- Trudeau's Tango: Alberta Meets Pierre Elliott Trudeau, 1968–1972 by Darryl Raymaker
This book explores the first mandate of Pierre Trudeau and its impact on Alberta from the perspective of its author, an Alberta-born Calgary lawyer, four-time Liberal candidate, and former Liberal Party National Executive member. Trudeau's Tango frequently blurs the line between history and memoir, as Raymaker situates himself within the narrative that captures the Trudeau government's engagement with Alberta. The monograph, while certainly captivating, is not a definitive examination of how Alberta saw the former prime minister. Nonetheless, in the absence of an in-depth archival study by an historical scholar, Raymaker's monograph must be included in the Trudeau historiography. It offers valuable insights on the province and is supported by secondary literature, personal accounts, and primary newspaper sources.
Raymaker's strongest contribution, his exploration of Alberta's conflict with the federal government over Alberta's oil interests, particularly the account of federal cabinet ministers frequently underwhelming the Canadian Petroleum Association, takes the narrative in a fresh direction. Raymaker effectively conveys the frustration of Alberta's oil industry with the federal government's response to American demands to reduce oil exports, as well as the debate over foreign investment in the Canadian oil industry. 'The oilmen', Raymaker says, were worried that the federal government's decisions were 'creating investor uncertainty that would reduce capital flow into Canada resulting in a decline in the nation's standard of living' (p. 86). These discussions shed light on the national understanding of Alberta's frustration with the Liberal Party. The conflict also included disputes over grain prices, tax reform, rising inflation, and the Official Languages Act. The study progressively builds towards the rise of the Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta leader Peter Lougheed, the Liberal Party's failed attempt to court support from the Alberta Social Credit Party, and the Liberals being shut out of Alberta in the 1972 federal election.
Though Raymaker offers an interesting account of Alberta's relationship with Trudeau, it neglects some recent historical literature. For example, he cites the Trudeaumania phenomenon in Alberta as 'real' and suggests that Trudeau 'had worked his magic' in the [End Page 231] 1968 campaign and helped elect four Liberals in the province (p. 49). This explanation ignores recent scholarship from Paul Litt who found that Trudeaumania was 'clearly not a mania'. Trudeaumania, according to Litt, allowed the Liberal Party to hold its base, capture a significant number of swing voters, and convince some Canadians who usually voted for another party to consider the Liberals (Litt 2016). Moreover, the winning of four seats should hardly be seen as an extraordinary victory. Chapters that examine Trudeaumania, the 1968 federal Liberal Party leadership convention, and the October Crisis could have been stronger if they were scoped with Alberta's place at their core.
Trudeau's Tango makes interesting contributions in analysing the conflict between the federal government and Alberta over natural resources and other contentious policy matters, but it is far from definitive on the topic.