APEC, Seattle, Quebec City: those words conjure up scenes of tear gas and pepper spray, helmeted policemen and masked protesters. But those images are just the most visible signs of dissent; Watchdogs and Gadflies: Activism from Marginal to Mainstream puts the anti-globalization movement in a broader context. It is a timely and provocative book that demonstrates how activists working on various issues — the environment, taxes, health care, victims’ rights, education and democratic reform — are redefining the meaning of citizenship and democracy in Canada.

Journalist Tim Falconer travelled across Canada, talking to activists from across the political spectrum. He met with young radicals and veteran advocates, middle-class parents and back-to-the-landers, lawyers and grad students. Despite their political differences, there were surprising similarities among them: all are convinced they are more effective operating outside our political institutions than inside.

At a time when people are increasingly dissatisfied with traditional political parties, Watchdogs and Gadflies offers a lively exploration of how people are channelling their desire for change into activism. Anti-tobacco crusader Gar Mahood, who worked for tobacco regulation and warnings on cigarette packaging, has had an unprecedented impact on the health agenda. Anti-poverty activist Jim Green builds housing — and self-esteem — in Vancouver’s poorest neighbourhood and Wendy Cukier helped bring about effective gun control legislation. From Walter Robinson, the indefatigable proponent of lower taxes, to Aaron Koleszar, the Prince Edward Island activist who turned up on the cover of Time magazine during the Seattle protests, Watchdogs and Gadflies brings the people behind the placards and pamphlets vividly to life. Their stories encourage us to reassess our own ideas about what it means to be a citizen today.


“This book is a rare gem in the crowded literature of activism: a clear-eyed, independent and (a great relief) crisply written look at idealism and idealists — who they are, how they got that way and, even when they drive us crazy, why they matter.”
— Ian Brown, Host of Talking Books, CBC Radio One

“This isn’t a how-to book for activists (though it does include practical examples) so much as a why-to and who-does, and it is powerful not despite but because of the fact that he personalizes the issues and humanizes the activists engaged in them… Ultimately, this is a quietly subversive book, persuasively optimistic and pro-activism, and all the more Canadian for it.”
— Tom Snyders, Georgia Straight

“For Falconer and the activists he writes about, being fully engaged as citizens in those issues, which many feel powerless to affect, is to be fully human. Or, as he might put it, fully adult. A good journey for Falconer, a good read for the rest of us.”
— Pat Capponi, The Globe and Mail

“Tim Falconer has written a book that I guarantee will make you angry, and happy, and think about Canada differently.”
— David Swick, Halifax Daily News

“The author of this engaging well-written book describes a number of sweeping changes in Canadian society that have been inspired, if not actually implemented, by activist citizens who aren’t afraid to fight for what they think is right…while his interview subjects are remarkably intelligent and articulate, he refuses to be seduced or intimidated. Instead, he describes their positions and personalities with understanding, concision and objectivity.”
— David Colterjohn, Vancouver Sun

“Falconer is a gifted interviewer, and his sketches of activists are penetrating… This is an informative and entertaining book. It stays with you, provokes questions and inspires respect for the efforts and sacrifices of activists.”
— Tony Dalmyn, Winnipeg Free Press

“This is clearly an informative and highly readable narrative. Its strength, of course, is derived from Falconer’s incorporation of valuable interview material…and his ability to let the activists themselves tell their own stories and personal experiences.”
— Peter McKenna, Halifax Sunday Herald

“To be sure, Falconer’s watchdogs and gadflies cover the whole political spectrum. And if the author is out to flog a cause, its motto could be ‘become an informed, passionate, engaged citizen.’”
— Marlene Webber, Toronto Star

“This is a finely turned personal exploration of protest and persuasion. As the reader follows Falconer from group to group, connections emerge between highly motivated people and objectives. The conclusion suggests that some form of activism is the responsibility of the intelligent citizen.”
— Gregory Boyd Bell, eye

“In casual and thankfully unacademic prose, Falconer takes the reader along on his cross-country tour to interview activists working on issues from poverty and homelessness to health-care and globalization…this well-written, informative investigation of activist efforts in this country has the potential to inspire many to take a fresh look at their position in the field, left or right, and to play some serious ball.”
— Darren Alexander, Quill & Quire

“Reading Watchdogs and Gadflies is the equivalent of getting a kick in the pants for one’s political complacency. And there’s never been a better time to bend over.”
— Jana Prikryl,

“I am very uneasy about how Falconer defines the activism he writes a book about. It is strangely disembodied, without context, in a post-modernist way!…while communism and capitalism, as political and economic systems, are human-centered, growth-oriented, and basically anti-Earth, social justice has more of a natural affinity with the Left than the Right. Does Falconer’s class grounding prevent him from seeing this, as shown in the disembodied definition of activism he works with in his book?”
— David Orton, Elements


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