Se­nior Ad­vi­sor

Nona­ge­nar­ian au­thor Harry Leslie Smith on his sec­ond ca­reer as a po­lit­i­cal ac­tivist, pro­tect­ing uni­ver­sal health care and car­ing for refugees

Reader's Digest (Canada) - - Contents - MICAH TOUB

Nona­ge­nar­ian au­thor Harry Leslie Smith on pro­tect­ing uni­ver­sal health care and sup­port­ing refugees.

Af­ter decades of sell­ing im­ported car­pets, you’ve found a sec­ond vo­ca­tion in your 90s as a po­lit­i­cal com­men­ta­tor—mostly look­ing back on times of great wealth dis­par­ity to warn us of the con­se­quences of aus­ter­ity and in­ad­e­quate so­cial sup­ports. What in­spired you to start writ­ing?

In 2008, the world’s economies crashed. And the fol­low­ing year my mid­dle son, Peter, died at the age of 50. By 2010, my grief was un­con­trol­lable and I knew the only way I could ex­pi­ate it was through writ­ing about my early life—in a book and also on so­cial me­dia. I needed to let peo­ple know that the eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal storms com­ing our way, I’d seen them be­fore.

In your new book, Don’t Let My Past Be Your Fu­ture, you ex­press con­cern that in Bri­tain, na­tional health care is in dan­ger. But as some­one who has been based mainly in Canada since 1953, what’s your per­spec­tive on our cov­er­age?

I am con­vinced it will not ex­ist in 20 years. Not be­cause it’s too costly but be­cause the en­ti­tled, and the politi­cians who serve them, are too greedy. In Canada, uni­ver­sal health care does not cover pre­scrip­tion drugs or den­tal care. Only 30 per cent of Cana­di­ans can ei­ther af­ford or have the lux­ury of work­ing for a com­pany that pro­vides health in­sur­ance. When I go into stores here staffed by work­ers earn­ing min­i­mum wage, their teeth re­mind me of those of the poor in 1930s Eng­land.

You’re pro­lific on Twit­ter, yet you cau­tion against tak­ing what ap­pears on so­cial me­dia at face value.

Democ­racy has al­ways been threat­ened by peo­ple in­ter­ested in pre­serv­ing their wealth or po­lit­i­cal in­flu­ence at the ex­pense of oth­ers. Now, so­cial me­dia al­lows them to spread false in­for­ma­tion with the speed of the plague. Quite frankly, un­less we are will­ing to in­vest time in learn­ing about the his­tory of the 20th cen­tury and the many tri­als its peo­ple had to un­dergo, our democ­ra­cies will not sur­vive. Most of my gen­er­a­tion left school at 14, but be­cause our lives had been hard, we knew when some­one was sell­ing us a pile of garbage. Now peo­ple are will­ing to sus­pend their dis­be­lief—and that must stop.

You’re cur­rently crowd-fund­ing to be able to tour refugee camps across Europe. What’s spurring you on?

I am a vet­eran of the Sec­ond World War, and at its end, I en­coun­tered long streams of refugees in Bel­gium, Hol­land and Ger­many—thou­sands of them mov­ing away from their homes. It re­ally hit me that th­ese peo­ple, through no fault of their own, had found them­selves sud­denly desti­tute. But one thing pleased me, which was that Bri­tish peo­ple built proper ac­com­mo­da­tions for them. I want to write a book in­spired by that pe­riod.

You’ve al­ready vis­ited a num­ber of present-day refugee camps. What in­sights have you gath­ered?

When I was in Calais [in north­ern France], I met two Su­danese men in their 20s who told me about life in their war-rav­aged coun­try. They had seen hor­rors and lived in sub­hu­man con­di­tions. Yet they weren’t jaded—and they be­lieved the West would one day res­cue them from the hell of refugee life. It made me re­mem­ber that as long as there is life, there must be hope.

Don’t Let My Past Be Your Fu­ture is

avail­able now.

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