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The Dark Side: The Personal Price of a Political Life

by Steve Paikin

The Dark Side should be a more interesting book than it is. The subject matter is inherently engaging: failed governments and failed marriages, backroom betrayals and public humiliation – all the worst things about living a life of public service in the public eye are touched on by Steve Paikin in this follow-up to 2001’s The Life. Paikin, a journalist who has reported on Canadian politics for close to a decade as host of TV Ontario’s current affairs program Studio 2, is well placed to delve into the dark side of political life. In The Dark Side he interviews a number of Canadian politicians who have experienced well-publicized falls from grace.

It may be that Paikin is just too nice to get at the meat of the stories here. Though not a sycophant in the mould of Larry King, Paikin’s on-air style tends toward the polite and respectful. He reveals little that most Canadians would not already know, if they follow politics in the press.

In one interview, Bill Van der Zalm, the last Social Credit premier of B.C., has to ask himself what it feels like to have the whole country think he’s “a bit of a screwball.” Paikin avoids criticizing his subjects, even when it might deepen the themes of the book. Lyn McLeod, former leader of the Ontario Liberals, admits that she compromised her personal beliefs to her desire to be party leader, but Paikin views her decision as a tactical failure rather than a lack of moral backbone. One of the darkest sides of the political life is this contest between principles and ambitions.

The public’s low opinion of politicians, a theme that runs through the book, is based on the perception that in any political contest the most ambitious candidate invariably wins. It is too bad that Paikin’s superficial survey did not delve deeper into this perception.