Sask Book Reviews
In his book ‘From Left to Right: Saskatchewan’s Political and Economic Transformation’, Dale Eisler helps us take a clear-eyed look at the province as the world economy shifted from post-industrial to global and the province’s population moved from farms to cities. Case in point: In 1971, 47% of Saskatchewan’s population lived on farms. By 2016 the the number was down to 16%.
Eisler begins by attempting to define “populism” because , he says “the role of prairie populism is key to understanding the province’s values, economy and culture as a whole.” “For populism to ignite,” he writes, “two things are needed: something or someone to focus their anger and alienation on, and somebody who articulates their emotions in compelling and emotional language.”
In engaging language Eisler describes the many faces of “populism” and how, over the decades, its meaning has changed to embrace both liberal and conservative voices. He is also quick to point to papa Trudeau’s cavalier disregard of the prairies when he asked, in 1969, “Why should I sell your wheat?” The off-handed comment aimed at a people who were losing their farms as wheat spoiled in granaries came off as proof of an arrogant disregard for the West and has not gone forgotten.
Land has always been a central focus for people on the prairies, where “place” matters. While “place” means primarily land of one’s own, after all, it does not deny the importance of community. Eisler shows how the effect of a co-operative ethos has given Saskatchewan a much larger influence on the country at large than one would think, pointing to universal health care as a prime example of how different Canada remains from the States.
Eisler also suggests that the rise of government debt and regionalism and a retreat from globalization are not unlike the issue that transformed Saskatchewan in the 1960s and the true challenge of the 21st century and may be the issues that once again redefine “populism”, for good or ill, in the near future.
From Left to Right is a must-read for all Canadians because it reminds us that the forces of transformation are always lurking and it’s up to us to see them and to read history with the long view in mind.
‘From Left to Right’ is published by University of Regina Press. It is available at your local bookstore, or online from www.skbooks.com.