Prime Minister Stephen Harper is definitely his own man.
As was Canadian Alliance leader Stockwell Day.
So was Reform party founder Preston Manning.
Prime Minister Brian Mulroney’s great strength was also his greatest weakness.
That comes through clearly in a masterful new book Full Circle: Death and Resurrection in Canadian Conservative Politics by Bob Plamondon (Key Porter Books, $36.95).
Mulroney, a close friend of mine going back to 1976, believed if you built friendships and trusted people, you could win over everyone and everything.
For a time, Mulroney did—he won back-to-back huge majority governments.
But he put too much faith in the devious Lucien Bouchard, who went on to lead the Bloc Quebecois.
Then he figured he could bring Reform party leader Preston Manning onside without realizing Manning actually wanted to “reform” Conservatism in Canada, not just win elections.
Yet this enthralling work really isn’t a book about simply Mulroney as principal character: Its cover features three photographs, those of Manning, Stephen Harper and Peter MacKay.
However, Mulroney threads his way throughout the pages one after one.
It is now easy to see why Canadian Alliance leader Stockwell Day went to see Mulroney for advice on how to win an election, and why Prime Minister Stephen Harper is a close confidant and friend of Mulroney.
Harper started out on the far right, where philosophically, he likely still is, but under Mulroney’s guidance, softened his image.
Winning, as Mulroney knew well, is all that matters.
Manning didn’t want to join Mulroney’s Progressive Conservative fold, no matter what was offered in a cosmetic way. So Mulroney, the skilled labour lawyer who thought he could bring any two sides together, lost out.
His big faultline—and Reform’s big breakthrough—was giving the CF-18 fighter jet maintenance contract to Montreal’s Canadair rather than Winnipeg’s Bristol Aerospace Company.
Bristol was the low bidder, and the better company, but Mulroney had to appease his Quebec base.
With that, Western alienation took off as the PCs in Western Canada nose-dived.
So, in 1993, Mulroney re-signed and gave up the leadership to the hapless Kim Campbell, who took the party down to just two seats. With the Conservative vote split, Jean Chretien’s Liberals had easy wins on their hands.
Canada went into a tailspin. Fortunately, voters started to see through the Liberals’ lack of principle, especially when Paul Martin took over the leadership.
That gave Harper an opening, and with Mulroney’s advice, he forged an alliance with MacKay’s dwindling Progressive Conservatives.
The Liberal game was up.
Plamondon offers so many insights into recent Canadian politics, this book reads like a thriller.
He contends that despite the CF-18 contract fiasco, the Mulroney government was the best friend Western Canada ever had and he unveils the so-called “principled” defection of Belinda Stronach to the Liberals.
Read this and you’ll realize why no sane man—MacKay aside—would ever date Belinda.
The split between Manning and Harper is well drawn, too.
Absorbing these pages, it becomes ever more frustrating to realize the “unite the right” movement by Manning, Day and Harper was sabotaged by Joe Clark’s ego solely to the benefit of the Chretien/Martin regimes.
Ponder how Clark publicly admitted he preferred Martin to Harper.
In the U.S., books on politics become bestsellers.
It’s too bad that’s not the case in our own country.
This should be read by every Canadian.
Or, at least, every Canadian who votes.
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