Seeing the incoherence of the Occupy movement, some recommended that the Occupiers each pick a particular, pointed concern (banking reform, sexual trafficking, environmental protection, native land rights) and join, or start, a focused organization that might actually make a difference.

But the Occupiers wouldn't seem to settle for such incremental particular changes. Now, as the chaotic movement begins to hibernate or fade away, perhaps it's helpful to offer a concrete suggestion to those seeking large-scale political upheaval to rearrange the whole system: talk to people who know about such things.

Much of the Occupy movement reminds me of the widespread dismay and anxiety particularly of prairie folk in the 1920s and '30s, and Quebecers in the 1960s. Big powers somewhere else (banks, insurance companies, multinational corporations, and governments) were oppressing decent, hard-working citizens. Unlike the U.S. with its history of generally useless third parties, however, Canada has grown not one, not two, not three, but four parties of protest that rose to regional and even national significance.

So, here's my suggestion. Talk to people who have actually participated in large-scale movements of social change in Canada, and see what they know. I nominate three: Preston Manning, Bill Blaikie, and Gilles Duceppe.

Bill Blaikie, recently retired after a career of representing Winnipeg constituents as an N.D.P. M.P., could tell you about the rise of the C.C.F. and the subsequent history of the N.D.P. Gilles Duceppe helped bring the Bloc Quebecois to national significance. And Preston Manning can give you two party stories for the price of one: his father's Social Credit and his own Reform Party.

Get them on the phone and ask them four questions:

  1. How did the movement start and grow? How did it then channel a general mood of worry and vexation into a focused vehicle of significant influence?
  2. How did the movement succeed? How did the C.C.F. emerge from its taint of incipient Communism to form governments in several western provinces and recently become Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition federally? How did the Bloc harness the more radical aspects of the Quiet Revolution and end up both dominating the National Assembly and playing an important role in Parliament? How did Social Credit end up governing Alberta and British Columbia, as well as sending M.P.s to Ottawa? And how did the Reform Party metamorphose from a mouthpiece of regional protest to resurrect the conservative side of Canadian politics and help form an eventual majority government as the Conservative Party?
  3. Did the movement actually succeed? Would Bill Blaikie honestly say that the recent N.D.P. success marks the vindication of the dreams of Tommy Douglas and J. S. Woodsworth? Or did Jack Layton transform it into something else, something more opportunistic and therefore more popular, something that could be called a success only in a highly qualified form?

    Would Gilles Duceppe see the Bloc as carrying forward the Quiet Revolution, or as representing its last gasps, only to be done away by the pragmatic Liberals of Jean Charest and the startling new wave of federal New Democrats?

    Would Preston Manning see the late stages of his father's Alberta regime as a success? Would he venture to comment on the wild career of Social Credit in British Columbia? And would he say that Stephen Harper has fulfilled the aspirations of the Reform Party, or has he instead quietly and ruthlessly purged most of them in order to form a ruling national party that reflects palely, if at all, the original Reform agenda?
  4. In the light of these histories, what can succeed today in Canada as a serious, substantial, and effective form of social and political reform? And is the Occupy movement heading in the right direction?

Blaikie, Duceppe, and Manning: They are perhaps unlikely mentors to the Occupy movement, but politics makes strange bedfellows. And if the Occupy movement wants to get out of its tent-covered beds and make a lasting difference, they perhaps should get Bill, Gilles, and Preston on the phone.