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On Thursday, November 29, 2007, the LAC Forum on Canadian Democracy was launched at an event entitled Legacies and Legends: Prime Ministers and Their Memoirs. Held in partnership with the University of Ottawa's Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, the event took place at the University's Tabaret Hall, with students, scholars and public officials in attendance.
While the recent memoirs of former Prime Ministers Jean Chrétien and Brian Mulroney were the focus of the discussion, it was Sir John A. Macdonald who set the stage for the evening. With a larger-than-life portrait of Macdonald as a backdrop, Radio-Canada journalist Patrice Roy initiated the evening's discussion with a reference to Macdonald's understanding of political leaders as either artists or artisans. According to Roy, Mulroney falls into the artist category as an ambitious political visionary, while Chrétien's executive skills reveal him as the quintessential artisan. Roy suggested that our current Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, aims to mediate between the vision and skill of both the artist and artisan.
Panellist Manon Cornellier, a political columnist with Le Devoir, characterized these political types as "transformational", which she associates with Mulroney, and "transactional", which she associates with Chrétien. She pointed out that both men came from working-class families, and that this humble background was a source of pride that determined their populist public image. She noted, however, that both men displayed a public face that was quite different from the political persona they presented behind closed doors. Cornellier also commented on the important continuity that existed between the Mulroney and Chrétien governments with regard to the implementation and initiation of policies in such areas as finance and the environment, as well as regarding the decisions made in the context of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms under Mulroney, which continued to shape the political, social and economic climate under Chrétien.
Panellist Jeffrey Simpson, a national affairs columnist with The Globe and Mail and a Senior Fellow with the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, found a number of similarities between Mulroney and Chrétien. He coined the term "Québecocentrisme" to describe the Prime Ministers' personal ties and political focus on the province of Quebec. He also noted their shared antipathy toward the press, their fixation on international issues in their memoirs, and the general absence of accounts in their memoirs related to noteworthy contributions made by Cabinet members during their time in office. Importantly, Simpson noted that "both books have many fictions in them" and that "serious historians" ultimately will revisit the Prime Ministers' legacies in light of the documentary heritage held at Library and Archives Canada.
In his opening remarks that evening, Ian Wilson, the Librarian and Archivist of Canada, also cited the importance of these records: "These and other documents acquired and preserved by Library and Archives Canada illuminate the decision-making processes of our Government, the discussions and debates, the battles, the victories and, at times, the vanities of Canada's great political culture."
The event was moderated by Catherine Clark of CPAC. Her questions to the panellists addressed issues such as leadership style, national unity, the economy, the environment, and international policy. The evening also featured an introduction by Luc Juillet of the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, and closing remarks by François Houle, Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences. Following the panel discussion, members of the audience raised questions on issues such as climate change, the deficit, Afghanistan, and women in democracy.
The event is the first in a series of public events on the theme of Canada's former prime ministers that will be hosted by the LAC Forum on Canadian Democracy in partnership with the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs throughout 2008. Legacies and Legends: Prime Ministers and Their Memoirs will be broadcast on CPAC and will be available through CPAC's "Video on Demand" feature. For more broadcast details, visit CPAC at www.cpac.ca/forms/index.asp.