- Trudeau's Tango: Alberta Meets Pierre Elliott Trudeau, 1968–1972 by Darryl Raymaker
In recent decades, history as an academic discipline has favoured a focus on lost and desperate causes and ruminations of what might have been. Darryl Raymaker is an Albertan Liberal who believes that there was once a moment when Pierre Trudeau might have escaped the dark night that fell upon Liberalism in Alberta in the years that followed a federal Liberal breakthrough in 1968. Raymaker's book is, in the words of Lloyd Axworthy's excellent foreword, "more than just a memory stick of particular people, time and places." It makes an argument about Alberta, the 1960s and 1970s, and the impact of character upon circumstance.
Trudeau's Tango reflects the views of a lively partisan. Raymaker became an active Liberal in the 1960s and was caught up in the "Trudeaumania" that swept Canada during the federal election campaign of 1968. The book concentrates on a limited period: the four years between the Liberals capture of four seats and 36 per cent of Alberta's popular vote in 1968 and the loss of the four seats and over 10 per cent of the popular vote in 1972. Since that election, the province has remained a wilderness for Liberals and a breeding ground for its most effective and ferocious enemies such as Preston Manning, Stephen Harper, and Jason Kenney.
Raymaker recognizes that the Liberals' failure in Alberta has had serious consequences for his party and, in his view, the country. He implies that his province and party could have taken a different course, one that would have moved the province more towards the centre of Canadian political debate and made it less an angry outlier. There are three reasons why his hopes in 1968 were dashed.
First, the Liberals and Trudeau let him down. As early as December 1968, Trudeau made himself a target of Alberta farmers with his famous and politically damaging question: "Why should I sell the Canadian farmers' wheat?" Less well known was a disastrous 1969 speech to Alberta oil business leaders in [End Page 128] which he talked about foreign policy rather than the real challenges facing their industry. Raymaker argues convincingly that the Liberals had very good candidates in 1968 and 1972, but internal differences and personal ambition made them less effective than they should have been. Foolishly, conservative Liberals tried to make a deal with the Social Credit to trade support provincially for support for the Trudeau Liberals in the 1972 election. One result was the appointment of Ernest Manning to the Senate, which assisted the rise of the provincial Conservatives, brought a strong critic of Trudeau to Ottawa, and provided the foundation for Preston Manning's later assault on Canadian Liberalism.
The second reason is Peter Lougheed. Lougheed's remarkable ascent to power was much assisted by Liberal fumbling. Raymaker describes how Lougheed's polished and articulate assault on the federal government strengthened Alberta's grievances against Ottawa. Lougheed was sophisticated and socially progressive, and he represented a sharp break from the "parochial" Ernest Manning. But he asserted a role for Alberta far beyond what the Social Credit had ever done and more than any federal government could permit. He denied that the federal government could speak for Alberta in international energy negotiations and claimed an exclusive right to allocate the rewards and rents from Alberta's resources. Conflict with Trudeau became inevitable, and Lougheed decisively won.
Third, the oil industry turned strongly against Trudeau and Ottawa and came to regard the province as its champion and Trudeau's Ottawa as its opponent. Trudeau became a target, a "socialist" determined to rob the rewards that were due to Alberta's energy entrepreneurs. Raymaker deplores the narrowing of vision and the disregard of broader Canadian interests, but he does understand and explain it.
Trudeau's Tango with Alberta was clumsy, and the budding infatuation of 1968 died. It probably had no future, but Raymaker has written an important study of the enduring impact of resource politics upon...