978-0-00-200089-5 / 9780002000895

Fights of Our Lives: Elections, Leadership and the Making of Canada


Publisher:HarperCollins Publishers



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About the book:

In Fights of Our Lives, John Duffy tries to resuscitate the idea--long dormant if not dead in Canadian media and academic circles--that elections matter. Duffy, a youthful veteran of Liberal backrooms, chronicles five federal elections: the 1896 Sir Wilfrid Laurier fight over Catholic schools in Manitoba; the 1925 and 1926 battles of William Lyon Mackenzie King against Arthur Meighen; John Diefenbaker's populist victories of 1957 and 1958; Pierre Trudeau's bitter loss in 1979 and surprising comeback in 1980; and Brian Mulroney and John Turner's battle over free trade in 1988. According to Duffy, each of these classic political battles "resolved some nation-shaking question" and was a watershed in Canada's political development.

Like a fan writing an authorized biography, Duffy brings to his subject passion and enthusiasm to burn. He puts his expertise as a spin doctor to interesting use, reinterpreting the political tactics of the past in the strategic language of today, as in his description of how Sir Wilfrid Laurier tailored his candidacy to different regions to win the 1896 election. He's at his best when he shows how the legends of the Canadian political game handled the task of building parliamentary majorities in a nation divided by language, geography, and philosophy.

Duffy is less able to see the big picture. While he argues that each nation-defining fight brought Canada closer to political maturity, he glosses over its undemocratic past. The overwhelming corruption of the nation's first 100 years gets little mention, as does the slow pace of Canada's progress toward full enfranchisement. Nowhere, for example, does Duffy mention that Aboriginal peoples could not vote in the first three seminal battles featured in the book, and they were barred by law from any type of political organizing. While Duffy is rightly fascinated by John Diefenbaker's Prairie Fire school of stump speeches, he's less concerned with the fact that Dief never delivered on his campaign promises.

Nevertheless, Fights of Our Lives spins a vibrant, captivating history, enhanced by the smart use of pictures and cartoons set in a beautiful layout. Duffy has almost done the impossible: to bring to life the political history of a nation built not by war or revolution, but by hard-won compromise between distinct regional, cultural, and philosophical interests. --M-J Milloy

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