Paperjack, 1987, 294 pages, C$4.95 mmpb, ISBN 0-7701-0976-4
Living near Ottawa like I am, (and currently working as a part-time civil servant) it’s impossible to be indifferent to the continuous stream of political commentary coming down from Parliament Hill and its assorted observers. Canadian politics might be appreciated only by a select group of Canadians (if not anyone else) but when it rocks, it rocks.
For anyone south of the border not following Great White North Politics, don’t bother to read further.
In 1984, Michel Gratton went from being columnist at the French-Canadian newspaper Le Droit to being a member of Mulroney’s Prime Minister Office as his deputy press secretary. He stayed there until 1987, when he was driven to resignation by a hostile press corps, an indifferent government and unsavory allegations of misconduct.
Gratton’s stint as a member of Mulroney’ staff neatly paralleled the incredible rise, and as incredible (first) fall of one of Canada’s most interesting Prime Minister. “So, What are the boys saying?” is the chronicle of these three years.
And what three years they were! Coming from almost nowhere, Brian Mulroney won the election under John Turner’s nose in the biggest landslide in Canadian Politics history. The fatal blow for the Liberals happened during one of the televised debates, when Mulroney thoroughly slammed Turner on the issue of patronage, calling him a liar on national TV.
The first half of Gratton’s book tells of the election, and introduces the principal players of the book. The tale is told crisply, and this part of the book reads more like a Canadian version of Primary Colors than anything else. (minus the odd sexual scandal involving the candidate, although there’s something about John Turner and backside-patting here… but I digress.) The bit about the fateful televised debate is especially exciting, a real-life event that has its place in political fiction.
But power had a few surprises for the Conservatives. Not only did the Canadian electorate recover with their temporary infatuation with the Conservatives, but the Mulroney government had to deal with a seemingly-unbreakable chain of various scandals. Rotten fish, shady land deals, inflated expense accounts and other misconducts shook the Conservative approval rating until is had sunk to impressive lows.
This section of the book also deals with Mulroney abroad, and visits of foreign dignitaries in Canada. The various stories about the arrogant American press office are almost worth the price of the book itself…
Boys is incredibly engrossing reading. The style is brisk, frequently hilarious, and studded with carefully chosen anecdotes. Gratton’s journalistic instincts makes this an exceptional overview of the Canadian political scene during the mid-eighties.
But Gratton’s own story is less fascinating. An autobiography works better when you can like the person telling it, and that’s not really the case with Gratton: The book turns sour near the end, when he is accused of sexual harassment by a few ex-girlfriends (of which we are told there are many). Not only is Gratton’s character put in question, but his own revelations make him appear more as an unlikable lout than a wrongfully accused man.
Still, it’s worthwhile reading for the select few interested in Canadian politics. Unfortunately, while Gratton’s book nicely wraps up his own involvement with the Mulroney government, it only tells half the tale. Events after 1987 would find Mulroney’s Conservatives re-elected with a majority, only to be nuked out of the political landscape in 1993 after a lackluster five years of government which would see such quiet revolutions as Free Trade, a new Federal tax (the GST) and another string of scandals… The wheel turns!