Passings: Prof. James Laxer was an esteemed academic, author and former politician

James Laxer

James Laxer (Jim), a professor in the Department of Equity Studies in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, died suddenly and unexpectedly from a heart attack in Paris on Feb. 23.

James Laxer
James Laxer

Jim Laxer was born in Montreal, on December 22, 1941 to Edna May (née Quentin), a social worker, and Robert Laxer, a psychology professor, both political activists. He grew up in a Communist household in Toronto during the McCarthy era, a history he chronicled in his memoir Red Diaper Baby.

He received a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Toronto and Master of Arts (following approval of his thesis French-Canadian Newspapers and Imperial Defence, 1899–1914 in 1967) and Doctor of Philosophy degrees from Queen’s University. He was an active student journalist both at The Varsity at the University of Toronto and later at the Queen’s Journal and was elected president of Canadian University Press in 1965

In the late 1960s, with economist Mel Watkins and others, Laxer played a central role in the founding of the left-wing nationalist movement within the New Democratic Party (NDP), that became popularly known as the “Waffle”. In 1971, he ran for the leadership of the NDP and came in second behind David Lewis.

After the Waffle disbanded, Laxer became an influential academic, author, columnist and television personality. He wrote more than 25 books on the Canadian economy, Canadian politics, free trade, the oil and gas industry and Canadian history, including Staking Claims to a Continent, the number one national bestseller Tecumseh and Brock: The War of 1812Stalking an Elephant: My Discovery of America (published by the New Press in New York as Discovering America), and The Border: Canada, the U.S., and Dispatches from the Forty-Ninth Parallel. In the 1980s, he hosted a current affairs show called The Real Story, which aired on TVOntario, and was the host of the 1986 National Film Board six-part documentary series, Reckoning: The Political Economy of Canada, for which he won a Gemini Award.

Laxer was a full professor and taught political science in the Department of Equity Studies in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies at York University.

Laxer also served on the board of the advocacy organization the Council of Canadians for a number of years, a commitment shared by his father and brother. A prolific writer, Laxer’s work and opinion pieces have appeared in many Canadian newspapers and magazines and for several years he was a columnist for the Toronto Star. At the time of his death, Laxer was in Europe researching his next book on Canada’s role in the Second World War. His teaching, writing, activism and concern for greater equality and the future of Canada motivated him throughout his life.

His family described him as a loving and wonderful husband, father, grandfather and friend to many, with a huge heart and a tremendous sense of humour. He is survived by his spouse Sandy Price, four children, Michael, Kate, Emily and Jonathan, four grandchildren, Nathaniel, Julia, Benjamin and Robert and siblings Linda and Gord. He will be missed by his many colleagues and friends at York University and the hundreds of past and present students who benefited from his wisdom, teaching and mentorship.

A service to celebrate his life will be held on Saturday, March 3 at 10am in the Great Hall at Hart House, 7 Hart House Circle, Toronto. All are welcome.