The Shaw­ini­gan Fox: How Jean Chré­tien De­fied the Elites and Re­shaped Canada. by Bob Pla­m­on­don

Policy - - In This Issue - Re­view by Su­san Dela­court

Bob Pla­m­on­don

The Shaw­ini­gan Fox: How Jean Chré­tien De­fied the Elites and Re­shaped Canada. Ot­tawa, Great River Me­dia, 2017.

On the day that he won the lead­er­ship of his party in 2013, Justin Trudeau made a his­toric dec­la­ra­tion. “The era of hy­phen­ated Lib­er­als ends right here,” he said.

Trudeau was talk­ing about what he saw as the bad old days of the party, when Lib­er­als iden­ti­fied them­selves by their loy­alty to ei­ther Jean Chré­tien or Paul Martin.

Are those days over? Yes. But do the grudges linger? Def­i­nitely, judg­ing by the some of the star­tling tales unearthed by Bob Pla­m­on­don for his fas­ci­nat­ing, new book on Chré­tien, The Shaw­ini­gan Fox.

It’s been billed as a tale of how Chré­tien may have been the most con­ser­va­tive prime min­is­ter Canada has ever had—an in­trigu­ing premise, cer­tainly backed up in this metic­u­lously re­searched book.

It’s been billed as a tale of how Chré­tien may have been the most con­ser­va­tive prime min­is­ter Canada has ever had—an in­trigu­ing premise, cer­tainly backed up in this metic­u­lously re­searched book.

But The Shaw­ini­gan Fox is much more than that—it is a sus­tained at­tack on Martin’s legacy and es­pe­cially his takeover of the Lib­eral party, told from the point of view of Chré­tien and a num­ber of his al­lies from those years. Chré­tien gave Pla­m­on­don an ex­ten­sive in­ter­view and ac­cess dur­ing the writ­ing of this book and was present at the book launch. Martin did not co-op­er­ate; nor did most of his for­mer sup­port­ers. It shows.

Still, even for those of us who have writ­ten ex­ten­sively on those bat­tles (this re­viewer, full dis­clo­sure, wrote a book on that sub­ject) there is a lot of new in­for­ma­tion here; ev­i­dence of just how deep, an­gry and wide the di­vi­sions ran in the days of hy­phen­ated Lib­er­al­ism. The book fea­tures a new play-by-play ac­count of those days in June 2002, for in­stance, when Martin fi­nally ended up out of Chré­tien’s cab­i­net. It takes us to the very cab­i­net ta­ble when Chré­tien or­dered all lead­er­ship as­pi­rants to stand down. Al­lan Rock, then the jus­tice min­is­ter, makes a joke at his own ex­pense. Martin, in this ac­count, flatly de­nies that he’s rais­ing money for a lead­er­ship bid.

This mo­ment seemed to be some kind of turn­ing point for for­mer deputy prime min­is­ter John Man­ley, who is ex­ten­sively quoted in The Shaw­ini­gan Fox and ob­vi­ously one of Pla­m­on­don’s ma­jor sources for the book.

“For me, it was a fun­da­men­tal point where I knew I could never sup­port Martin,” Man­ley is quoted as say­ing. “He flat-out lied to cab­i­net.” A few days later, Man­ley re­calls a phone con­ver­sa­tion he had with Martin, as he was get­ting ready to take over the fi­nance job. He was telling Martin that things were get­ting out of con­trol and “you aren’t look­ing good in this.”

That warn­ing could well ap­ply to The Shaw­ini­gan Fox too—Martin most cer­tainly does not look good in this book. What we have here, es­sen­tially, is the his­tory that Chré­tien and some of his al­lies have been wait­ing years to tell—a counter-nar­ra­tive, served icy cold.

Man­ley, who at­tempted a lead­er­ship run against Martin, but stood down months be­fore the 2003 coro­na­tion, talks re­peat­edly in the book of Martin’s al­leged ly­ing. Rock, who also tried but aban­doned a lead­er­ship run, talks about the “un­healthy” cli­mate of unchecked ambition among the Martin team. Another for­mer deputy prime min­is­ter, Sheila Copps, gives a with­er­ing run­down of Martin’s ef­forts to rid the Lib­er­als of all of Chré­tien’s loy­al­ists af­ter he took power in late 2003. (Copps her­self was pushed out in a nom­i­na­tion chal­lenge for her long-time Hamil­ton rid­ing.)

Ed­die Gold­en­berg, Chré­tien’s for­mer prin­ci­pal sec­re­tary and long­time con­fi­dant, is very much present in this book, too—at his old boss’s side still, but a lit­tle more can­did about his feel­ings about the for­mer fi­nance min­is­ter. “Martin was iffy on many is­sues. If he was in a room with one hun­dred peo­ple and 98 peo­ple agreed with him he would spend his time try­ing to bring the other two on­side,” Gold­en­berg is quoted as say­ing.

This is Pla­m­on­don’s fifth book. Up un­til this one, his work has fo­cused mainly on con­ser­va­tive politi­cians through­out Cana­dian his­tory. The Shaw­ini­gan Fox may ac­tu­ally be con­sis­tent with that theme—cer­tainly Pla­m­on­don makes the case for Chré­tien as an ide­o­log­i­cal con­ser­va­tive.

Some re­view­ers have crit­i­cized the book as too friendly to Chré­tien and, as a corol­lary, too un­friendly to Martin. But as Pla­m­on­don him­self il­lus­trates in the book, that’s kind of what hap­pened in the days of hy­phen­ated Lib­er­al­ism—if you liked Chré­tien, you didn’t like Martin, and vice versa. In­ter­nal party feuds will do that to peo­ple.

For those who tried to stay in the mid­dle, this book adds a sig­nif­i­cant amount of de­tail and never-be­fore­told tales from be­hind the scenes of one of the big­gest fam­ily feuds in Cana­dian po­lit­i­cal his­tory.

It’s the his­tory that Trudeau has been keen to put be­hind the Lib­er­als—un­der­stand­ably, you’ll agree, af­ter read­ing The Shaw­ini­gan Fox.

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