Tragedy in the Commons
Loat & MacMillan 2014
This book shows why politicians are held in such low regard by Canadians. Most politicians claim to dislike their occupation, not only denying that they ever wanted to be one, but denigrating other politicians while at the same time denying that they do so. Few rookie MPs have ever researched what their job entails before they are elected, and are abandoned by overly competitive colleagues when they arrive in Ottawa. Political parties have almost no legal framework so their power has accelerated without controls to achieve almost total control of our democratic institutions. Few MPs feel able to change anything because they are picked off one by one if they try. And so on. A saddening read but necessary for an understanding of the Ottawa bubble.
The Decline of Parliamentary Democracy in Canada
Rathgeber, Brent 2014
Rathgaber defines representative government as one where every MP and senator is individually free to hold the government to account, as opposed to just making it look bad for partisan reasons. With that definition, he has no difficulty filling a book on the reasons why someone like him has no place in a Harper government. As a Conservative, of course he includes the press in his denunciations: they have replaced the 5 W's (who, what when, where, why) by 5 C's: controversy, conflict, chaos, confusion, confrontation. Harper's hated courts wouldn't have to be so activist if Parliament did its job. Pure proportional representation makes parties even more powerful than they are now. Michael Chong's bill is a ray of hope.
Winning Power: Canadian Campaigning in the Twenty-first Century
Flanagan, Thomas 2014
An academic distillation of how to position a party to win power, but with enough concrete examples to be of practical interest as well.
Shopping for Votes: How Politicians Choose Us and We Choose Them
Delacourt, Susan 2013
Delacourt is a TV journalist and it shows - there are sound-bite insights on every page of this book. She shows how Canadian politics evolved from unifying principles (telling voters what's best for them) to selling leaders (persuading voters who is best for them) to unabashed marketing (making parties attractive to voters). She describes a today where most Canadians seem to thing of nothing but shopping for self-gratification, including while they vote. Polling has evolved from global guide to niche marketing, made possible by use of multiple data sources to break societal groups into individual voters. The overall effect is to disintegrate national vision and societal cohesion. But, since voters give parties that use marketing methods more votes than those who don't, all parties are forced to join in and become much more similar to each other than in the past.
The Longer I'm Prime Minister
Wells, Paul 2013
Insightful as always, Wells proposes that Harper plans to make Canada conservative by preventing anyone else from keeping it liberal, and that his primary weapon is to make many small changes that accumulate rather than grand schemes that could polarize the opposition. Curiously, Wells doesn't mention the tactic that in my view Harper used so effectively to survive minority government: continuously providing the opposition an issue to furiously fight over that was irrelevant to voters outside the Ottawa bubble. And, a large part of this book is a detailed history of the first 6 years of the Harper Government, not the exciting stuff of Wells' first book; a better editor should have trimmed those parts.
The Big Shift: The Seismic Change in Canadian Politics, Business, and Culture and What It Means
for Our Future
Bricker & Ibbitson 2013
Opinionated and provocative (dare I say, smartalecy) as usual, Ibbitson proposes that Canada's political center of gravity is moving from Atlantic to Pacific and that, for the most part, our political views are becoming more conservative. Bricker provides the numbers. It's well worth reading as long as you don't swallow the thesis whole but instead think about how the changes he describes will affect you.
The Alchemists: Three Central Bankers and A World on Fire
Irwin, Neil 2013
This will be a difficult and unsettling read for most. The staggering influence these mostly secretive unelected people have over our lives shows just how little power our elected representatives actually have. It's uncomfortable to hear the all too well substantiated argument that the best way to run a supposedly free market economy is diametrically opposite to the best way for us to run an individual household or business.
When the Gods Changed: The Death of Liberal Canada
Newman, Peter C. 2011
A very thoughtful and philosophically rich book. Newman explains why the Liberal Party needs to be reorganized from a collection of regional power bases to a national organization, and why it needs to renew its ideas in the same way as it has many times in the past. But, he then proposes that since his fellow Slav and intellectual Ignatieff failed, the task is hopeless. After the book is published, along comes Justin Trudeau to demonstrate how short a shelf-life any political book has that tries to predict the future!
Area 51: An Uncensored History of America's Top Secret Military Base
Jacobsen, Annie 2011
This book revives the nightmares I lived through as a child, of US bomb makers who were totally out of control and of John Foster Dulles who boasted of his red button that would destroy the world. It's far more about the details of bomb testing and the attitudes of bomb makers than about Area 51 per se. It shows most of all how horrifyingly similar top US generals of my childhood were to the man who two decades previously had promised to "leave a world in flames" if he didn't get what he wanted, Adolf Hitler. A terrible book to read, but you must if you're to understand the period.
Here's Proof Only We Conservatives Have Our Heads Screwed on Straight
Green, Lowell 2011
Green starts with Reaganomics & Thatcher the Milk Snatcher then keeps heading right. His radio show rants get tiring rather fast but enough of his proposals here make sense that it's an entertaining read. Part of the chuckle is of course the failure of conservatives to support the Sun News Network, an attempt at a 24-hour version of Green. You'll quickly spot the huge difference between Green's hilarious conservatism and the mean streak that passes for conservatism in our federal politics.
The Truth Shows Up:
A Reporter's Fifteen-year Odyssey on the Trail of Brian Mulroney and Karlheinz Schreiber
Cashore, Harvey 2010
An autobiography of a decade-long obsession by an investigative journalist who taped every meeting and catalogued every detail, it contains far too many long transcripts and other non-essential details. Skim over them though, and you can easily get as absorbed as Cashore is in his story. He makes his case that large bribes were distributed to many influential Canadians by Airbus in order to break into the North American market, but was ultimately unable to show how those bribes affected the Air Canada decision. The loyalty that Brian Mulroney evoked from those who worked with him is evident throughout, as is Canadians' instinctive unwillingness to pull down former leaders. The book ends with Cashore still regretting that the really key people were never put under oath and questioned, but admitting that he now puts family first, not the story. And no, the truth really didn't show up.
Danny Williams: The War with Ottawa: the Inside Story by A Hired Gun
Rowe, William N. 2010
This book lives up to its cover - it does indeed present a high level inside view of Ottawa under Paul Martin. Rowe's negative views of Ottawa civil servants are hilarious. Martin as PM comes across as weak as he was, but if this book had been written in French, I doubt that Quebec voters would have treated Jean Charest the way they did - Rowe is full of admiration and jealousy over his achievements in Ottawa for his province. Lots of details but a fun read too.
How We Almost Gave the Tories the Boot: The Inside Story behind the Coalition: A Memoir
Topp, Brian 2010
Don't be put off by the juvenile cover, this is a real, high level and detailed insider story of a tumultuous time, of horsetrading minute by minute, of successes and failures. You'll learn lots about the mess Paul Martin left his party in too.
This Time Is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly
Reinhart, Carmen M. 2009
A technical book, very heavy going for the non-specialist. It's message is, however, critical for all to understand. When institutions lend more than they own, as all banks do today, any interruption of public confidence results in a crisis. When governments issue currency whose intrinsic value is less than its face value (all paper currency), any interruption of public confidence also results in a crisis. These crises of confidence have been a recurring fact of economies all over the world for 800 years. Every time, authorities say "this time is different", assuming that they know more than their predecessors did. As the book details exhaustively, they have always been wrong. It's essential that we all understand that financial meltdowns are inevitable whenever either of the two conditions mentioned exist, and prepare for them.
Harper's Team: Behind the Scenes in the Conservative Rise to Power
Flanagan, Thomas 2007
A technical and detailed book from an academic political scientist who learned some of what was required to survive in the real world of politics as he went. It infuriated Harper so much that he's refused to speak to Flanagan since it was published. He admittedly does make it seem as though Harper's team did all the work, rather than credit Harper himself.
Hot Air: Meeting Canada's Climate Change Challenge
Simpson, Jeffrey 2007
This book starts off poorly with Jaccard's section, presenting the current politically correct view that every change to anything is negative, a cost, and that global warming can only bring more extreme weather, famine and disaster for all. The soon-to-be-massive sea-level-rise refugee problem is mentioned only briefly; the potential real catastrophe, ocean acidification beyond the biological calcium deposition limit, isn't mentioned at all. But then, Jeffrey Simpson takes over. He begins with a masterly dissection of how Jean Chretien blew apart a hard-won pre-Kyoto federal-provincial consensus on action. He continues with insightful details of the resulting politics that has doomed Canada to a generation of political impotence on the issue regardless of which party was in power. Simpson's section is worth the entire book. The third section is Rivers' computer analyses of prospective courses of action. Led by an activist (Jaccard), it purports to show that market forces can solve all our problems, and that no mechanism other than market forces can achieve anything. I've worked enough with simulations to know well how easily they can be made to produce any desired result, and how often they produce the wrong answer even with the best intentions. The message to keep from the book is that consistent long-term action is needed, and that it's political dysfunction that is preventing it. Hopefully, that will come through to enough readers to make a difference despite the book's weaknesses.
Right Side Up: The Fall of Paul Martin and the Rise of Stephen Harper's New Conservatism
Wells, Paul 2006
This is a fun book to read, and not just for political junkies. Wells has a knack for outrageously accurate adjectives, sound bites that impale his victims, and he uses them on those around Martin, Day and Harper with obvious glee. It's also an insightful view of a decade that started with seemingly invincible Liberals laughing at PCs without official party status and ended close to the other way around. Highly recommended.
The Roles of Public Opinion Research in Canadian Government
Page, Christopher 2006
A dry Ph.D. thesis, this is not casual reading. It makes the case that most federal government polling is done to improve communication of already-decided policies, not to shape policy choices. In the three cases studied in detail, the federal aim was to overcome provincial opposition by demonstrating and maximizing public support. The extent to which poll results can be slanted to say what the customer wants are clearly discussed, as are the pitfalls of other polling methods.
The Secret Mulroney Tapes: Unguarded Confessions of A Prime Minister
Newman, Peter C. 2005
This is an extraordinary book, in which a close confidant of a controversial public figure is able to publish transcriptions of tape-recorded comments made in private throughout his public life. Mulroney's love of his wife, his hold over his friends, and his vicious scorn for those who have opposed or failed him are all made abundantly clear. But, the book is clearly by a sympathizer - there are no state secrets spilled here. Nor is there any significant discussion of the major public problem with Mulroney, his consistent confusion of wishes with facts. He almost certainly is a fantasy-prone personality, as opposed to a deliberate liar, but discussion of this has to be found elsewhere.
The Polite Revolution: Perfecting the Canadian Dream
Ibbitson, John 2005
Ibbitson is one of the sharpest minds in Canadian journalism. His writing cuts straight through spin and clutter to core issues with acerbic élan. Ibbitson's thesis here is that Canadians have learned better than any other country to allow differing cultures to live peaceably together and that politeness is our principle tool. He goes on to argue that world population growth is slowing, that other countries will slide into stagnation as a result, but that Canada will attract enough new immigrants with politeness to keep the current mantra of perpetual growth going for longer than anyone else. So, the future belongs to Canada! After such a heady start, Ibbitson gets down to the details of how we ought to achieve this goal. Unfortunately, his views are so far to the right of most Canadians that this is the least useful part of the book. The first part, though, is a worthwhile read for all who are exploring what it means to be Canadian.
It's the Crude, Dude: War, Big Oil and the Fight for the Planet
McQuaig, Linda 2004
Unfortunately this book reads like an American conspiracy blog. McQuaig writes in one page sound bites, and each one ends with the big bad oil companies being found guilty, either by direct statement, rhetorical question or sarcastic comment. After a dozen in a row, the technique gets tiresome. Being a committed NDPer doesn't help her balance either. And, she fails to put her comments in the context of corporate America. Most US companies in the late 1800's behaved like Rockefeller's Standard Oil; many companies today besides Exxon can hold Congress in lockstep mode - Disney and Amex for examples. It's a shame, because most of her bites are supported by facts. Americans really should be paying $101 per gallon at the pump: $1 for the gas and $100 for the stealth fighter, instead of $1 for the gas and $2 to Exxon. And, her examples of what happened to those who tried to deny the US control over world oil supplies are a warning to any Canadian who might be disposed towards an independent Canadian policy on energy. Especially, given recent revelations that JFK actually sent experts here to defeat a Canadian prime minister he didn't like. McQuaig is worth reading, but you'll have to resist the urge to throw the book in the wastebasket as extremist while you're doing it.
Fights of Our Lives: Elections, Leadership and the Making of Canada
Duffy, John 2002
This is an election strategists' selection of hot past elections in Canada, the ones where there was a big issue and where Duffy believes people like him made a difference in the outcome. Good writing combines with interesting insights into election dynamics to provide useful lessons on how electors can see through their techniques and vote in their best interests rather than those of back room boys.
Kicking Ass in Canadian Politics
Kinsella, Warren 2001
Kinsella is a Liberal street fighter whose first rule is "the press is the enemy": all they care about is war and misfortune, so make sure they hear about every flaw of the enemy. However, this book isn't as negative as Kinsella is, and offers interesting insights into the inside of politicking. Worth reading.
Poisoned Chalice: The Last Campaign of the Progressive Conservative Party
McLaughlin, David 1994
The first part of this book is a useful lesson on federal-provincial decision processes, specifically those involved in the Charlottetown Accord. However, by half way through, it degenerates into hour by hour details of the entire 47 day election campaign that followed that belongs in archives not in a book. The last half isn't worth the turgid reading.
Faultlines: Struggling for A Canadian Vision
Simpson, Jeffrey 1993
This is eight pamphlets under one cover: eight ideas that deeply divided Canadians 20 years ago, and a biography of a major proponent of each of those ideas, each in their own chapter. Simpson shows unusual skill at truly understanding each, and the compression of each into a chapter keeps Simpson from his usual fate of burying the reader in undigested detail. In sum, they demonstrate all too well why Simpson considers Canada to be a political convenience rather than a country.
Margin of Error: Pollsters and the Manipulation of Canadian Politics
Hoy, Claire 1989
Hoy shows with brutal examples how unreliable most public polling is, and correctly identifies many of the reasons why. He shows how dependent pollers are on the media to get exposure to attract big money customers, how the media feeds on that dependency for easy authoritative-sounding stories, and how easy it is for politicians to replace principles by poll tracking. As a result, polls are being used, even totally fake polls created, to affect public views of policy and the outcome of election campaigns. 20 years after Hoy's warnings, poll coverage has become almost as universal as the weather, election time or not, and polls created solely for news media effect are even less reliable than the ones Hoy describes. This book is far too detailed and technical to be read by every voter, but we'd be a lot better informed as voters if it could be.
The Political Memoirs of Don Jamieson
Jamieson, Don 1989
Volume 1 is a view of Newfoundland from a Newfoundlander who grew to became the island's most respected news anchor. A superb introduction to Smallwood, his strengths, excesses and weaknesses. Perceptive, humorous and well written, it's delightful reading for anyone interested in how things happened. Vol. 2 begins with a wonderful description of a newbie's introduction to the Parliament Hill bubble and ends (abruptly) with the Trudeaus' trip to Newfoundland, where the incredible emotional immaturity of Margaret is described. In between are long transcripts of notes made at the time of the October crisis that Jamieson didn't have time to rewrite before his death; duller reading but an important inside view of the time.
Birds of A Feather: The Press and the Politicians
Fotheringham, Allan 1989 Fotheringham makes his case that politicians and press are mutual sycophants with a seemingly endless array of gossip. If you prefer analysis, choose the American "When the Press Fails", W.L.Bennett et.al; it reaches the same conclusion.
Spoils of Power: The Politics of Patronage
Simpson, Jeffrey 1988
Simpson's thesis is that patronage is the only force that can hold stable national parties together. In its absence, there can only be an unstable plethora of single-issue groups or regional factions. Only in Alberta, and only there for a few decades, was a single-issue group sufficiently powerful to eliminate patronage. There is never enough patronage to satisfy demand, and the voting public punishes public show of it, so management of patronage is one of the most important tasks a national or provincial leader faces. It's depressing to learn how many leaders began their careers with the aim of eliminating patronage then were buried by the deluge of demands from their supporters that "it's our turn now". Unfortunately, these insights are buried in a stupefying mass of undigested detail. I love the study of history and politics, but can recommend this book only to readers who can easily skim over text while abstracting its essence.
The Insiders: Government, Business, and the Lobbyists
Sawatsky, John 1987
This is about ministerial executive assistants and their views of political Ottawa. I find the lengthy overly-detailed praises of their genius excessive, even sycophantic, but the sections on the disastrous election campaigns of Clark and Turner are well worth reading.
Spy Catcher: The Candid Autobiography of a Senior Intelligence Officer
Wright, Peter 1987
An incredibly detailed look inside British intelligence operations after the 2nd war and how British club culture destroyed their effectiveness for a generation. Wright's evidence that Roger Hollis was the Russian spy responsible for the failures throughout Hollis' MI5 career has been supported by later evidence. To me, a student at Cambridge in the 1960's, the most horrifying is the suspicion that the brilliant Labour leader Hugh Gaitskell was murdered by the Soviets in order to put Harold Wilson in place as PM, and the subsequent unauthorized efforts by MI5 officers in the know to force Wilson out by scandal. It was published only after a copy of the manuscript was "stolen" and made the British government's efforts to make it vanish become moot. A real life political spy novel of the first class.
Straight from the Heart
Chrétien, Jean 1985
This book, written just after the 1984 Liberal leadership convention which he narrowly lost to John Turner, shows the man I was a fan of from his days as Indian Affairs minister. Engaging, self-deprecating, and humorous, it shows the prime minister we might have had if so many Liberals had not betrayed him in 1984. There are plenty of anecdotes about provincial premiers who seemed solely interested in fracturing Canada into a collection of warring nation states as well.
Points of Departure
Camp, Dalton 1979
An irritating read - I'm not a fan of Fotheringham's Macleans column writing style and imitation F. is even worse. Anyway, it's about the 1979 Trudeau-Clark election campaign, with flashbacks to when Camp first took Clark under his wing. The events that led up to Camp's split with Diefenbaker are here, and lots of insights into other politicians and political events of the period. Despite the writing affectation, and excessive praise for Clark, it's worth reading for anyone with a fascination for history.
Gentlemen, Players and Politicians
Camp, Dalton 1970
Camp is truly intelligent (as opposed to facilely smart). The first half of the book is excellent and gives insight into the Maritime political scene, but the last half is almost entirely lengthy unedited transcripts of emails and such. I wish he'd had a better editor - it's really hard to tease out insights from that last half.
"Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time." Winston Churchill, a House of Commons speech on 11 November 1947, two years after he'd been defeated as Prime Minister and after he'd refused Britain's ultimate honour, a dukedom. He kept his seat in the House of Commons until ill health intervened. I was present in the visitors' gallery as a guest of the British Council the day he made his final appearance there. When he left, his parting genuflection to the speaker was a massive shrug of his shoulders together with slightly-inclined head that I've never forgotten.
Spinning History: A witness to Harper's Canada and 21st Century Choices
Whittington, Les 2015
This book won't be current for long. Written from within the Ottawa bubble just before the election of 2015 produced a Liberal majority, it's a series of brief notes describing the changes that had taken place under the Harper government that the author considers need to be reversed.
The Dumbing of Canadian Democracy: The Fall of Responsible Government
Boer, Peter 2014
This book also won't be current for long. Also written from within the Ottawa bubble, it's a series of detailed accounts of the short-lived scandals of the Harper years.
Party of One, Stephen Harper and Canada's Radical Makeover
Harris, Michael, 2014
A detailed but totally one-sided presentation of the controversial issues that have occurred over the past decade, it's designed to make Stephen Harper look like an impossible autocrat, the most dangerous person Canada has ever encountered. Its epilogue is an interview with Farley Mowat, who has invented more "non-fiction" than anyone else I know. Not recommended for anyone who tries to understand things.
Inside the NDP War Room:
Competing for Credibility in A Federal Election
McLean, James S. 2012
A hopelessly academic study where everything is buried in needlessly complex and obscure wordage. It's a shame - the creation of public credibility is core to any political process, and insight into it should be immensely valuable. But this book only belongs in ivory-tower common rooms.
Political Policing in Canada from the Fenians to Fortress America
Whitaker, Reginald 2012
A massive compendium of what the authors have managed to extract from court documents and RFI's, this is a reference book, not for reading from cover to cover.
John A, The Man Who Made Us : the Life and times of John A. Macdonald
Gwyn, Richard (Book - 2011)
Definitive, this book is not - it's a tiny work compared to Creighton's The Young Politician. The few tidbits of original work would have been better presented in a couple of papers in a historical journal than as a full length book. Gwyn realizes this, describing Creighton's work as "the two greatest achievements in Canadian historiography". So why, other than personal glorification, did he write it?
Open & Shut: Why America Has Barack Obama, and Canada Has Stephen Harper
Ibbitson, John 2009
Ibbitson is normally worth reading even if you don't agree with him, but this book makes a mountain out of a political blip. The dull all-white-male premiers club vs. the exciting new Obama of his book has, in only 4 years, become 87% of Canadians with a woman premier and an Obama at odds with half the world and probably half his countrymen as well over his war plans. Skip it.
Fearful Symmetry; The Fall and Rise of Canada's Founding Values
Crowley, Brian Lee 2009
A conservative manifesto. Canada was always a conservative country, even through the depression when the US went briefly socialist. Our welfare state was born when deceitful Québec separatists forced the federal government to outspend them on welfare; the result has been the destruction of Québec society and ours, but relax: Québec's negotiating power will fade and all our problems with it. Work is ennobling, dependency destructive to all. Unions demand pseudo-work and restricted opportunity; minimum wage laws force unemployment of the low-skilled; all will be defeated by labour shortages to come. The traditional loving family will return and everything will be perfect...
The Friendly Dictatorship
Simpson, Jeffrey 2001
A rambling and disjointed book. The first section argues that a Canadian prime minister is omnipotent compared to other democracies, the second that parties with ideas fail while those who just muddle in the middle succeed, the third that parliament aka the prime minister is becoming powerless because courts and international tribunals are taking charge. It ends with suggesting that we voters need to care more about civics and that alternative vote (2nd choice) elections and an elected senate would improve things, without explaining what they have to do with the problems noted in the first three sections. Not very useful.
Hard Right Turn: The New Face of Neo-conservatism in Canada
Jeffrey, Brooke 1999
A defeated Liberal candidate and former director of research for the Liberals' tirade on the evils and failures of those who defeated her and her party at the polls. One-sided and a total waste of time to read.
Closely Guarded: A Life in Canadian Security and Intelligence
Starnes, John 1998
A vanity press book, with more than the usual name dropping. Apart from a few details of the Suez crisis, I learned next to nothing about Canada's security history.
Defining Moments: Dispatches from An Unfinished Revolution
Newman, Peter C. 1997
The title is nonsense. This is just a grab-bag collection of mostly opinionated columns from Macleans.
Waiting for the Wave: The Reform Party & Preston Manning
Flanagan, Thomas 1995
A technical book from an academic political scientist, its dated first half focusses on Manning's psychology and philosophy. However the last half is a useful analysis of what it takes for a new party to break into Canadian politics. Not for the casual 2014 reader.
A Capital Scandal
Fife & Warren 1991
A polemic with few redeeming features. The prime minister is too powerful, elected MPs nobodies. Of course, the press, represented by the two authors, spends more time during elections on party leaders than on all the other candidates put together, so of course voters tend to elect the leader rather than their MP. The 2011 NDP caucus is merely the most recent example, not at all unique. Polls dilute the feel-of-the-country role of MPs, but the media constantly cover them and rarely cover candidates in their ridings. Every dollar of MP expenses is treated as a ripoff, but no comparison done to equivalent private sector compensation packages for comparable work, just to low level salaried workers. Etc.
The Big Picture: What Canadians Think about Almost Everything
Gregg & Posner 1990
This would have been a gold mine in the early 1990s for anyone whose success depended upon public opinions. It's still probably useful for sociology students to compare opinions with facts of the time. It would always have been heavy going for a casual reader, doubly so now that it's 2 decades out of date.
The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam
Tuchman, Barbara Wertheim 1984
At a time when governments all over the world are furiously raising spending and cutting taxes supposedly to get out of debt, a book dealing with irrational governance should be welcome guidance. This book isn't. It's hopelessly lengthy, with details far beyond what is needed to communicate the message. It badly needed an editor like Winston Churchill, who responded to an advisor's note on a lengthy report that "the minister will be interested in this" with "A kind thought, but entirely erroneous - please abstract". And, it offers only despair: self-destructive governance such as we now have has been going on since the beginnings of recorded history. The primary mechanism Tuchman offers is that when evidence begins to mount that a governance policy is wrong, it hardens resolve amongst governors to stay their course, in the belief that admitting they were wrong will destroy them. "A commander may be wrong, but never uncertain", as Isaac Asimov had one of his characters put it. Look elsewhere for solutions.
The Canadian Identity
Morton, W. L. 1972
This book presents three 1960 lectures for an American audience on how the Canadian identity was formed: Canada in America, Canada in the Commonwealth, and Canada and the United States. A fourth lecture for Canadian historians, The Relevance of Canadian History, and a commentary, Canada under Stress in the Sixties, are included. Morton is a historian's historian, and his logic is so specialized as to make for very difficult reading by even a well-read layman. The pre-Commonwealth history, for example, is so idiosyncratic as to be almost unrecognizable by a Canadian raised with Canadian views of history: Wolfe's battle for Quebec gets two sentences, focussed on his failure to capture the French army there! Valid though this view may be in a narrow historical context, it makes nonsense of the identity of Canadians who attended our schools, sang "The Maple Leaf Forever", and grew up reading our history books. His logic is also so convoluted as to be self-defeating. Take for instance: "The union, to their minds, was a legislative union, not a federal or a quasi-federal one, and the anomalies of the special rights of French Canada, or provincial legislatures which possessed all the potent apparatus of responsible government, were no more striking than the many which the Empire in the amplitude of its constitutional variety had nourished from the covenant of Plymouth Colony to the latest experiment in Western Australia." Does that really mean that the fathers of Confederation had no idea what they'd done? A major focus throughout the lectures is the supposed bewilderment to disbelief of Americans that Canadians didn't and don't want to be Americans, that freedom can come by evolving association, not solely by rebellion. Morton even claims at one point that the only people left in Canada are self-selected non-Americans. Another focus of Morton's logic is his belief that no northern society can ever be self-sufficient, that it must be dependent upon southerners with more resources. There are so many counter-examples of stable northern self-sufficiency throughout the world as to make this view close to nonsensical. All in all, I doubt most Canadian readers will get much of value out of reading this collection today. I didn't, anyway.