Saturday, June 16, 2018

Book Notes: Stewart on prime ministers

J.D.M. Stewart, quietly renowned as the most prolific correspondent the Globe & Mail has had since Eugene Forsey retired from the field, goes long-form: he has published a book. The  praise from the Globe's John Ibbitson that the back jacket gives to Being Prime Minister -- "a trove of trivia treasures," it says -- seems sort of accurate and also slightly diminishing. When it comes to PMs, Stewart wants the human dimension:
"How did they travel?  What pets did they have? How did they treat others?  What was life like at home? What were their pastimes?"
From Borden's love of golf to Mackenzie King's love of dogs, Stewart delivers a chatty 300+ pages looking deeply into the private avocations, daily habits, and personal inclinations of the prime ministers. Anyone needing to lighten up a monograph with a vivid characterization of a prime ministerial quirk should keep Being Prime Minister at hand.

Stewart also asked each ex-prime minister he interviewed which other prime ministers they would most like to dine with. Most picked Macdonald and Laurier.  Paul Martin on Macdonald: "I would like to see if I could convince him to change his mind about Indigenous Canada."

Quite possibly, I'd say (though Stewart does not).  Macdonald was an opportunist.  He said hateful things about Asian-Canadians when they were profoundly unwelcome among his constituencies, but today he would understand them as a large and useful voting bloc and would court them relentlessly.  He'd be similarly prepared to tailor his views on Indigenous Canadians to the zeitgeist.
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