THE NATION’S BUSINESS

Kim’s miracle: two Tories were elected

On every stop during that 1993 campaign from hell, the prime minister demonstrated an unerring instinct for her own jugular

Peter C. Newman November 21 1994
THE NATION’S BUSINESS

Kim’s miracle: two Tories were elected

On every stop during that 1993 campaign from hell, the prime minister demonstrated an unerring instinct for her own jugular

Peter C. Newman November 21 1994

Kim’s miracle: two Tories were elected

THE NATION’S BUSINESS

On every stop during that 1993 campaign from hell, the prime minister demonstrated an unerring instinct for her own jugular

PETER C. NEWMAN

This has turned out to be a great season for Canadian nonfiction books, covering recent politics, less recent history, as well as such offbeat topics as the last days of Joey Smallwood. These are some of my choices for good reading:

Poisoned Chalice: How the Tories SelfDestructed, by David McLaughlin (Dundurn Press, $29.99). When she first blossomed on the Canadian political scene, Kim Campbell seemed to be the dispirited Tory party’s dream contender. At a time when the national consensus rallied solidly against guys in suits, she was not only not a guy, but as her famous photographic portrait proved, she held her suits in front of her. The sense of timing and touches of magic that propelled her into the prime ministership vanished with the 1993 election campaign. This amazing chronicle traces in murderous detail exactly how that happened. On every stop during that election from hell, the candidate demonstrated an unerring instinct for her own jugular. “She didn’t know what she didn’t know,” was how one of her handlers described the process. Campbell emerges from the book as a gutsy and resourceful woman totally out of her depth. Most of the party operatives that surrounded and advised her are portrayed as being not just inept but bone-dumb and stubborn to boot. They would never make it past the first cut in the casting of any Keystone Kop two-reeler. McLaughlin, who was there for every painful mile as a senior member of Kim’s retinue, records the agonies along the campaign trail with more sorrow than anger. But in the end, the book’s only surprise is how the Tories actually managed to win two seats.

Riel: A Life of Revolution, by Maggie Siggins (HarperCollins, $29). Louis Riel’s evocative saga, particularly his 1885 trial for treason, when he refused to hide behind a justifiable plea of insanity that might have saved his life, is Canada’s most enduring leg-

end. A self-declared rebel in a nation of cloying conformists, Riel remains the perfect martyr of the prototypical Canadian tragedy: a well-meaning yet deluded mystic who died prematurely by pretending to be sane. Siggins’s retelling of Riel’s life and times is important because we erect monuments to functionaries instead of rebels. In 507 pages, she sympathetically traces Riel’s many contradictions and ambiguities. Unlike most of the authors who have preceded her, she allows the man to speak for himself, placing him firmly in the Prairie landscape that was his mental habitat. Her writing style emphasizes the drama of the occasions that punctuated his brief flowering, but it’s her power of understatement that brings them alive. This is a very good book.

Dead Right, by David Frum (Basic Books, $32.50). At 34, and with relatively little experience in the journalistic trenches, Frum has established himself as the country’s most thoughtful commentator. Intelligently discursive about his fierce brand of political conservatism, Frum is a disciple of John Jay, the first chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, who held that “the people who own the country ought to govern it.” The obstacle to such a

right-wing utopia is that governments need to get elected, and the central theme of Frum’s disturbing book is whether the democratic process can survive without overly diluting conservative ideology. Frum is angry because he suspects it can’t, or at least that the theorem hasn’t yet been properly tested. He is at his best dissecting the legislative records of Ronald Reagan and George Bush, condemning them for not being true believers, for yielding to the sweet temptations of electoral arithmetic. What’s so welcome about this manifesto is that Frum takes his subject more seriously than he takes himself. His attacks against Big Government are larded with touches of irony and dashes of wit. The righteous political right in North America is lucky to have such a lively and articulate champion. Long may he rant.

A Canadian Myth: Quebec, Between Canada and the Illusion of Utopia, by William Johnson (Robert Davies Publishing, $21.99). A columnist for the Montreal Gazette, Johnson has set himself a daunting assignment. He believes that the root causes of Quebec separatism have been less political than mythological—and that what Quebec really needs is not independence from Canada but liberation from the ghosts of its own past. Johnson attempts to exorcise that mythology, and, surprisingly, he succeeds. This fascinating 406-page hunk of a book is not an easy read, but it reaches far beyond the machinations of federal and Quebec politics that have set the national agenda since 1960. “Bourassa failed three times to impose his ideas on Canada,” he writes. “The PQ failed once and will again. The true liberation that Quebecers still await is the liberation from reactionary Anglophobia and the reactionary ethnic state.” Trudeau and Our Times: The Heroic Delusion (Volume 2), by Christina McCall and Stephen Clarkson (McClelland & Stewart, $29.99). This is as good as Canadian political writing gets. Focused on Pierre Trudeau’s post-Lazarus period when he returned from self-exile in 1980, the second part in the series places the final period of Trudeau’s stewardship in its proper context. It was his most productive legislative spurt. This volume also provides the grist of the autobiography Trudeau failed to supply in his own memoir last year, catching the essence—instead of merely the gloss—of the man, and the society in which he simmered up. Emotional cripple though he was, Trudeau’s story seems to enjoy an unlimited shelf life. The McCall-Clarkson series will remain an essential anchor in the growing literature on his reign.

The Last Days of the Last Father, by Ron

Pumphrey (Pumphrey Publications, $18). When Joey Smallwood died at 90 on Dec. 18, 1991, Pumphrey was at his bedside, taking notes. This self-published book is the result of the long vigil that preceded that moment, and it reveals more about the author than about the former Newfoundland premier. It’s eccentric, self-centred and more than a bit daft, but it catches the charm, independence and selfdelusion in the Newfoundland identity. No Canadiana shelf should be without it