The Death of Liberal Canada
Format: Hardcover, 304 pages
Publisher: Random House Canada
ISBN: 978-0-307-35826-4 (0-307-35826-7)
Pub Date: November 22, 2011
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Peter C. Newman, Canada's most "cussed and discussed" political journalist, on the death spiral of the Liberal Party.
The May 2, 2011 federal election turned Canadian governance upside down and inside out. In his newest and possibly most controversial book, bestselling author Peter C. Newman argues that the Harper majority will alter Canada so much that we may have to change the country's name. But the most lasting impact of the Tory win will be the demise of the Liberal Party, which ruled Canada for seven of the last ten decades and literally made the country what it is. Newman chronicles, in bloody detail, the de-construction of the Grits' once unassailable fortress and anatomizes the ways in which the arrogance embedded in the Liberal genetic code slowly poisoned the party's progressive impulses.
When the Gods Changed is the saga of a political self-immolation unequalled in Canadian history. It took Michael Ignatieff to light the match.
Michael and Bob became friends at the University of Toronto, and spent a year as roommates in a flat above a shoe store near the campus. They both graduated in 1969, and both applied for the Rhodes scholarship like their fathers before them; this time, Rae received it and Ignatieff didn’t. And thereby hangs a tale. The third mutual best friend of their college days was Jeff Rose (who later became president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees). He told me that so profound was the friendship between the two young men that Ignatieff stepped aside in favour of Rae. Since Rhodes scholarships are non-transferable, what must have happened was that either Ignatieff chose not to apply, improving Rae’s shot at the few spots allotted to Canada per year, or that Ignatieff did apply but dropped out for the same reason. Ignatieff went to Harvard instead, which was not without cachet, but at the time the Rhodes was the top prize. When I asked Ignatieff about it, he confirmed his intent but wouldn’t discuss the details.
During his time at Oxford in the early seventies, Rae fell into a deep depression. “Conversation was an effort,” he confessed in his first book, From Protest to Power. “I couldn’t read or write without feeling completely inadequate; my self-esteem was at zero.” That bout of extreme anxiety lasted for eighteen months, six of which Rae spent hiding out in Ignatieff’s Boston apartment, being consoled by his best friend.
That friendship is now a closed topic as far as Ignatieff is concerned, but Rae persists (for instance, in an e-mail to Jane Taber of the Globe) in professing that “life is too short to go through it with one fewer friend,” that their friendship “is an enduring one,” and that they speak every couple of weeks. I also know that at one point, Rae sent Ignatieff this message: “We’ve got to find a way through this so we don’t blow ourselves up.”
But during the 2006 leadership campaign that desire to make nice was missing on both sides. At the Toronto candidates’ debate on October 15-the last public confrontation before the convention-Ignatieff attempted to hold Rae’s toes to the fire over the Afghanistan mission by saying, “I actually don’t know where you stand on this issue.” Talk about being the straight man: Ignatieff didn’t seem to realize that he’d just opened himself up for an easy shot, given that only days before he had caused controversy with his comment that the Israeli bombing of the Lebanese civilians of Qana during the recent confrontation was a “war crime.” Rae looked at his friend with a gleam in his eyes. “You certainly do,” he replied, followed by two beats of silence. “For a guy who changed his mind three times in a week with respect to the Middle East . . .”
A Globe and Mail Best Book
“The finest journalist of his generation, without equal here as a writer, editor and reporter…. An important, timely and engaging book…. Few do substantive, long-form journalism like this anymore, and no one does it with Newman’s eye, ear and ego.”
—The Globe and Mail
“Of all the literary lions who roamed the Canadian landscape, Newman is the fiercest.”
“Newman has broken through the normal bounds of journalism to become an important diarist of our times.”
—The Globe and Mail
“Canada made Newman and in some ways Newman made Canada.”
—Winnipeg Free Press
“Peter C. Newman is an Icon. . . . The chronicler and conscience of a country often confused by its identity, he has been perhaps the most influential journalist Canada has ever known.”
“I’d never let you write my biography!”
—Margaret Atwood to Peter C. Newman
“Newman’s insights confirm his reputation as a guardian of the best leaks in Ottawa.”
—The New York Times
Peter C. Newman has been writing about Canadian politics for nearly half a century, including books on prime ministers John Diefenbaker, Lester B. Pearson, Pierre Elliott Trudeau and Brian Mulroney. His Renegade in Power (1963) revolutionized Canadian political reporting with its controversial "insiders-tell-all" approach. He did it again four decades later with The Secret Mulroney Tapes: Unguarded Confessions of a Prime Minister (2005), a number one bestseller that became one of the most controversial books ever published in Canada. The author of twenty-five books that have sold over 2.5 million copies, Newman has won a half dozen of the country's most illustrious literary awards, including the Drainie-Taylor Biography prize for his 2004 memoir, Here Be Dragons: Telling Tales of People, Passion and Power. A former editor-in-chief of the Toronto Star and Maclean's, Newman has been honoured with a National Newspaper Award, has been elected to the News Hall of Fame, and has earned the informal title of Canada's "most cussed and discussed" political commentator.
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