The David Levine Affair: Separatist Betrayal or McCarthyism North?
David Bennett is the national director of the Department of Workplace Health, Safety and Environment at the Canadian Labour Congress in Ottawa.
Carleton University’s Randal Marlin has written a detailed and closely
argued book about the appointment of David Levine, an anglophone
Montrealer, as CEO of the newly amalgamated Ottawa Hospital in 1998.
Levine was a highly qualified hospital administrator who had stood as a
candidate for the Parti Québécois in 1979 and was then serving as
delegate general for the PQ government in New York. Marlin tells the
story through an account of media coverage of the appointment,
particularly that by the Ottawa Citizen, the Ottawa Sun, and CFRA radio
station. The media did not create the Levine controversy, but they
certainly fomented the anti-Levine cause, sometimes in disgraceful ways.
Levine’s appointment was announced on May 1; on May 15, the Hospital
Board held a further press conference and Levine met with the Citizen
editorial board; on May 19, there was an ugly public meeting called by
the Hospital Board. The Board stuck by its appointment, and the
controversy died down in the summer of 1998.
There are only two flaws in this otherwise excellent book. The first is
that there is no explanation of how individuals with anti-Levine
views—which Marlin clearly respects—turned into what he frequently
describes as an emotional crowd or an hysterical mob. “Organized
groups” perhaps had a bigger role than Marlin indicates. Secondly, the
comparison with McCarthyism is not helpful. McCarthyism was an overtly
political, centrally directed movement, whereas the Levine affair was
essentially a local episode in which social concerns over the future of
the Ottawa hospital system were the chief motivator of the anti-Levine
camp. The protesters were mainly elderly anglophone Ottawa residents who
feared that the appointment of a separatist would lead to the further
erosion of their hospital service, at the expense of the anglophone
Marlin explains very well the irrationality of these fears and the
false assumptions on which they were based. There were also wider
political implications and the involvement in the issue of the Ontario
and Quebec provincial governments. But this is hardly a warrant for
comparison with McCarthyism, much less for the inclusion of McCarthyism
in the book’s title.