James Laxer

James Robert Laxer (22 December 1941 – 23 February 2018), also known as Jim Laxer, was a Canadian political economist, historian, public intellectual, and political activist who served as a professor at York University.[6][7] Best known as co-founder of the Waffle, on whose behalf he ran for the leadership of the New Democratic Party in 1971, he is the author of more than two dozen books, mostly on Canadian political economy and history.[8]

James Laxer
James Robert Laxer[1]

(1941-12-22)22 December 1941
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Died23 February 2018(2018-02-23) (aged 76)
Paris, France
ResidenceToronto, Ontario, Canada[2]
Known forCo-founding the Waffle
  • Diane Taylor
    (m. 1965; div. 1969)
  • Krista Mäeots
    (m. 1969; died 1978)
  • Sandy Price (m. 1979)
Academic background
Alma mater
Academic work
DisciplinePolitical science
Sub-disciplinePolitical economy
School or tradition
InstitutionsYork University
Main interests
Notable worksReckoning: The Political Economy of Canada (1986)

Early life and family

Laxer was born in Montreal, Quebec, on 22 December 1941[9] and was the son of Edna May (née Quentin) and Robert Laxer, a psychologist, professor, author, and political activist.[10] His father was Jewish and his mother was from a Protestant family. Both were members of the Communist Party of Canada and its public face, the Labor-Progressive Party, with Robert Laxer being a national organizer for the party. The Laxers left the party, along with many other members, following Khrushchev's Secret Speech revealing Joseph Stalin's crimes, and the 1956 Soviet invasion of Hungary. James Laxer wrote about his experiences growing up during this period in his memoir Red Diaper Baby: A Boyhood in the Age of McCarthyism.[11] His father came to serve as a significant influence on his political worldview.[12]

His paternal grandfather was a rabbi and his maternal grandfather was a minister and Christian missionary to China, where Laxer's mother was born.[13] His brother, Gordon Laxer, would become a political economist, author, and founder of the Parkland Institute.[14][15]

He received a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Toronto and Master of Arts (following approval of his thesis French-Canadian Newspapers and Imperial Defence, 1899–1914 in 1967) and Doctor of Philosophy degrees from Queen's University.[16][17] He was an active student journalist both at The Varsity at the University of Toronto and later at the Queen's Journal and was elected president of Canadian University Press in 1965.[18]

Laxer was thrice married. He married Diane Taylor in 1965, from whom he was divorced in 1969.[19] He married Krista Mäeots[7] in 1969 with whom he would have two children: Michael and Katherine (known as "Kate").[19][20] They were separated at the time of her death in 1978.[20][21][22] Laxer married Sandra Price[23] in 1979 with whom he would have two more children: Emily and Jonathan.[19][20]

Political career

In 1969, Laxer, along with his father Robert Laxer, Mel Watkins, and others, founded the Waffle,[24] a left-wing group influenced by the New Left, the anti–Vietnam War movement, and Canadian economic nationalism, that tried to influence the direction of the New Democratic Party (NDP).[25] Laxer was a principal author of their Manifesto for an Independent Socialist Canada in 1969 alongside Ed Broadbent and Gerald Caplan.[26] The manifesto was debated at the 1969 federal NDP convention and was rejected by the delegates in favour of a more moderate declaration.[27]

In 1971, Laxer ran for the leadership of the federal NDP and shocked the convention by winning one-third of the vote on the fourth and final ballot against party stalwart David Lewis.[14][28] The Waffle was ultimately forced out of the NDP and briefly became a political party under the name Movement for an Independent Socialist Canada.[14][29] Laxer and other Wafflers unsuccessfully ran for Parliament in 1974.[30] This electoral failure led to the Waffle's demise,[31] and Laxer concentrated on his work at York University, where he was a professor of political science for 47 years,[20] and in broadcasting.

In 1981, he was hired as director of research for the federal NDP, but left in controversy in 1983 when he published a report critiquing the party's economic policy as being "out of date".[32][33]

Academic, writer, and broadcaster

Laxer hosted The Real Story, a nightly half-hour current affairs program on TVOntario in the early 1980s. He also variously wrote a column and op-ed pieces for the Toronto Star from the 1980s until shortly before his death, as well as op-ed pieces for The Globe and Mail.[14][34] He also played "Talleyrand", a mock political insider, on CBC Radio's Morningside in the 1980s.[35]

Laxer co-wrote and presented the five-part National Film Board documentary series Reckoning: The Political Economy of Canada in 1986, which examined Canada's economic and political relationships with the United States[14][36] and Canada's place in the changing global economy.[37] Laxer and his co-writer won a Gemini Award in 1988 for Best Writing in an Information/Documentary Program or Series for episode one of Reckoning titled "In Bed with an Elephant".[38][39] The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation refused to air the series due to its critical view of free trade with the United States, which was being negotiated at the time, and it aired instead on TVOntario and other educational channels in Canada as well as a number of PBS stations in the United States.[36][40]

A democratic socialist,[14] Laxer believed that Canadian economic nationalism was a progressive force against the United States and American imperialism.[41][42] He wrote extensively about the influence of American multinational corporations in the Canadian economy, particularly in the oil and gas industry, and his agitation helped lead to the creation of Petro-Canada.[37] The creation of the Foreign Investment Review Agency, and the Canadian Development Corporation in the 1970s is also attributed in part to the work of Laxer, Watkins, and the Waffle.[43] In the 1980s he strongly opposed the adoption of the Canada–US Free Trade Agreement,[44] though he still believed that free trade agreements were capable of being used to the advantage of the political left through the entrenchment of social charters.[45]

Laxer died suddenly and unexpectedly in Paris of heart-related problems on 23 February 2018 while in Europe researching a book on Canada's role in the Second World War.[20][14][46]

Selected works

See also



  1. Miller 1993, p. 464.
  2. Laxer 2012.
  3. Azzi 1999, p. 127; Azzi 2012, pp. 223–224.
  4. French, Orland (12 January 2002). "Lives of the Intellectual Saints". The Globe and Mail. Toronto. Retrieved 23 February 2018.
  5. Gonick 1987, p. 145; Howlett, Netherton & Ramesh 1999, p. 42.
  6. Evans 1991, p. 306; MacDonald & Gastmann 2001, pp. 292ff.
  7. Nerenberg, Karl (26 February 2018). "James Laxer and the Movement He Helped Create". Rabble.ca. Retrieved 26 February 2018.
  8. "TPL Eh List: James Laxer". Toronto: House of Anansi Press. Retrieved 27 February 2018.
  9. Laxer 2004, pp. 7, 52.
  10. Fulford, Robert (11 September 2004). "A Rare Glimpse at Canadian Stalinism". National Post. Toronto. Retrieved 23 February 2018.
  11. Doughty 2005.
  12. Bullen 1983, p. 192.
  13. Laxer 2004, p. 54.
  14. Rizza, Alanna (25 February 2018). "James Laxer, One-Time NDP Leadership Candidate, Dead at 76". Toronto Star. Retrieved 25 February 2018.
  15. "Gordon Laxer". Edmonton: Parkland Institute. Retrieved 27 February 2018.
  16. Laxer 1967.
  17. "Jim Laxer". Toronto: York University. Retrieved 23 February 2018.
  18. "Laxer Chosen CUP National President". Queen's Journal. 92 (23). Kingston, Ontario: Alma Mater Society. 8 January 1965. Retrieved 27 February 2018.
  19. Harris, James F. (2014). "James Robert Laxer". The Harris Family Historical Database. Retrieved 27 February 2018.
  20. Fitterman, Lisa (11 March 2018). "James Laxer, 76, was one of the founders of the Waffle movement in the NDP". Globe and Mail'. Retrieved 12 March 2018.
  21. "Producer's Death Halts Radio Show". Ottawa Journal. 6 October 1978. p. 5.
  22. "Honeymoon Falls' Story Is One of Destruction". Ottawa Journal. 3 November 1978. p. 69.
  23. Laxer 2003; Laxer 2004, p. 184.
  24. Fleming 2010, p. 182.
  25. Azzi 2012, p. 223; Pitsula 2008, pp. 39–40; Watkins 2015.
  26. McAllister 1984, p. 108.
  27. Pitsula 2008, p. 40.
  28. Erickson & Laycock 2015, p. 16; Isitt 2011, p. 187.
  29. Bullen 1983, p. 212.
  30. Laxer 1996, p. 162.
  31. Watkins, Mel (27 February 2018). "Reflections on Jim Laxer". Rabble.ca. Retrieved 28 February 2018.
  32. http://www.hansard.gov.yk.ca/25-legislature/003_March15_1984.pdf
  33. Laxer, Michael (26 February 2018). "Remembering James Laxer, Canadian Iconoclast". Rabble.ca. Retrieved 26 February 2018.
  34. Laxer, James (9 September 2014). "Scottish Referendum: World's First Vote on Economic Inequality". The Globe and Mail. Toronto. Retrieved 27 February 2018.
  35. http://archivesfa.library.yorku.ca/filelist/2003-009.166.pdf
  36. Evans 1991, p. 306.
  37. "Inventory of the James Laxer Fonds". Clara Thomas Archives. Toronto: York University. 2013 [2002]. Retrieved 1 March 2018.
  38. "Gemini Awards: The Winners". Cinema Canada. January 1989. Retrieved 28 February 2018.
  39. "James Laxer". York University Experts Guide. Toronto: York University. Retrieved 28 February 2018.
  40. Hays, Matthew (12 March 2009). "To NFB or Not to NFB". The Walrus. Toronto. Retrieved 23 February 2018.
  41. Burgess 2002, p. 239.
  42. "Remembering Jim Laxer". NDP Socialist Caucus. 26 February 2018. Retrieved 27 February 2018.
  43. Smart 2009, p. 316.
  44. Warnock 1988, p. 320.
  45. Mandel 1992, p. 224.
  46. Laxer, Michael (23 February 2018). "In Memoriam: James Laxer, 1941–2018". The Left Chapter. Retrieved 23 February 2018.

Works cited

Azzi, Stephen (1999). Walter Gordon and the Rise of Canadian Nationalism. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press. ISBN 978-0-7735-1840-7.
 ———  (2012). "The Nationalist Moment in English Canada". In Campbell, Lara; Clément, Dominique; Kealey, Gregory S. (eds.). Debating Dissent: Canada and the Sixties. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. pp. 213–228. ISBN 978-1-4426-1078-1.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
Bullen, John (1983). "The Ontario Waffle and the Struggle for an Independent Socialist Canada: Conflict within the NDP". Canadian Historical Review. 64 (2): 188–215. doi:10.3138/CHR-064-02-04. ISSN 0008-3755.
Burgess, William (2002). Canada's Location in the World System: Reworking the Debate in Canadian Political Economy (PDF) (PhD thesis). Vancouver: University of British Columbia. ISBN 978-0-612-73136-3. Retrieved 1 March 2018.
Doughty, Howard A. (2005). "Review of Red Diaper Baby: A Boyhood in the Age of McCarthyism by James Laxer". College Quarterly. 8 (1). Retrieved 23 February 2018.
Erickson, Lynda; Laycock, David (2015). "Party History and Electoral Fortunes, 1961–2003". In Laycock, David; Erickson, Lynda (eds.). Reviving Social Democracy: The Near Death and Surprising Rise of the Federal NDP. Vancouver: UBC Press. pp. 13ff. ISBN 978-0-7748-2852-9.
Evans, Gary (1991). In the National Interest: A Chronicle of the National Film Board of Canada from 1949 to 1989. Toronto: University of Toronto (published 2001). ISBN 978-0-8020-6833-0.
Fleming, R. B. (2010). Peter Gzowski: A Biography. Toronto: Dundurn Press. ISBN 978-1-77070-539-5.
Gonick, Cy (1987). The Great Economic Debate: Failed Economics and a Future for Canada. Toronto: James Lorimer & Company. ISBN 978-0-88862-701-8.
Howlett, Michael; Netherton, Alex; Ramesh, M. (1999). The Political Economy of Canada: An Introduction (2nd ed.). Don Mills, Ontario: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-541348-9.
Isitt, Benjamin (2011). Militant Minority: British Columbia Workers and the Rise of a New Left, 1948–1972. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. ISBN 978-1-4426-4194-5.
Laxer, James (1967). French-Canadian Newspapers and Imperial Defence, 1899–1914 (MA thesis). Kingston, Ontario: Queen's University. OCLC 933108264.
 ———  (1996). In Search of a New Left: Canadian Politics after the Neoconservative Assault. Toronto: Viking. ISBN 978-0-670-85901-6.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
 ———  (2003). The Border: Canada, the US and Dispatches From the 49th Parallel. Toronto: Anchor Canada (published 2010). ISBN 978-0-385-67290-0.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
 ———  (2004). Red Diaper Baby: A Boyhood in the Age of McCarthyism. Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre. ISBN 978-1-55365-073-7.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
 ———  (2012). Tecumseh and Brock: The War of 1812. Toronto: House of Anansi Press. ISBN 978-1-77089-195-1.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
MacDonald, Scott B.; Gastmann, Albert L. (2001). A History of Credit and Power in the Western World. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Transaction Publishers (published 2009). ISBN 978-0-7658-0085-5.
Mandel, Michael (1992). "Sovereignty and the New Constitutionalism". In Drache, Daniel; Perin, Roberto (eds.). Negotiating with a Sovereign Quebec. Toronto: James Lorimer & Company. pp. 215–229. ISBN 978-1-55028-392-1.
McAllister, James (1984). Government of Edward Schreyer: Democratic Socialism in Manitoba. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press. ISBN 978-0-7735-0436-3.
Miller, Carman (1993). Painting the Map Red: Canada and the South African War, 1899–1902. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press. ISBN 978-0-7735-0913-9.
Pitsula, James M. (2008). New World Dawning: The Sixties at Regina Campus. Canadian Plains Studies. 56. Regina, Saskatchewan: Canadian Plains Research Center. ISBN 978-0-88977-210-6. ISSN 0317-6290.
Smart, Pat (2009). "Queen's University History Department". In Palaeologu, M. Athena (ed.). The Sixties in Canada: A Turbulent and Creative Decade. Montreal: Black Rose Books. pp. 310–318. ISBN 978-1-55164-331-1.
Warnock, John W. (1988). Free Trade and the New Right Agenda. Vancouver: New Star Books. ISBN 978-0-919573-79-6.
Watkins, Mel (2015) [2006]. "Waffle". The Canadian Encyclopedia. Toronto: Historica Canada. Retrieved 27 February 2018.

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