fascinating not just for partisans, but for anyone who is interested in learning about the negotiations required to create a coalition government. Especially interesting for Canadians, but is good reading for anyone living in a country that regularly forms coalition governments (New Zealand, Australia, and now the UK).
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