Best Canadian political books put to a vote

The finalists in the Best Canadian Political Books of the Last 25 Years were revealed Thursday and Canadians are being asked to get reading and vote for their pick by August 1.
On The Take, Stevie Cameron's book about former prime minister Brian Mulroney, is among the finalists for the Best Political Books of the Last 25 Years. (Tom Hanson/Canadian Press)

The federal election has come and gone, but Canadians are again being asked to take part in a political vote. This time, they can choose their favourite political writing from the last 25 years.

The Writers' Trust of Canada and Samara, a democracy-focused charity, received 180 nominations for the contest, called Best Canadian Political Books of the Last 25 Years.

On Thursday, a short list of 12 finalists was revealed. Canadians are encouraged to spend July reading the books and then vote online  for their favourite by Aug. 1.

The finalists are:

  • Stevie Cameron, On the Take: Crime, Corruption and Greed in the Mulroney Years (1994)
  • Stephen Clarkson and Christina McCall, Trudeau and Our Times, Vol. 1: The Magnificent Obsession (1990) and Vol. 2: The Heroic Delusion (1994)
  • Andrew Cohen, While Canada Slept: How We Lost Our Place in the World (2003)
  • John Duffy, Fights of Our Lives: Elections, Leadership and the Making of Canada (2002)
  • Terry Fallis, The Best Laid Plans (2008)
  • Ron Graham, One-Eyed Kings: Promise & Illusion in Canadian Politics (1986)
  • Richard Gwyn, John A: The Man Who Made Us; The Life and Times of John A. Macdonald, Vol. One (2007)
  • Ezra Levant, Shakedown: How Our Government is Undermining Democracy in the Name of Human Rights (2009)
  • Lawrence Martin, Harperland: The Politics of Control (2010)
  • Christopher Moore, 1867: How the Fathers Made a Deal (1997)
  • John Ralston Saul, A Fair Country : Telling Truths about Canada (2008)
  • Paul Wells, Right Side Up: The Fall of Paul Martin and the Rise of Stephen Harper's Conservatism (2006)

The Best Canadian Political Books of the Last 25 Years is a project meant to get Canadians to reflect on Canada's political history and the ideas and personalities that have driven meaningful debates over the last two decades.

The organizers also hope the list of finalists itself will stir some debate. They are expecting criticism, and readers are encouraged to make comments on the contest's website  when they log on to vote.

A way to understand country

"Canada has a wealth of talented and impressive political writers," Don Oravec, executive director of the Writers' Trust of Canada, said in a statement. "These books are our recommendations to anyone who wants to better understand Canada, past, present, and future."

Some of the books are about the leadership of Canadian prime ministers — John A. Macdonald, Pierre Trudeau, Brian Mulroney, Paul Martin and the current prime minister, Stephen Harper — and others are about ideas and themes.

Some of the books are more well-known than others. On the Take, Stevie Cameron's account of the alleged corruption and abuse of power in Ottawa during the Mulroney years, caused controversy when it was first published in 1994 and for years afterward. 

A portion of it was focused on Mulroney's dealings with German businessman Karlheinz Schreiber and the Airbus affair, matters that eventually led to a public inquiry. Cameron later found herself accused of being an RCMP informant, a claim she denied.

Unique on the list is Terry Fallis's fictional piece of political writing, The Best Laid Plans. The novel initially began as a podcast and was then self-published before it was picked up by McClelland & Stewart.

Harperland by Lawrence Martin, gives readers an inside look at how Stephen Harper leads his Conservative Party, detailing levels of control and discipline in the now-majority government that most Canadians may not have known about.

The authors represent a diverse group of journalists, academics, political commentators and insiders, and many are already award-winning writers.

Paul Wells, nominee for his book Right Side Up, The Fall of Paul Martin and the Rise of Stephen Harper's Conservatism, said Thursday that he is "thrilled" to be chosen as a finalist.

In good company

"First, because it's chosen by readers who could have named any book, not only by a jury working through a stack of submitted works," said the journalist with Maclean's magazine.

"Second, because it's so flattering to be listed alongside some of my favourite books, the ones written by Christopher Moore, John Duffy, Ron Graham and John Ralston Saul. If I had to pick a winner it'd be … one of them."

The choices for the 12 finalists are already stirring some debate, as intended, according to Wells, who shared his own opinion.

"I have to say, and already I've heard this from someone else, too, that it's disappointing not to see any French-language books on the list," Wells said.


Meagan Fitzpatrick is a multiplatform reporter with CBC News in Toronto. She joined the CBC in 2011 and previously worked in the Parliament Hill and Washington bureaus. She has also reported for the CBC from Hong Kong. Meagan started her career as a print reporter in Ottawa.