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Requiem for a Lightweight: Stockwell Day and Image Politics

by Trevor W. Harrison

A well-researched study of former Canadian Alliance Party leader Stockwell Day’s meteoric rise to the national spotlight, and subsequent fall to political irrelevance, Requiem for a Lightweight serves as a timely epitaph to Day’s political career. The epitaph is hardly flattering, telling a story of vicious backroom politics, charges and counter-charges, lawsuits, and mass defections.

University of Alberta professor Trevor Harrison, who has written extensively on Alberta politics, catalogues the over-the-top photo-ops (the infamous wetsuit), successes, and numerous embarrassments that have marked Day’s rollercoaster ride through Canadian politics. It’s all here, from Day incorrectly declaring that Lake Erie flows south to the satirical Internet campaign calling for a referendum to change Day’s first name to Doris.

The conclusion is that Day is more style than substance, a media creation who happened to fit the bill for the nation’s right-wing media and corporate backers, but who got out of line when he began to believe his own grandiose press releases. Like a featherweight boxer who suddenly finds himself in the ring with a true pugilist, Day stumbles and falls in the national arena, refusing to listen to the pleas to just stay down for the count.

Unfortunately, Harrison’s writing suffers from the same lack of true charisma and substance that saddles Day, leaving the reader with the sense of ennui one might experience reading a politician’s resumé. While Harrison admirably presents an accessible work that could easily have strayed into the realm of academic study, he’s gone too far in the other direction, merely skimming the surface of events. This cursory treatment cheats readers out of the thorough examination that would nail down the shadowy phenomenon of Stockwell Day.