Montreal·Q&A

Noah Richler turns political loss into gains

Noah Richler has had a successful career as an author, journalist and broadcaster, but he credits his attempt at holding political office for making him a better writer.

Richler speaks to CBC Montreal's Homerun on latest book, Trump, lessons learned from campaign trail

Noah Richler turned his experience on the campaign trail as a NDP candidate into a new book. (Melissa Fundira/CBC)

Noah Richler has had a successful career as an author, journalist and broadcaster, but he credits his recent attempt at holding political office for making him a better writer. 

Though he lost his bid at becoming a NDP MP in the 2015 federal election, Richler gained insight he turned into his latest book, The Candidate: Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail.

In an interview with CBC Montreal's Homerun, Richler shared the lessons he's learned from speaking to everyday Canadians and what Trump's election teaches us about ourselves.

On Trump's presidential victory

Richler said people who are surprised about at the U.S. election results are surprised because they don't talk to people outside of their own social circle.

I think the most recent news, the appointment of Steve Bannon, the Breibart News executive, is really appalling. We basically now have two guys that have lied their way to the White House. One of them a misogynist, blustering, lying braggart — and that's Trump.

That horror put aside, I think the main lesson of what's going on down south is that we have two communities that actually don't interact at all. We attribute that kind of behaviour to the web — of people finding folk with similar views and gathering and not listening to their opponents — but actually all the web is doing is reflecting what we do in real life. So there's a kind of revelation there, that those of us who are surprised, are surprised because we're not talking to people outside our groups enough. And there has also been a failure of the liberal project. I think that has repercussions here in Canada.

Why he entered the 2015 federal election

I did it because, as it turned out like a majority of Canadians, I was just fed up with [Stephen] Harper and finally had enough... and I think my wife, Sarah, had had enough of me complaining.

It was in January after the Charlie Hebdo attacks and another speech by Harper basically using fear to push an agenda. It just felt like too much and so I gave it a go. Even my writings about Canada through story are in a sense political, so it [wasn't] a big surprise to those around me, but they worried. They worried that I [wouldn't] like canvassing and stuff like that.

Richler ran for the NDP in 2015 federal elections. He would ultimately lose the riding to Carolyn Bennett who has held that seat since 1997 and is now the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs. (Noah Richler/NDP)

Why he chose to run with the NDP

One of the things I tried to convey in the book is that we choose political parties for sort of rational reasons that have to do with policy, but also all sorts of personal ones that have to do with family and background. In a sense, maybe, people would've expected someone from my family, my very fortunate background, to have been Liberal. But I didn't want to do that and maybe I was rebelling against something.

I felt most at home with my friends at the NDP, and I felt that, at the time, they were the most exciting party. They were truly national, they were the only party with representation across Canada, they had young people, the McGill Four, they had Indigenous representatives, they had people of various ethnicities and it was exciting. I felt it was important to show there was an alternative and, you know, we see what happens down south when there's only two to choose from.

What it's like to canvas

It's actually very pleasing. I'm smiling as I'm saying this now, but I was actually anxious that I would go to the door and at least somebody would try and give me a whack to the side of the head. That didn't happen. People were incredibly welcoming. People, I thought, needed to worry about how their next rent cheque was going to be paid, [but they] were asking me about ISIL, they were asking me about the muzzling of scientists, about the census, about Indigenous questions. And I found that incredibly affecting and I do try in the book to put across all those myriad encounters, which show you the concerns of Canadians, but also the extraordinary array of lives that people are living. And you're privy to those for a moment.

Richler says his latest book is about more than his time as a political candidate — it's also about the people who volunteer on the campaign trail and the everyday Canadians he met.

Why campaigning was worth it

Canvassing taught me to speak more simply and it taught me to write better.

[The book is] actually a very tender account, because to me, it is a celebration of the extraordinary work that volunteers do. In fact, I feel very positive about the experience. It's true that the book helped me make sense of it and I would say it was one the best things I've done in my life. I would urge anybody who has that instinct to give it a go because the other side of the coins is [that] our democracy depends upon non-career politicians giving it a go.

Why he won't campaign again

It can be [soul sucking] and it's very hard on those around you and I certainly wouldn't do it again because I don't have the support of those around me for trying again. You're so intensely in this bubble of excitement. It keeps you going, it's very invigorating, but for those around you, I imagine it's quite exhausting.


This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

With files from CBC Montreal's Homerun

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