Cover Image: Outside In

Outside In

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Member Reviews

Nonfiction | Adult
Libby Davies. Well known to me, for those who don’t recognize the name, she served for many years as the NDP Member of Parliament for Vancouver East; an outspoken, passionate, and devoted public servant who never wavers (at least, not on the outside!) I never lived within her riding, but it’s a testament to her work that I was familiar enough to want to read her biography. I learned a lot, including the fact she started out in the Downtown East Side in the early 1970s while at university, ultimately giving up her studies. She served on both Vancouver Parks Board and city council, getting a grounding in politics before turning to Ottawa.
Her politics have always been left; her activism has always been local. Knocking on doors and attending endless events in her first federal campaign, she won the seat for the New Democrats in 1997. She served for nearly 20 years, working first with Alexa McDonough, with Jack Layton until his death from cancer in 2011, then Tom Mulcair, and retiring from federal politics in 2015. Davies has worked tirelessly over her political career for the under-represented, advocating on behalf of drug users and sex workers, speaking up in support of Palestinian refugees, and working to have housing made a human right in Canada. Canada’s first openly lesbian MP, Davies outed herself and her relationship before letting her partner know she was going to do so. Yikes. Bet that conversation was a little tenser than she reveals! The story of the 2014 attack on Parliament Hill was riveting. Davies describes how she and her colleagues “hit the floor with no idea of what might come bursting through.” The lockdown and ensuing events are chilling, though the day ends in a shared meal of chili and affirming conversation between lovers and colleagues. Davies speaks firmly against using this rare incident of violence in Canadian life to foment further fear of terrorism. In Layton’s words: “hope is better than fear.” Indeed. I really enjoyed this insider politics memoir, explaining how she learned, over the years, to be a politically astute activist, knowing when to push and when to pull back, though she is also quick to admit dilemmas on ethical stances remain a challenge. Davies includes stories of missteps, but presents herself as always keeping her passion and commitment to the greater cause at the forefront. She is a lifelong New Democrat, but doesn’t shy from criticizing her party at times. She takes aim at a number of opponents, mostly in other parties, chastising their me-first and blatantly sexist approaches and self-serving political manoevres. Though Davies credits others with guiding her through the writing process, the memoir is often meandering and off-the-cuff. I can imagine she had a glass of wine in hand as she recalled those stories! Thoughout the book, Davies inspires with her calls for all of us to take action, starting at home, when we witness injustice. I do wish the book had been organized more thoughtfully. In addition to the meandering issue, it’s essentially chronological, which means some issues (sex workers for instance) keep coming up. Chronological is easy but messy. My preference would be for an issues-based approach. The digital copy I had included lots of black and white photos, and there is space for an index though it was not included. My thanks to publisher Between the Lines for the advance reading copy provided digitally through NetGalley, in exchange for my honest review.
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