Interview with Curtis Brown

Former Sun journalist edits book focusing on Manitoba politics
By Keith Borkowsky, The Brandon Sun

Former Brandon Sun reporter and editor Curtis Brown will return to the Wheat City on Thursday to promote a book he co-edited with University of Manitoba academic Paul Thomas.

Manitoba Politics and Government: Issues, Institutions and Traditions is the first book of its kind since 1963 and offers a modern look at Manitoba’s unique political scene.

“Other provinces have had a lot written about them,” Brown said. “In the Atlantic provinces, there are people that specialize in that and have come out with quite a bit about the political culture and the political processes of those places, but not as much Manitoba. Especially since so much has changed politically and socially in this province since the early ’60s, it was really important to do something like this.”

Brown will join Brandon University political science professor Kelly Saunders, one of the book’s contributors, at the event at the Brandon Public Library at 7 p.m. There, Brown and Saunders will discuss the many aspects to Manitoba’s politics and Westman’s place within the structure.

“One of the things we talk about a lot is … this is a province that’s typically defined by the centre and that it’s a bridge between east and west,” Brown said.

“You have a political culture that’s very different from Alberta or Ontario and Quebec. That seems to be a recurring theme when you look at this history of the province. There’s this quiet confidence and calm that seems to prevail.”

Brown, who worked on the 2 1/2-year project as a masters student at the University of Manitoba, said the book was born during discussions at a conference talking about Manitoba issues. It is also part of a resurgence of interest in how Manitoba’s leaders took power and how they governed.

“There have been periods where there have been pretty big tremors,” Brown said.

“You look at the Winnipeg General Strike, you look at when Manitoba entered Confederation with (Louis) Riel and other times like the French language debate in the 1980s. There have been periods of crisis and division. But most of the time, there’s a calm that prevails.”

He compared that to living near a fault line, where two tectonic plates can co-exist for years. However, that doesn’t prevent conflict when the plates start to shift.

“Then you have the Meech Lake constitutional accord, where Manitoba was the place where Meech died and that chapter followed a decade of tumultuousness.”

Brown, now a research associate with Winnipeg-based Probe Research, said the book also discusses a 1970s period when Manitoba’s politics polarized left wing from right wing, squeezing out the centrist Liberals.

“Meech seemed to be a culmination from that,” Brown said.

“But then we live through a period of relative calm, where for the last 20 years, whether it’s been Progressive Conservatives or NDP in office, there’s been an attempt by both parties to reach for the middle and try to govern by a wide, moderate consensus. That appears to be the secret to success when it comes to navigating these different visions in the province.”

While Brown co-edited the book the introductory chapter, the bulk of the text was written by experts in Manitoba politics such as academics Jim Silver, Gerald Friesen, Manitoba’s Clerk of the Executive Council Paul Vogt, former deputy premier and NDP MLA Jean Friesen and Winnipeg Free Press columnist Frances Russell.

Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition January 19, 2011 A2