Lament for a party.

Author:Stevenson, Garth
Position:BOOKS
 
FREE EXCERPT

If you know someone who thinks he or she is an expert on Canadian politics, here is a question to stump him or her with: Name any three persons who have represented Prince Edward Island in the federal cabinet, and the portfolios that they held.

Okay, it's not an easy question. PEI's cabinet ministers tend to have somewhat similar Celtic names, and few have made a major impact on the federal scene. However, one of them has written an interesting book. He is Tom McMillan, who served in two portfolios during the early years of the Mulroney government but lost his parliamentary seat in the 1988 election.

McMillan's book is called Not My Party. On the back of the dust jacket he laments that "the new Conservative Party is nothing I recognize as part of either my own political tradition or that of my family. Now, it is no longer my party. I am an orphan; I no longer have a political home." This lament may lead readers to expect a critical analysis of the "new" Conservative Party that was founded and led by Stephen Harper, but in fact there is not much about Harper in this rather long book. Practically all of it is devoted to the years from 1967, when Robert Stanfield became leader of the Progressive Conservatives, to 1988, when the author lost his seat and retired from politics to serve, for the remainder of the Mulroney era, as the Canadian Consul General in Boston. The heroes of the book are Stanfield, "the best prime minister Canada never had"; Tom Symons, who was the first president of Trent University and assisted Stanfield in redefining the party's program and policies; and Brian Mulroney.

Stanfield and Symons were natural partners - both born to wealthy families, both somewhat shy, thoughtful and serious, and both, as McMillan tells us, motivated by a sense of noblesse oblige. Reading McMillan's very detailed account of their partnership reinforces my wish that Stanfield really had become prime minister. Mulroney is a very different personality, but earned the author's respect as a capable politician who was able to win elections and put much of the Stanfield-Symons program into effect, as well as making the party a serious force in Quebec. McMillan especially praises Mulroney for his interest in the environment, which is the portfolio that McMillan held for most of his four years in the government and about which he has a lot to say in his book. This is a side of Mulroney's career that deserves to be remembered. McMillan is less kind to...

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