BOOKS

London memories

Paul Martin talks diplomacy—discreetly

MARC CLARK December 12 1988
BOOKS

London memories

Paul Martin talks diplomacy—discreetly

MARC CLARK December 12 1988

London memories

BOOKS

Paul Martin talks diplomacy - discreetly

PAUL MARTIN: THE LONDON DIARIES, 1975-1979 Edited by William R. Young ( University of Ottawa Press, 622 pages, $34.95)

In the pantheon of Canadian politics and public service, Paul Martin has enjoyed a unique career. He served as a member of Parliament for an astonishing 33 consecutive years—from 1935 to 1968—holding a number of top cabinet positions. For the next six years, he was government leader in the Senate. Then, in 1975, he became Canada’s high commissioner to Great Britain. Now 85, Martin has released The London Diaries, 1975-1979. For readers who share his passion for politics, the book is a comprehensive—if often dry—chronicle of the statesman’s years in London. Martin’s fascination with foreign affairs had won him invaluable contacts by the time he went to London, from Prime Minister Harold Wilson to Mark Chona, special assistant to Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda. As a result, the diaries provide an insider’s view of the affairs of the day, from the struggles of Britain’s Labour governments to the negotiations to end white rule in Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe. Some more personal passages are especially relevant now. Martin describes how on a 1977 fishing trip with his son, Paul Jr.—recently elected Liberal MP in LaSalle-Emard and a possible successor to party leader John Turner—they discussed the younger man’s future. “In six or seven years, you will likely be a tower of a man,” said Martin Sr., who twice failed in bids to become party leader. “You could do then what I failed to do.” Editor William Young, senior research officer with the Library of Parliament, has sprinkled some color into the book, which he distilled from 9,000 pages of diaries. On Nov. 22, 1975, Martin recorded a complaint that a visiting Canadian athletic group had been acting “rudely and in ruffian fashion” at Stonehenge. But such moments are too infrequent: the book is largely a collection of political minutiae. Worse, it appears that Martin censored himself, noting the foibles and mistakes of some of his contemporaries but avoiding to name them. Unfortunately, the book’s lack of candor reduces the diaries to diplomatic dross.

MARC CLARK