Some engage in politics; others observe it, but the author of this political memoir is among the few that have had the chance to do both. In these pages, Henry Milner shares his experiences as a student and community activist, an anglophone insider and strategist in the Parti Québécois, and a close observer over several decades of social democracy in practice in Scandinavia and beyond.
Milner was born in a bunker in American occupied Germany. His parents, who had survived the war in the Soviet Union, moved the family to Canada, where they settled in Montreal. Earning a BA from McGill and his MA and PhD at Carleton, he spent his teaching career first at Vanier College and then based at the University of Montreal. He has also taught extensively in Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand.
Participant/Observer is Milner’s eleventh book. His writings, notably in Inroads, the Canadian Journal of Opinion, which he and John Richards founded in 1991, have led to opportunities to teach and conduct research in Scandinavia, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. Findings from these experiences have found their way into public policy discussion in Canada through the media and public forums. Milner’s recent focus has been on civic literacy, on the democratic institutions that underly social and economic progress, working closely with the movements seeking to reform the voting system in Canada and a number of provinces.
He and his wife, Frances Boylston, divide their time between Montreal and the Dominican Republic, where they are closely involved with the Meeting Place, a not-for-profit International Resource Centre they founded to help “snowbirds” to get to know the country and to provide locals and Haitian migrants with English-language and other resources to be better equipped for employment in a tourism-oriented economy.
Participant/Observer is a political autobiography of a generation, one that reached maturity in the 1960s and 1970s, told through one person’s story. In concluding, Milner holds out hope that this account of his generations’ successes—and failures—can be of use to current generations as they face the threat posed by populist and authoritarian forces, most dramatically to the capacity of contemporary democracies to meet the challenge of climate change.