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Awaiting Mulroney's memoirs - THE COMMENTARY

By Joseph Planta

VANCOUVER – Being an enthusiastic book collector and political observer, the news last Thursday that former prime minister Brian Mulroney is set to pen his memoirs, is most welcome, and anxiously awaited.  Brian Mulroney's career has been one of distinguished achievement, yet his is probably one of the more critical political lives lived in the history of the nation in the last fifty years or so.  Many have disdain for Mulroney that goes beyond mere politics and moves into personal disgust for the man himself.  It's unfair considering his record is one that has many bright achievements.  He is of course, regarded as one of the least popular prime minister's ever, and though he says he doesn’t care about frivolous polls, he's been known privately to pay close attention to what’s being said about him in the public eye.  Ego, thy name is Mulroney.

Political memoirs are often an important part of the political culture anywhere.  They're bestsellers in this country, as well as in the United States and Britain.  One has to look at the generous advances paid to Hillary Clinton and Margaret Thatcher, for example.  Both books also happen to have sold very well.  In Canada, it's no different.  Someone in political life pens their memoirs and the book sells.  (Allan Fotheringham, the wit, wrote once that biographies or memoirs are read differently in this country.  Rather than front to back, they are consumed from back to front, checking the index first to see if they rank any mentions in the said tome.)  McClelland and Stewart, which signed Mulroney, has had success in the past.  They published Pierre Trudeau's lavish book, as well as had bestsellers with Preston Manning, René Lévesque and John Crosbie.  Key Porter, another publishing house, had massive success in the 1980s with Jean Chrétien's book, as well as Pat Carney's book a couple of years back.  Contrary to Scott Anderson, the editor-in-chief at Quill and Quire, I think people will buy and read Mulroney's book because he's such a polarising figure, who is slowly recovering from the hate-on Canadians have had, Canadians from across the political spectrum, even within his own party.  Much has been written about Mulroney heretofore, most of which have been quite critical.  There was Stevie Cameron's On The Take of nearly a decade ago, and her more recent, The Last Amigo, which wasn't about Mulroney per se, but portrayed him rather unflatteringly.

As stated, Mulroney's political legacy has left in its wake many detractors, much of which the product of rampant unpopularity in the country for his primary achievements: the GST, Free Trade, and the failed Meech and Charlottetown Accords.  But, the passage of time has been a little kinder, and we'll see how far he’ll go to take shots at his critics.  As noted in the news reports last week, he's been relatively silent when it comes to his critics.  Whenever the Liberal government does something, he's always contacted for a comment that usually makes headlines, but when Ms. Cameron's books came out he remained uncannily silent.  And when Senator Carney wrote her memoir, where he was castigated generously, even though he was the one who appointed the good senator from British Columbia, he smiled surreptitiously before saying he wouldn't comment.  We'll see if the boy from Baie Comeau, who went on to become a bit player on the world stage, will take shots at his successors, namely his Liberal foes John Turner and Jean Chrétien, among others.

John Turner and Joe Clark are the only former Canadian prime ministers who have not written their memoirs thus far.  Clark did write a little book called A Nation Too Good to Lose, shortly after his retirement in the 1990s.  He's said he will pen a more comprehensive and complete memoir once he leaves political life again, in a few years.  I have John George Diefenbaker's three volume set of memoirs, which are a generously remarkable read for a man with an ego that is also generously endowed.  L.B. Pearson's two volumes make for good reading too, as does Pierre Trudeau's 1993 book, which is lavish as it is chockfull of photographs.  Kim Campbell's book too is good, but as you can tell short, as her premiership was equally as short.  What's interesting about these books is that historians have gone to each as they appeared and viewed what was recorded, what was left out and what is largely ignored in the process of penning ones political memoirs.  Dief's is often self congratulatory and strong in its castigations against his rival Mr. Pearson, as well as his own cabinet colleagues, whom he declared traitorous, if they possessed a modicum of the drive and ambition that he so obviously had.  Trudeau's book is often criticised because it seems ghostwritten, whereas his rival former Quebec premier René Lévesque's book is hailed for being vibrant and lively in its writing.  We shall see if Mr. Mulroney is as petty as he is privately regarded as, or if he chooses to be a statesman as he's pulled off so well, at least publicly.

Mulroney’s payout is generously Canadian, which by world standards is rather small. Some have said it's less than the half a million Trudeau got, as I would expect it to near.  Canada's population can't support the book industry we've got had it not been for those generous Canada Council grants or Canadian Heritage bailouts had by our leading publishing houses.  Compared to the $8 million the Baroness Thatcher and Hillary Clinton each got for their books, or the $2 million American Idol judge Simon Cowell is getting, Mulroney is getting a pittance.  But what with his career, and his colourful life, it will be interesting to see what the former prime minister has to say.  Jean Chrétien, when he bowed out of politics in the mid-1980s garnered a firestorm of sales and attention with regards to his book, Straight From The Heart, this before his own rise up the greasy pole, before he became Liberal leader and prime minister.  We await Mr. Chrétien's own book too, which after Mulroney's will be anxiously anticipated.


©2003 Joseph Planta.