Wednesday, March 05, 2008

The Dark Side

Politics is a helluva way to make a living. The pay is crappy, the hours are long, and the abuse is constant. And no matter how great a job you may be doing or how hard you are working, you could be out of work at the next election if the wind blows a different direction.

The harsh reality of political life was shown on Monday with the landslide win of Ed Stelmach and the PC party. The overwhelming wave took out some effective politicians from the opposition benches, in particular Dave Eggen (NDP) in Edmonton-Calder and Rick Miller (Liberal) in Edmonton-Rutherford. Both good people who worked hard to make a difference both for their constituents and more broadly, for Albertans. Good luck to them and all the defeated incumbents from all parties in the future.

Given the vagaries and difficulties of political life, why do people continue to offer themselves up? Ontario journalist Steve Paikin looked into this very question in two books. In The Life: The Seductive Call of Politics (2001) he wrote about the lure of politics - the upside. He spoke to nearly a hundred politicians about their motivations, including Peter Lougheed, Brian Mulroney, Kim Campbell and William Davis.

In a followup book, The Dark Side: The Personal Price of a Political Life (2003), Paikin wrote about the downside of politics, the crushing lows that have devastated some politicians. He talked to dozens of politicians and writes fascinating profiles of many of them, including Albertans like Nancy McBeth (former Alberta Liberal leader) and Joe Clark (former Prime Minister).

Joe Clark is an especially interesting case, for he saw some great highs and deep lows in his long career in Canadian politics. And by the time he retired (for the second or third time I think) from active politics he was one of the most-respected of Canadian politicians.

Anyone interested in hearing more about Joe Clark and the political life should attend the second session of the University of Alberta's Prime Ministers Conversation Series, coming up on March 12th at the Horowitz Theatre on campus. The first session, with Jean Chr├ętien, was excellent. It is great that U of A is showing our former prime ministers some respect, for we're generally pretty hard on our former PMs (certainly compared to the US where former Presidents are demi-gods who are asked to play useful roles from time to time). Just look at the title of a recent book about the Prime Ministers for an example: Bastards and Boneheads: Canada's Glorious Leaders... by Will Ferguson.

Joe Clark has yet to write his memoirs, but his wife, Maureen McTeer touches on Joe's career in her memoir, In My Own Name (2003). Did you know Joe is 13 years older than Maureen? 2007 saw memoirs from two PM giants: Memoirs: 1939-1993 by Brian Mulroney and My Years as Prime Minister by Jean Chr├ętien. Time and Chance (1996) are the memoirs of Kim Campbell, Canada's first woman Prime Minister. Pierre Trudeau's Memoirs (1993) was much too light for political junkies certainly compared to the triple volume memoirs of the PM that hired Trudeau, Lester Pearson: Mike: the Memoirs of the Right Honourable Lester B. Pearson (1972).

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