"So what are the Boys
Saying?" An inside Look AT Brian Mulroney in Power, Michel Gratton, McGraw
Hill-Ryerson, Toronto, 1987, 242 p; Friends in High Places, Claire Hoy, Key
Porter Books, Toronto, 1987, The Insiders: Government Business & the
Lobbyists, John Sawatsky, Douglas Gibson,/Mclelland Stewart, Toronto, 1987, 358
In racy prose laced with wit Michel
Gratton chronicles his 32-month struggle to help Prime Minister Mulroney get a
monkey off his back. The monkey: a craving for press approval and an obsession
with polls. When Gratton gave up the post of Press Secretary in the PMO in
March 1987 he returned to writing columns for Le Droit. If this book accurately
reflects his talents, he'll give readers the right measure of cynicism and
fairness many pundits lack.
Gratton deftly guides readers
through bungles and stumbles tracing "the fastest and most furious fall
from grace any government in this country has ever known." Its peak was on
election night September 4, 1984, when the P.M. asked "OK, we've won. What
do we do now?" Its nadir came on December 5, 1986 when Claire Hoy of the
Toronto Sun asked Mr. Mulroney at a press conference whether it bothered him
that some were calling him "Lyin' Brian."
The author rejoices that Mr.
Mulroney swiftly "clothes-lined" Hoy with the comment "I think
you are going to find that, in the long run, people who read bitter personal
attacks ¼ daily ¼ usually find the author more offensive that the target."
According to Gratton the P.M.'s
constantly recurring question "So, what are the boys saying?" began
as a routine inquiry, but ended as an epitaph. He regrets he did not just once
counter with "It doesn't matter Sweet Fanny Adams what the boys are
saying. Get on with the job."
Gratton's book, if heeded, might
help the Prime Minister earn the respect he needs in order to succeed at the
nation's most difficult job. He plainly has Gratton's respect – whether he is
liked or not is of no moment in the author's view.
Like John Diefenbaker in 1958 Mr.
Mulroney has been hampered by his lopsided election victory. Instead of a lean
and hungry fighter, claws sharpened by constant strife, the government became a
muscle-bound giant, intent on preserving its overweening strength. It delayed
application of unpopular, unpalatable economic remedies until after its first
year. By then the honeymoon was fading and the government had lost its nerve.
Since there was but a weak opposition the press quickly became the enemy,
tormenting and taunting until acclaim turned to disdain, the polls took charge
and politics supplanted policy as the driving force in the Langevin Block.
After reading Michel Gratton's
opinion that "Hoy had been hard on Mulroney from the day he arrived in
Ottawa", it's no surprise that Friends in High Places is unfriendly. Its
spleen may tire readers who do not enjoy incessant pursuit of a quarry.
Claire Hoy's account of the first
three Mulroney years in office moves along like a news ticker through a welter
of statistics, comments or quotations from critics or friends of the P.M. A
sneer is never far below the surface. For example:
"Mulroney grew up to be a
baritone, and after the Tories weren't buying his song and dance at the 1976
leadership convention, Hanna Mining Company of Cleveland, Ohio, asked him to
come and sing the praises of their Canadian affiliate, the Iron Ore Company of
Canada. In return, they offered to make him a millionaire and gave him a
mansion in Westmount, membership in the best clubs, a fishing camp in Labrador,
and four box seats directly behind the Montreal Canadiens' bench at the Forum.
He did well by them, too. He ended labour strife and turned a profit, and when
it came to a choice between sending dividends south of the border or propping
up the mine at Schefferville, Mulroney did right by his American masters – he
closed the town."
One wonders how discerning
columnists are. On January 29, 1987, accompanying the P.M. on an African
political safari, reporter Hoy noticed that Mr. Mulroney paid scant attention
to the majesty of Victoria Falls. He approached no closer than 300 yards,
apparently anxious to "rush off to catch his charter airplane back to
Harare for yet another hotel meeting." Yet, as Gratton explains, the Prime
Minister was, at the time, "sick as a dog, running a temperature and
barely able to stay on his feet." The former Press Secretary commented
"none of the media were to find out, otherwise it would become the day's
Friends in High Places is a
fast-moving record of events and political developments seasoned, if not
soured, by the acerbic views of a practiced observer. The general reader may
find it easy to put down but not so the political student.
The Sawatsky book is the weightiest
of the three reviewed here but not heavy. Tightly written, relying on facts to
speak for themselves and salted with surprising insights into the motives and
methods of people with power, it deserves to do well.
Sawatsky fashions painstaking
research, some of it, I suspect, provided by university students, into a
compelling story of two skilled ex-ministerial aides who made themselves and
their advice indispensable to corporate leaders seeking the ear of government.
Bill Lee and Bill Neville, their wits and persuasive powers honed in the
high-pressure atmosphere of ministers' offices, established Executive Consultants
Ltd. Dispensing advice on how to deal with government, who to see and how to
approach them, it became a lucrative enterprise with a clutch of business
clients paying monthly retainers. ECL did not open doors; it steered business
executives towards the right ones and primed them with facts.
Neville later became the moving
spirit of Public Affairs International which grew and prospered along with
small firms set up by others trained in the hard school of politics. Some,
notably Government Consultants International founded by former Newfoundland
premier Frank Moores, are unblushing lobbyists. They not only open doors but
unabashedly plead the client's cause. And why not?
Sawatsky's is far more than a dry
account of the rise of government consultants on the Ottawa power scene. He
follows them into the backrooms of leadership conventions and the campaign
cockpits of prime ministers. Messrs Trudeau, Turner and Mulroney may not relish
his evidence of fumbles, flip-flops and pettiness. The book fairly reflects the
warps of the political game and the warts of the players.
Anthony Wright, Ottawa, Ontario