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Egotists and Autocrats: The Prime Ministers of Canada

by George Bowering

Not so many years ago, when Brian Mulroney led this country into yet another of his misbegotten constitutional adventures, The Globe and Mail ran an editorial reminding readers that Canada was a country-in-progress. We all know that Canada was “born” on July 1, 1867, but was it really? Perhaps it started a few years earlier with the merger of Upper and Lower Canada. Perhaps it began on the Plains of Abraham. Perhaps things didn’t really get started until Trudeau brought home the constitution in 1982.

For over 100 years Canada has been asserting its independence, George Bowering tells us in his thorough and amusing survey of our usually illustrious prime ministers. And similar issues come up again and again. Will Canada send troops to fight Imperial wars? Will Canada get its own navy? What about its own flag? Will Canada embrace Free Trade or a home-grown economic policy? Can Ottawa expropriate provincial land so the Americans can test their latest super-duper torpedoes? The questions never cease.

In Bowering’s view, Canada has never been led so much as watched over. Our prime ministers have suffered the thankless task of overseeing a vast underpopulated land ready to be torn apart by regional lunatics or swallowed up by Imperial so-called friends: mainly, Britain and/or the U.S. You can almost see Bowering’s wry smile as he recounts the struggle of various PMs to balance the country’s competing interests. Mulroney didn’t invent East/West conflict, he only perfected it, and he left the country, as Bowering says, with “Laurier’s nightmare.”

It’s a pity that Mulroney will likely never share Bowering’s view of history, wherein the patterns repeat and those who try to “fix” the intersecting gears are quickly ground to dust. With the country now full of me-firsters and other assorted Mulroney-spawn, it’s left for us to hope that Bowering’s book will prove a useful antidote to the poisonous spores that still drift about the land.


Reviewer: Michael Bryson

Publisher: Penguin Books Canada


Price: $32

Page Count: 352 pp

Format: Cloth

ISBN: 0-670-88081-7

Released: Oct.

Issue Date: 1999-9

Categories: History

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