SUSAN DELACOURT loved the Charlottetown accord. As a Globe and Mail reporter, she covered the constitutional road show for years, and became deeply bonded to the whole process. She shared the excitement and the pain and the sense of greatness. She admired the politicians (to whom she dedicates United We Fall). She exulted when they reached the last-minute deal that would save the country. Then, as Delacourt sees things, their statesmanship was betrayed in the referendum of October 1992. The voters, children of the "culture of selfishness," rejected the rightful leaders, the miraculous deal - and representative democracy itself.
United We Fall is the kind of book Brian Mulroney might write if he were to join a therapy group for failed prime ministers and try to work out all that bitterness. It's hardly an analysis of the Charlottetown accord. United we fall never gets around to listing, let alone examining, what the accord actually proposed to do to the constitution. Rather, this book is a mourning for the process that Delacourt found so fulfilling.
Faced with the referendum result, Delacourt does bring herself to concede that the people's will must be accepted. Since she really doesn't think there was anything wrong with the way the accord was reached, she decides that the fact that it was rejected signals a crisis of democracy So, in conversations with the accord's baffled architects, she muses about moving to a new kind of politics, one based on mutual respect and listening and faith and a whole new attitude. This is the theme of United We Fall, and it's about as substantial as "the politics of inclusion."
What is most discouraging here is the way Delacourt and her informants go about lamenting that the people have rejected representative democracy, as if Meech and Charlottetown were the essence of that principle rather than its perversion. Not one of them seems to understand that political communities are represented in legislatures, not in first ministers. Delacourt describes how when one of Bob Rae's aides is putting forth an argument, Rae suddenly says "That's not Ontario's position" - meaning that he personally might just be beginning to consider changing his mind. In this I'Etat-c'estmoi confidence that first ministers in their every whim incarnate their constituencies, Bob Rae is as culpable as Brian Mulroney, and Ovide Mercredi no different from Clyde Wells. After years inside their charmed circle, Susan Delacourt has become the perfect mouthpiece for them all.
Reading this book, I remembered a report in the Globe and Mail on the constitutional talks in South Africa. The talks include delegates from every group commanding any significant amount of political support - from quasi-fascists to dubiously reformed Statinists - and from every racial and regional bloc. The sessions have been long and acrimonious, and it's unlikely that any agreement will be a unanimous one. But it does seem like a serious effort to grapple with that country's real problems.
I would not have imagined that Canada had anything to learn about democracy from South Africa. But in Canada we think Preston Manning is too radical to be allowed to represent his constituency in constitutional talks, let alone Billy Two Rivers. We exclude Jean Chretien, never mind Jacques Parizeau. Our first ministers reach one phony accord after another by excluding the majority of legitimate representatives from the late-night, last-minute, resolution-by-exhaustion horse tradings they have always preferred, back to the Patriation Round of 198 1. Then they and Delacourt - are surprised and indignant when almost everyone who has gone unrepresented fails to salute the deal as a historic triumph of democratic consensus.
I had a nightmare vision while reading this book. I'm an old man, and I'm watching "Prime Time News at Five" as Prime Minister Susan Delacourt tries to cope with her anger and bitterness during the press conference that follows the collapse of Meech Lake XVII. God save us.
When Ovide Mercredi became national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, he seemed on the verge of acquiring profound influence in national affairs. Then, assigned the role of a kind of First Nations first minister in the Charlottetown process, he was tarnished by it along with the others. In the Rapids, written with his legal adviser Mary Ellen Turpel, marks the return of Mercredi to the role of a national sage, patiently setting out how Canada's relationship with the First Nations can be redeemed.
In the Rapids is a political manifesto addressed mostly to a non-Native audience. Mercredi explains why Canada must begin to take existing and future treaties seriously as the basis for its dealings with the First Nations. He makes the case, both practical and principled, that self-government is the only feasible option for the First Nations, and he outlines what Canada's continuing obligations would be. He also begins to sketch out how self-governing Native communities might begin to move from economic dependence to self-sufficiency.
If the Canadian political community can bring itself to allow these principles to operate, there will still be much to do. Mercredi stresses that he does not foresee absolute sovereignty for a "Swiss cheese" of tiny Native republics across Canada, but he does not take up the practical details and limits that will have to be addressed. And his suggestions for social and economic reconstruction in Native communities are very sketchy. Even if Canada acts on the fundamentals, a generation of geniuses may still be needed to bring to fruition the Native renaissance that is under way.
The most hopeful thing is that this does not seem absolutely impossible. In the Rapids is not an autobiography, but there are enough bits of personal testimony here to underline the searing reality experienced by even the most successful of Native Canadians. Somehow, along with the despair, that experience seems to become a forcing house for political urgency, and also for political skill and wisdom. In The Rapids has flashes of all those qualities. They will be needed.
In the first half of The Fight for Canada, David Orchard describes every Canadian-American conflict since the great glaciers melted, with the aim of stiffening Canadian resistance to close relations with the United States. He wants us to believe that William Phips's attack on Quebec in 1690 and the American campaign for free' trade in the 1990s are identical, presumably because Americans in all times and circumstances are genetically driven toward conquering Canada. This seemed to me propaganda by the selection of historical excerpts, and I didn't like it at all. More extreme histories of the same general type are probably pouring from Croatian and Serbian presses these days.
The second half is more interesting. It's an account of the campaigns of Citizens Concerned About Free Trade against the FTA, NAFTA, Meech Lake, the Charlottetown accord, and much else.
Orchard, a Saskatchewan farmer raised on a potent mix of old-time Prairie activism and New Left ideas, led CCAFT's remarkably vigorous campaigns, and the book is a good, clear setting forth of CCAFT's ideas and tactics. It also shows off the take -no-prisoners style that made Orchard so disliked by opponents and even allies. Was Ed Broadbent insufficiently committed to Orchard's strategy in 1988? "Within a matter of months," writes Orchard as if it explained everything," Mulroney appointed Broadbent to [a government job with] a personal annual salary of over $ 100,000."