- Transforming the Nation: Canada and Brian Mulroney
In Transforming the Nation: Canada and Brian Mulroney, J. Frank Strain states that his essay "is likely to contain something to offend everyone" (p. 42), an apt description of the entire collection, which gets at the heart of Brian Mulroney's historical character and legacy. Edited by Raymond B. Blake, the wide-ranging opinions and analyses found in the 18 essays of the book cannot help but inspire strong reactions from readers because of the controversy that continues to surround Mulroney, and this is the beauty of the collection.
In his introduction to Transforming the Nation, Blake expresses his wonder over why a comprehensive study of Mulroney, "one of the most significant and important prime ministers Canada has ever had" (p. 14), has not been done before. The contributors quickly make up for lost time, each offering a comprehensive analysis of a different facet of his time in office. The collection is well constructed with three informal sections: the legacy of Mulroney's policies, his interactions with Canada's increasingly vocal and conflicting minority groups, and his personal approach to politics.
A central theme throughout each of these essays, especially in the first section concerned with his legacy, is the question of revolution. Mulroney was prime minister during a period in which Canada and the rest of the world were changing rapidly. In some cases, he used this transitional period to his advantage, especially on the campaign trail, when he was able to control the media in ways contributor Christopher Waddell states could never be possible under the scrutiny of the 24 hour news networks of today (p. 36). In other cases, these massive social, economic, and political changes were the reason for Mulroney's downfall, as he not only encouraged them, but believed he could use them to his, and the country's, overall advantage. The problem with this approach to governing, Blake argues, is that Canadians simply do not like change (p. 5), and many continue to blame Mulroney for being the messenger, if not the instigator, of these transformations.
The middle section of Transforming the Nation is by far the strongest, with excellent essays by Robert Wardhaugh and Michael D. Behiels, each offering a detailed analysis of how Mulroney tried to balance regional differences and [End Page 225] desires. In wanting to pacify everyone, including those in the West and in Quebec, Mulroney pleased no one with his attempts at policy revisions and constitutional negotiations. The discussion by Gina Cosentino and Paul L. A. H Chartrand of Aboriginal policy and politics during the Mulroney years also follows this pattern of excellent analysis. One of the strongest pieces in the collection appears in this middle section. In her examination of how women's movements and issues changed while Mulroney was prime minister, Ann Porter provides a much larger story of how Canadian society and politics were radically discussed, debated, and transformed during this time.
The collection concludes with a series of essays by those who worked directly with Mulroney during his time in office. Some of these, such as the piece by Bob Rae, invite the reader into the heart of the former prime minister, which is often excluded in analyses of his two terms in office. During his time as New Democrat premier of Ontario, Rae observed Mulroney as a man with two personas: one public and one private. In public, the prime minister was often formal and reserved, while in private he "was funny, personal, and often profane" (p. 417). Essays by former MP John C. Crosbie and speech writer L. Ian MacDonald follow much the same line as Rae's piece, each offering sincere and balanced insight to the prime minister's character.
The weakest article in the collection appears in this last section. Elizabeth May writes an account of her time as an environmental advisor to the Mulroney government, and her flattery of the prime minister and his cabinet makes for a thin analysis and a somewhat embarrassing read. During...