The Road Back, J. W.
Pickersgill, University of Toronto Press, Toronto, 1986, p. 255.
Despite the spate of political
books on the nation's bookshelves jack Pickersgill's The Road Back should be
required reading for Liberal Leader John Turner and his parliamentary caucus.
In addition it will also be welcome reading for political junkies of all
faiths. As suggested by the title the Road Back is a highly readable chronology
of the Liberal Party in opposition during the Diefenbaker years from 1957 to
Pickersgill has lost none of his
partisanship and this is clearly illustrated in his description of the issues
and personalities of a turbulent period in Canadian politics. This is
particularly evident in the description of his political nemesis, John
Diefenbaker. Time has not changed Pickersgill's views of the man, who in turn
once described the author as "the only Member I've known who could strut
sitting down". In turn, Pickersgill states ' 1 welcomed every chance to
clash with Diefenbaker and even created a few".
The events as outlined during the
minority Conservative government in 1957 and the massive 1958 Diefenbaker
landslide, while partisan, provide an enlightened view as seen through the eyes
of one of the members of the small band of Liberals who survived.
The book begins with the surprise
victory of the Prairie populist over Uncle Louis St. Laurent, the Chairman of
the Board. Pickersgill leads us through the Liberal Leadership Convention which
selected their new leader, Lester Pearson. The author provides some interesting
insights into the convention particularly as it relates to Pearson's fateful
decision to ask the new Conservative administration to 'submit their
resignation forthwith". This action led to what many observers claim was
Diefenbaker's best political oration and the opening shot of the 1958 election
which, up until the Mulroney sweep of 1984, was the largest majority in
Pickersgill then chronicles what he
calls the three periods in the life of the Diefenbaker government and the
Liberals in opposition - the "popular phase", the "ebbing
tide" and the "disintegration of the government in 196Y. We have an
opposition frontbench seat as Pickersgill recounts the events and personalities
of the time -including the RCMP and the loggers' strike controversy in his
native Newfoundland, the James Coyne Affair, the eventual collapse of the
Diefenbaker government over the nuclear weapons issue and the election of the
Liberals under Lester Pearson on April 8, 1963. The author also takes us
through the first legislative session where he served, in addition to other
responsibilities as House Leader.
Pickersgill's use of short titles
throughout the text rather than individual chapters heightens the diary-like
effect of his work. This reader also found the use of political cartoons a
refreshing change from all those political photo opportunity pictures which
usually find their way into so many political recollections.
As far as comparing the Liberals in
opposition in 1957 with 1984, circumstances, personalities and events are of
course never constant, especially in politics! However, as Pickersgill notes
"the Liberal defeat in 1984 was as crushing as had been our defeat in
1957'. He comments on certain similarities between those days and the present
and offers advice to his Liberal colleagues currently in the trenches.
Pickersgill gives credence to the
adage that Governments are not defeated, they defeat themselves. He gives
Diefenbaker 70% of the credit for the collapse of his government in 1963 and
rates the Liberals at 30%. He cites the Liberals performance in the House,
their rejuvenation of the party organisation and the creation in the minds of
Canadians that there was indeed a credible alternative as successful ingredients
on the road back. Some of Pickersgill's views should be closely examined by
those who presently serve in the Official Opposition.
I hope Jack Pickersgill does not
wait another decade to write a sequel. His writing abilities are absorbing and
interesting and while highly partisan (which one must keep in perspective), one
hopes he might give us the benefits of his insights into the political 'life of
our country since 1963. Until then, The Road Back, is a must read for anyone
interested in what continues to be a fascinating period in our political
history. For the Liberal Party, The Road Back might give some hints on their
David LaBallister, Ottawa