The Apprenticeship Of Noah Richler

How a skilled journalist got a dose of reality on the campaign trail

Noah Richler ran for MP as the NDP candidate in the riding of St. Paul’s in the last election. He had great hopes for raising the level of the debate and, even though his opponent was multi-term Liberal incumbent Carolyn Bennett, of winning. He did neither, and his very entertaining new book, The Candidate: Fear And Loathing On The Campaign Trail (Doubleday, $34), recounts why. He talks to NOW about what went wrong.

In a series of episodes in your book, you fantasize about sitting as an MP in Parliament, even getting a cabinet post.

I thought those segments were justified. Any candidate who denies imagining what it’s like to be in office is frankly lying.

So why not write a novel?

All my life I’ve been trying to find ways not to write a novel – for obvious reasons [unstated: he’d be compared to his father, Mordecai Richler]. And I get too filled with outrage and emotions that are useful to the journalist but useless to the fiction writer.

The campaign looked so promising at the beginning, but then it went into a slow free fall. Where does the NDP leader fit into that narrative?

Tom Mulcair is a decent man. Part of the irony of Mulcair – and this is something that happens in history often – is that you bring a country or society up to a certain point and then you make yourself redundant. 

You also have some criticisms of the party’s handling of the arts file.

There was a discomfort with arts and sports, anything that venerates individual achievement versus the collective. They just wouldn’t look at it – there was a blank there.

The media weren’t exactly kind to the NDP campaign.

I see constant parallels between Clinton’s campaign and Mulcair’s. In Mulcair’s case, there were shots of him looking very angry and pissed off all the time, whereas the media was infatuated with Trudeau and his appearance. In a Washington Post comment, I read a line about Joe Biden possibly having to run and I had a sigh of relief. I castigated myself right away: that was a barometer of what it’s like to try to elect an uncharismatic figure.

You’re critical of lifetime political operatives – even the NDP’s – but you stand firm in your support of the party.

There is no other party with the same concern for the people who need representation the most. I find Trudeau’s talk about the middle class irksome to the point of ridiculous. His address to the United Nations where he wondered about the Syrian middle class… I have never seen bombs dropped on Syria and said to myself, “I wonder what’s happening to the middle class.” It’s ridiculous. We’re living in a cult in this country.

The CBC threatened to sue the party over a satiric video that tweaked sections of Peter Mansbridge’s interview with Stephen Harper. 

The ego of some of the CBC players is unbridled. That’s an issue. And the CBC’s instincts for survival affects editorial decisions. The political interviews The National has put forward are inexcusably bad – the ones with Harper and (Rob) Ford are just not good journalism. My video did go viral, and it was news, but all they could see was that Mansbridge and The National were being made the butt of some comedy.  

And so why did you write this book?

It’s a reaction to all those memoirs – including Mulcair’s – that coincidentally come up during a campaign and that you know won’t contain inconvenient truths. What we lack is a memoir from the ground. I don’t know what kind of a life it has, but it’s pretty true to the adventure. 

You have some issues with the way the NDP treated your candidacy. Do you think you might lose any friends by publishing it?

There is nothing in that book that I could not say in good conscience to Thomas Mulcair or [campaign field director] James Pratt or any union guy regarding how the party should move forward. | @susangcole

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