November 22, 2019

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Off the bench

Mackintosh's memoir of life in politics a spirited, behind-the-scenes account

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 8/7/2017 (867 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 8/7/2017 (867 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

After stepping down from politics in 2016, Gord Mackintosh has quickly stepped forward to present his life story in the form of his memoir Stories Best Left Untold: Tales from a Manitoba Legislator.

Mackintosh represented the North End constituency of St. Johns for 23 years up until his announcement that he would not be running in January of last year. Since the NDP came to power in 1999, he held a number of major portfolios, including family services, conservation and justice.

Since Stories Best Left Untold was released, the media has focused on Mackintosh’s inside knowledge and perspectives regarding the rebellion of the so-called "gang of five" which consisted of five prominent cabinet ministers who very publicly walked out on then-premier Greg Selinger on Nov. 3, 2014, calling for his resignation.

Wayne Glowacki / Free Press files</p><p>Measured by the very few political memoirs released in recent decades, it appears Manitoba’s politicians are a bashful bunch. Yet former NDP MLA Gord Mackintosh’s memoir is a humorous, richly informative tell-all.</p>

Wayne Glowacki / Free Press files

Measured by the very few political memoirs released in recent decades, it appears Manitoba’s politicians are a bashful bunch. Yet former NDP MLA Gord Mackintosh’s memoir is a humorous, richly informative tell-all.

While Mackintosh strongly disagrees with the tactics used by the rebels — and the irreversible harm they did to his party — Mackintosh uses his book to settle some scores, and squarely lays the blame on Selinger. In the 2011 campaign, the leader declared he would not increase the PST, only to reverse this decision abruptly in 2013 with little planning or forethought regarding the consequences. Mackintosh asserts this occurred against the wishes of many of his cabinet colleagues, including then-finance minister Stan Struthers. Additionally, Mackintosh writes, "questions about Greg’s leadership grew when, out of the blue, he removed the devoted and hard-working Nancy Allan and Jim Rondeau from cabinet."

In September 2014, with polls showing the NDP in free fall, Mackintosh asserts that he advised the premier "to get out on your own terms," claiming that as "on other occasions, he flatly rejected my advice."

While Mackintosh is the first to put forward an insider’s account of the NDP’s internal struggles leading up the 2016 defeat at the polls, Stories Best Left Untold is important for other reasons. It provides insights into his priorities and decisions as minister of the aforementioned departments he led, as well as first-hand accounts of important events, which preceded his career as an elected official.

This includes his service as deputy clerk to the legislature from 1980 to 1984, which included the crisis in which the opposition Progressive Conservative MLAs, led by Sterling Lyon, were blocking Howard Pawley’s legislation to extend French-language rights in Manitoba. The legislature’s bells calling the MLAs to vote rang non-stop for 12 days. While Pawley fumed and called for the speaker, Jim Walding, to take action, Macintosh writes "as Deputy Clerk, I researched the matter to death. I strongly advised Speaker Jim Walding the bells couldn’t be turned off without opposition consent. Yes, colleagues, I was one of the bad guys."

After earning his law degree, Mackintosh was hired to work with Elijah Harper, the indigenous MLA for Rupertsland (now Keewatinook) who would refuse to vote "yes" on a procedural question that would have allowed MLAs to move forward to vote on approving the Meech Lake Accord. As the accord’s deadline was arriving, Mackintosh describes a bizarre episode when he and his clients were gathered in a meeting while then-prime minister Brian Mulroney was waiting to talk with them by telephone. Meanwhile, Mackintosh’s pregnant wife, who was inexplicably present at the meeting, went into labour. "A reply to the PM had to be delayed while Margie, returning from almost passing out in the washroom, called her doctor. He said, ‘Get to the hospital now!’ "

Throughout his memoirs, Mackintosh is always the first to laugh at himself and his own inadequacies, and uses puns and humour to help move the story along. For example, when the bells rang for MLAs to vote, Mackintosh claims he would tell visitors that "someone’s escaped."

If measured by the very few political memoirs released in the past 20 years, Manitoba’s politicians are a bashful bunch. With its bright orange cover featuring a wild-eyed author holding a shoe, Nikita Khrushchev-style, Stories Best Left Untold has one of the most obnoxious covers ever placed on a book. Yet Mackintosh’s memoirs are richly informative and serve as an important insider account — the first to be published — of the NDP government, whose 17-year reign ran from 1999 to 2016.

Christopher Adams is a political scientist and the author of Politics in Manitoba.

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