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BOOK REVIEW: Former MLA Howard Epstein dishes the NDP in new book, Rise Again

A former NDP MLA with 16 years of legislative experience dishes out chapter and verse on the Darrell Dexter NDP government in his new book.

Howard Epstein's new book is Rise Again: Nova Scotia NDP on the rocks

Howard Epstein’s book, Rise Again: Nova Scotia’s NDP on the Rocks, appears to be motivated by the fact he is still mystified by the former premier’s centrist, pro-business stance – and never more than with the Port Hawkesbury pulp and paper plant preservation.

“We still offer our resources to all comers for far too little,” he says.

As a retired politician, former backbencher and one-time municipal councillor, Epstein’s political memoir details the New Democrats’ sole term in office before being knocked back to third-party status in the 2013 election. He was never on the inside, despite holding a seat.

The book is long of the Dexter government’s stubborn reforms, masked as cost cutting and flying in the face of reason and the party’s socialist roots. The current Liberals are just as persistent – look at the amalgamation of health boards, when the Alberta experience was no negative.

I learned from reading Graham Steele’s book that partisan politics drive every government decision – and that’s bad enough – but Dexter’s solo flight, albeit with input from his staffers rather than caucus, is sad. I understand Epstein’s frustration.

There are some large and small tales to tell. The one about Rev. Mark Parent - the Tory representative for Kings North - coming down on the Irish in a prayer at the start of a committee meeting was ironic, given the recent decision around prayer in Quebec council meetings.

Epstein’s values are rock solid in my mind. He writes, “My core conviction is that that adoption of serious steps towards sustainability is a vital necessity. What we are abusing when we abuse the environment is our life support systems.”

His book is something of a lament on what didn’t happen in the Dexter era: no progress on child poverty, for example, or social housing.

Epstein points out that the party drifted “out of touch with the traditional NDP agenda, and thus failing to deliver any significant change, explains most of it. A wasted opportunity. Our deluded years.”

The provincial government’s efforts to protect farmland in Kings County, he says, was a rare and appropriate initiative, unlike the unnecessary P3 convention centre in downtown Halifax.

I was interested to read in his section on higher education that Acadia University was in financial distress. He terms it “probably the institution with the most pressing financial problems.” St. FX has them too, but NSCAD was the focus for cost cutting.

Two Kings County names were on the list of party faithful who attempted to bring Dexter back to the fold. I could understand their frustration, too.

Epstein set out the fact that there is a definite need to progress to an entirely new NDP vision if the party is to be robust again. Being faithful to your roots is important for him.

Epstein points that his fellow caucus member, Jim Morton, lost in Kings North by 37 votes. Many blame disaffected NDPers for moving to support Green Party member Mary Lou Hartley, who captured 362 votes.

I did notice one slight error. Looking back on party history, Epstein mentioned the 1984 vote when Bob Levy was elected for the NDP. Four years later, it was not Harry How, but Derrick Kimball, who took the seat for Kings South.

His inside look and history of the NDP in Nova Scotia was well worth setting down on paper. Reading it, I felt less and less inclined to vote for any party if they all behave the same.

Epstein will give a talk at the Box of Delights Bookshop, in Wolfville, on May 14 from 6-7:30 p.m. He will speak about and read from the book and answer questions.

Rise Again will be available for sale and Epstein will be happy to autograph copies of the book. Light refreshments will be served.


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