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Book Reviews

Full Circle: Death and Resurrection in Canadian Conservative Politics

by Bob Plamondon

The Long Road Back: The Conservative Journey, 1993–2006

by Hugh Segal

Now that the political right in Canada has been united, and the cottage industry of National Post op-eds on that topic is no longer necessary, a new, triumphant phase of right-wing self-examination is upon us.

New books by “public policy specialist” Bob Plamondon and Senator Hugh Segal – the unsinkable wingman to Tories ranging from longtime leader Robert Stanfield to Ontario Premier Bill Davis to Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, and a candidate for the leadership of the Progressive Conservative party in 1998 – survey the often absurdly tumultuous years of Liberal rule, when the political right was divided between the Reform Party and the remnants of the PCs.

The broad strokes of the “unite the right” efforts of the last decade were covered so extensively by this country’s largely conservative popular media – Southam-cum-CanWest, Sun Media, and, to an extent, even The Globe and Mail – that few new details are revealed here. But for diehard Conservatives who are presumably the target audience for these new books, the appeal of Segal’s The Long Road Back and Plamondon’s Full Circle is that they both have a happy ending.

For readers with less of a vested interest, these books are an excellent reminder of just how muddled things were on the right. Among the highlights are the Stockwell Day experiment (wetsuit not included), the Orchardistas (followers of PC leadership candidate David Orchard, who attempted vainly to move the party to the left in its dying days), the Canadian Conservative Reform Alliance Party, aka CCRAP (mercifully shortened to the Canadian Alliance), the breakaway Democratic Representative Caucus, and the return of Joe Clark.

If not for the fact that all of this was true, Segal and Plamondon’s books could read like amusing, if implausibly plotted, political fiction, with Belinda Stronach serving as the deus ex machina – twice. But these two men don’t really see much humour in any of this, and that is reflected in books that will prove to be informative, if dull, reads for future generations of students researching undergraduate history papers.

For someone who has spent much of his adult life in political backrooms, Segal comes off as remarkably earnest. The only place where this earnestness is useful is the end of the book, where Segal reminds Conservatives to be humble.

Plamondon, on the other hand, is a bit more combative and willing to take sides. Unfortunately, he seems to have come down firmly on the side of all of the people who are presently enjoying success, and takes easy potshots at the defeated and forgotten. For instance, Plamondon contends that Kim Campbell, not Brian Mulroney, was responsible for tarnishing the PC brand in the early 1990s.

The greatest weakness in these two books, however, is their analysis of the Conservatives’ 2006 election victory. While Harper’s team ran a very strong campaign, Segal and Plamondon seem unwilling to acknowledge just how disorganized Paul Martin’s campaign was, and how much Canadians had tired of the Liberals. Grasping for any other explanation he can conjure, Segal even attributes the victory, in part, to his party’s tough stance on crime, especially in the wake of the Boxing Day shooting of Jane Creba in downtown Toronto, which became a major campaign issue. If that were true, then you would expect the Conservatives to have elected at least one MP in the city where the shooting took place (or in Vancouver or Montreal, for that matter). But, of course, they didn’t, making this sort of analysis seem like a bit of wishful thinking.