The Return of Canadian Historical Literature

A Great Period for Historical Political Literature in Canada

The book publishing industry, when it comes to works about political events and figures, seems to have recently become about who can get their book out faster. After the election of Barack Obama, countless works came pouring into book stores all over the world. When Ted Kennedy died, he suddenly began to compete with his brothers in both having books written about him and having those books sell until they were completely out of stock. In Canada, several books suddenly came into print when Stephen Harper became Prime Minister and more still followed after he instigated a Constitutional crisis in 2008. Michael Ignatieff launched his leadership of the federal Liberals with a new book about his Canadian heritage.

The result of all this is that the figures and issues in the modern day political arena, whether in Canada or elsewhere, are finally finding a market, even if sales eventually become fleeting as a new ‘it’ story rears it’s head.

Works on political history, however, have largely stayed unwritten as authors and readers focus on the here and now. In 2010 and 2011, that has changed.

2010 saw the printing of Lawrence Martin’s must read book Harperland. This book has recently been updated to include the victory of the Prime Minister in the 2011 election. The same year, John Boyko released what will likely be known as the official reference on Richard Bennett titled Bennett: The Rebel Who Challenged and Changed a Nation. John Ralston Saul also took up the torch and like Boyko, highlighted two less known figures in Canadian history in his book Louis-Hipppolyte & Robert Baldwin.

2011 has been an improvement even compared to 2010. This year, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the historic 1911 election between heavyweights Laurier and Borden, Patrice Dutil and Davis MacKenzie published Canada 1911. Richard Gwyn released the second half of his bigography on John A. Macdonald titled Nation Maker. Andre Pratte released Wilfrid Laurier, part of John Ralston Saul’s Extraordinary Canadians series. Allan Levine published the first work in years on Canada’s longest serving Prime Minister and titled it King: A Life Guided by the Hand of Destiny. And Last month, Paul Litt released Elusive Destiny, a biography on the political career of John Turner that the former Prime Minister actively cooperated with.

These books follow a decade of biographies about Prime Ministers of Canada as well as memoirs by Prime Ministers Mulroney, Chretien and Martin, released almost back to back to back to one another. This decade has also seen the first half of Richard Gwyn’s work on Macdonald, The Man Who Made Us. Lawrence Martin completed The Defiant Reign of Jean Chretien, a companion piece to a book he original wrote on the Prime Minister in 1995. Andrew Cohen recently wrote Lester Pearson for the Extraordinary Canadian series while Nino Ricci wrote Pierre Trudeau for the same series. John English, biographer of Pearson, wrote a two part series on Pierre Trudeau, Citizen of the World and Just Watch Me.

There is now a great amount of material available, written in just the last decade, that puts a fresh spin on our history or in some cases, sheds light on stories we were never told. My advice is to pick up any number of these books and use this fall to get in touch with Canadian political history.

The Samara Best Political Writing Book List

Political Biographies

  1. Bliss, Michael, Right Honourable Men: The Descent of Canadian Politics from MacDonald to Chrétien
  2. Brown, Chester, Louis Riel: A Comic Strip Biography
  3. Careless, J.M.S., Brown of the Globe (Volumes 1 & 2)
  4. Chrétien, Jean, with Ron Graham, Straight From the Heart
  5. Clarkson, Stephen and Christina McCall, Trudeau and Our Times (Volumes 1 & 2)
  6. Cohen, Andrew, Lester B. Pearson
  7. Cook, Ramsay, The Teeth of Time: Remembering Pierre Elliott Trudeau
  8. Davey, Keith, The Rainmaker
  9. English, John, Citizen of the World: The Life of Pierre Elliot Trudeau, Volume One: 1961-1968
  10. English, John, Just Watch Me: The Life of Pierre Elliot Trudeau, Volume Two: 1968-2000
  11. Fournier, Claude, René Lévesque: Portrait d’un homme seul
  12. Graham, Ron, One-Eyed Kings
  13. Gwyn, Richard, John A.: The Man Who Made Us
  14. Kyba, Patrick, Alvin: A Biography of the Honourable Alvin Hamilton, P.C.
  15. Lisée, Jean-François, Le tricheur and Le naufrageur
  16. Martin, Lawrence, Iron Man: The Defiant Reign of Jean Chrétien
  17. Martin, Lawrence, Chrétien: The Will to Win
  18. McLeod, Thomas and Ian McLeod, Tommy Douglas: The Road to Jerusalem
  19. Mulroney, Brian, Memoirs
  20. Newman, Peter C., The Secret Mulroney Tapes
  21. Orchard, David, The Fight for Canada
  22. Rae, Bob From Protest to Power
  23. Ritchie, Charles, The Siren Years: A Canadian Diplomat Abroad 1937-1945
  24. Stevens, Geoffrey, The Player: The Life and Times of Dalton Camp
  25. Poliquin, Daniel, René Lévesque
  26. Sawarzky, John, Mulroney: The Politics of Ambition
  27. Weston, Greg, Reign of Error
  28. Wilson, David, Thomas D’Arcy McGee, volume 1: Passion, Reason and Politics, 1825-1857

Political Culture and Practice

  1. Bashevkin, Sylvia, Women, Power, Politics: The Hidden Story of Canada’s Unfinished Democracy
  2. Carty, R Kenneth, William Cross and Lisa Young, Rebuilding Canadian Party Politics
  3. Courtney, John, Do Conventions Matter: Choosing National Party Leaders in Canada
  4. Crowley, Brian Lee, Fearful Symmetry: The Fall and Rise of Canada’s Founding Values
  5. Duffy, John, Fights of Our Lives
  6. Ferguson, Will, Bastards and Boneheads: Canada’s Glorious Leaders, Past and Present
  7. Flanagan, Thomas, Game Theory and Canadian Politics
  8. Fox, Bill, Spin Wars
  9. Fraser, Graham, Playing for Keeps
  10. Frye, Northrop, The Modern Century (although not directly about politics, a beautiful and persuasive arguement for its inclusion can be found here)
  11. Goldenberg, Eddie, The Way it Works
  12. Gotlieb, Alan, The Washington Diaries
  13. Gruending, Dennis, ed. Great Canadian Speeches
  14. Ibbitson, John, Open and Shut: Why the US has Barack Obama and Canada has Stephen Harper
  15. Ibbitson, John, The Polite Revolution
  16. Johnston, Richard, Henry E. Brady, André Blais, and Jean Crête, Letting the People Decide
  17. Kent, Tom, A Public Purpose
  18. Kinsella, Warren, Kicking Ass in Canadian Politics
  19. Laschinger, John and Geoffrey Stevens Leaders and Lesser Mortals
  20. Lee, Robert Mason, One Hundred Monkeys
  21. May, Elizabeth, Losing Confidence
  22. McKenzie, Judith, Pauline Jewett: A Passion for Canada
  23. McLeod, Jack, The Oxford Book of Canadian Political Anecdotes
  24. Newman, Peter C., Distemper of Our Times
  25. Nichols, Marjorie and Jane O’Hara, Mark My Word
  26. Paikin, Steve, The Life
  27. Paikin, Steve, The Dark Side
  28. Richler, Mordecai, Oh Canada! Oh Quebec!
  29. Russell, Peter, Two Cheers for Minority Government
  30. Saul, John Ralston, A Fair Country
  31. Saul, John Ralston, Reflections of a Siamese Twin
  32. Sheppard, Robert and Michael Valpy, The National Deal
  33. Simpson, Jeffrey, The Discipline of Power
  34. Simpson, Jeffrey, The Friendly Dictatorship

Political Parties

  1. Aster, Howard and Thomas Axworthy (eds), Searching for the New Liberalism
  2. Cameron, Stevie, On the Take: Crime, Corruption and Greed in the Mulroney Years
  3. Camp, Dalton, Gentlemen, Players and Politicians
  4. Clarkson, Stephen, Big Red Machine: How the Liberal Party Dominates Canadian Politics
  5. Delacourt, Susan, Juggernaut: Paul Martin’s Campaign for Chrétien’s Crown
  6. Flanagan, Tom, Harper’s Team: Behind the Scenes in the Conservative Rise to Power
  7. Flanagan, Tom, Waiting for the Wave: The Reform Party and the Conservative Movement
  8. Fotheringham, Allan, Look Ma…No Hands: An Affectionate Look at Our Wonderful Tories
  9. Fotheringham, Allan, Malice in Blunderland, Or How the Grits Stole Christmas
  10. Greenspon, Edward and Anthony Wilson-Smith, Double Vision: The Inside Story of the Liberals in Power
  11. Hébert, Chantal, French Kiss
  12. Kinsella, Warren, The War Room
  13. McCall, Christina, Grits
  14. McDonald, Marci, The Armageddon Factor
  15. Plamondon, Bob, Blue Thunder
  16. Taylor, Charles, Radical Tories
  17. Topp , Brian, How We Nearly Gave the Tories the Boot
  18. Wells, Paul, Right Side Up

Political Fiction

  1. CBC Radio, “Backbencher
  2. Fallis, Terry, The Best Laid Plans
  3. Fallis, Terry, The High Road
  4. Gardiner, Scott, King John of Canada
  5. Healy, Michael, “Plan B” (a play)
  6. Johnston, Wayne, The Colony of Unrequited Dreams
  7. Lill, Wendy, “Chimera” (a play)
  8. Leacock, Stephen, Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town
  9. MacLennan, Hugh, Two Solitudes
  10. MacSkimming, Roy, Macdonald
  11. Ondaatje, Michael, In The Skin of a Lion
  12. Rohmer, Richard, John A.’s Crusade
  13. Salutin, Rick, Les Canadiens

Provincial Politics

  1. Cameron, David and Graham White, Cycling into Saigon: Conservative Transition in Ontario
  2. Epp, Roger, We Are All Treaty People: Prairie Essays
  3. Gagnon, Georgette, and Dan Rath, Not Without Cause: David Peterson’s Fall From Grace (Ontario)
  4. Ibbitson, John, Loyal No More: Ontario’s Struggle for a Separate Destiny
  5. Ibbitson, John, Promised Land: Inside the Mike Harris Revolution (Ontario)
  6. Johnson, A.W., Dream No Little Dreams: A Biography of the Douglas Government of Saskatchewan
  7. Moreira, Peter, Backwater, Nova Scotia’s Economic Decline
  8. Monière, Denis, Les Ideologies du Québec
  9. Stewart, Ian, Just One Vote (Manitoba)
  10. Young, Robert A., The Struggle for Quebec

* The above content is from Samara Canada

Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing

Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing

About the Prize

Now in its eleventh year, the prize is awarded annually to a non-fiction book that captures a political subject of interest to Canadian readers and enhances our understanding of the issue. The winning work combines compelling new insights with depth of research and is of significant literary merit. Strong consideration is given to books that, in the opinion of the jury, have the potential to shape or influence Canadian political life.

About Shaughnessy Cohen

The Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing was established in honour of the outspoken and popular Member of Parliament from Windsor, Ontario, who died on December 9, 1998.




  • Daphne Bramham for The Secret Lives of Saints: Child Brides and Lost Boys in Canada’s Polygamous Mormon Sect, published by Random House Canada
  • James Orbinski for An Imperfect Offering: Humanitarian Action in the Twenty-first Century, published by Doubleday Canada
  • Erna Paris for The Sun Climbs Slow: Justice in the Age of Imperial America, published by Knopf Canada
  • Marie Wadden for Where the Pavement Ends: Canada’s Aboriginal Recovery Movement and the Urgent Need for Reconciliation, published by Douglas & McIntyre
  • Chris Wood for Dry Spring: The Coming Water Crisis of North America, published by Raincoast Books


  • Clive Doucet for Urban Meltdown: Cities, Climate Change and Politics as Usual, published by New Society Publishers
  • Richard Gwyn for John A: The Man Who Made Us; The Life and Times of John A. Macdonald, Volume One: 1815–1867, published by Random House Canada
  • Andrea Mandel-Campbell for Why Mexicans Don’t Drink Molson, published by Douglas & McIntyre
  • David E. Smith for The People’s House of Commons: Theories of Democracy in Contention, published by University of Toronto Press
  • Janice Gross Stein and Eugene Lang for The Unexpected War: Canada in Kandahar, published by Viking Canada


  • John English for Citizen of the World: The Life of Pierre Elliott Trudeau, Volume 1: 1919-1968, published by Knopf Canada
  • Eddie Goldenberg for The Way it Works: Inside Ottawa, published by McClelland & Stewart: A Douglas Gibson Book
  • Allan Gotlieb for The Washington Diaries, 1981-1989, published by McClelland & Stewart
  • Max and Monique Nemni (authors), William Johnson (translator) for Young Trudeau: Son of Quebec, Father of Canada, 1919-1944, published by McClelland & Stewart: A Douglas Gibson Book
  • Carol Off for Bitter Chocolate: Investigating the Dark Side of the World’s Most Seductive Sweet, published by Random House Canada


  • Kim Bolan for Loss of Faith: How the Air-India Bombers Got Away with Murder, published by McClelland & Stewart
  • William Johnson for Stephen Harper and the Future of Canada, published by McClelland & Stewart: A Douglas Gibson Book
  • Amy Knight for How the Cold War Began: The Gouzenko Affair and the Hunt for Soviet Spies, published by McClelland & Stewart
  • Susanne Reber and Robert Renaud for Starlight Tour: The Last, Lonely Night of Neil Stonechild, published by Random House Canada
  • Miriam Shuchman for The Drug Trial: Nancy Olivieri and the Science Scandal that Rocked the Hospital for Sick Children, published by Random House Canada


  • Gwynne Dyer for Future: Tense: The Coming World Order, published by McClelland & Stewart
  • J.L. Granatstein for Who Killed the Canadian Military?, published by HarperFlamingo Canada/ A Phyllis Bruce Book
  • Jane Jacobs for Dark Age Ahead, published by Random House Canada
  • Jennifer Welsh for At Home in the World: Canada’s Global Vision for the 21st Century, published by HarperCollins Canada
  • Rex Weyler for Greenpeace: How a Group of Ecologists, Journalists and Visionaries Changed the World, published by Raincoast Books


  • LGen. Roméo Dallaire for Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda, published by Random House Canada
  • Jane Doe for The Story of Jane Doe, published by Random House Canada
  • Julian Sher and William Marsden for The Road to Hell: How the Biker Gangs Are Conquering Canada, published by Alfred A. Knopf Canada


  • Stephen Clarkson for Uncle Sam and Us: Globalization, Neoconservatism, and the Canadian State, published by University of Toronto Press
  • John Duffy for Fights of Our Lives: Elections, Leaders, and the Making of Canada, published by HarperCollins
  • Colin N. Perkel for Well of Lies: The Walkerton Water Tragedy, published by McClelland & Stewart
  • John T. Saywell for The Lawmakers: Judicial Power and the Shaping of Canadian Federalism, published by University of Toronto Press and the Osgoode Society for Canadian Legal History
  • Daniel Stoffman for Who Gets In: What’s Wrong with Canada’s Immigration Program – and How to Fix It, published by Macfarlane Walter & Ross


  • Ingeborg Boyens for Another Season’s Promise, Published by Penguin Canada
  • Janice Gross Stein for The Cult of Efficiency, Published by House of Anansi Press
  • Linda McQuaig for All You Can Eat, Published by Penguin Canada
  • Daniel Poliquin for In the Name of the Father, Translated by Don Winkler, Published by Douglas & McIntyre
  • Julian Sher for Until you are Dead, Published by Alfred A. Knopf Canada


  • Victoria Freeman for Distant Relations: How My Ancestors Colonized North America, published by McClelland & Stewart
  • Myrna Kostash for The Next Canada: In Search of our Future Nation, published by McClelland & Stewart
  • Carol Off for The Lion, the Fox, & the Eagle: A Story of Generals and Justice in Rwanda and Yugoslavia, published by Random House Canada
  • Erna Paris for Long Shadows: Truth, Lies and History, published by Alfred Knopf Canada
  • Margaret Somerville for The Ethical Canary: Science, Society and the Human Spirit, published by Penguin Canada

* The above content is from the Writers’ Trust of Canada

‘Louis-Hippolyte LaFontaine & Robert Baldwin’: John Ralston Saul, 2010

LaFontaine and BaldwinFist fights on the floor of Parliament between its members. A future Prime Minister, John A. Macdonald, attempting to duel with another member. The egging of a sitting Governor General, Lord Elgin, as he conducted the business of the country. Sandfield Macdonald, a future post-confederation Ontario premier, beaten unconscious in parliament. Parliamentarians of all political stripes banding together to ward off invading rebels in parliament, violently clashing with them. Rebels seizing the Mace and the Speaker’s chair, mocking parliament. Parliament itself pelted with stones until a gaslight was struck and the building itself began to burn to the ground. Members of parliament rushing to save the library and historical portraits of parliament but barely escaping with their lives. 23,000 books and the entire archives of Canada burnt to the ground with parliament, lost forever. The Solicitor General, shooting and wounding two people. Local papers calling for annexation of Canada by America. The Tory’s of parliament voting in support of annexation. Assassination plots on the sitting Prime Minister, LaFontaine, leading to several failed attempts and the destruction of his home by fire, set by rebels.

These were the events of the first year of a Canada comprised of a united Upper and Lower Canada under the political leadership of LaFontaine from Montreal and Baldwin from Toronto. These were the events that transpired after the arrival of Responsible Government.

Canadian history is largely considered by Canadians themselves to be boring. It is seldom that way. The work of Baldwin and LaFontaine to bring Responsible Government to Canada by way of what would become Ontario and Quebec ultimately altered the course of Canadian (and some would argue world) history, putting us on the path to Confederation and the true birth of the nation.

John Ralston Saul’s new book, part of the ‘Extraordinary Canadians’ series, chronicles this violent, revolutionary, and extremely important time in our history. It is the story of two men, strangers to one another and of entirely different heritage, who were brought together by their shared philosophy and together brought their ideals to all of Canada.

Saul argues that LaFontaine and Baldwin brought forth a new system not just for Canada, but for the world as Responsible Government would eventually spread all over the world over the following century. He suggests that this was an entirely new form of politics the world had never seen and it was selected over other models such as the republicanism seen in America.

Beyond this, Saul argues that we owe not just Responsible Government to these two men, who had inspiration from people like Baldwin’s father and Joseph Howe of Nova Scotia as well as help from others like Lord Elgin, the Governor General who risked his own reputation and life to help them. He suggests that the concept of restraint, of not fighting back and of avoiding violence was forged by these two men years before Ghandi would ever employ such tactics. Saul suggests that LaFontaine and Baldwin saw the key to any success for Canada as a nation lay in not adopting the old colonial ways of maintaining power by force.

Saul monitors the philosophical maturation of each man as they grew towards the beliefs they would be known for as well as each other. He tells of the sheer exhaustion both men felt after only one term in what was called the ‘Great Ministry’ and how all their efforts of reform had left them with little energy left to administer after changing the entire political landscape and then formulating the new way forward once in government.

Baldwin, tired of politics, eventually quit parliament, weeping as he gave his farewell speech which brought his fellow members to tears. LaFontaine soon followed, not willing to continue without his partner. Both men died not long after and each had society-stalling funerals in their respective home cities of Toronto and Montreal, funerals of a scale that reflected their importance to what would soon become Canada.

Yet modern Canadians generally know little if anything at all of either man. The Prime Minister and his deputy who governed at a time when John A. Macdonald was merely a freshman MP from Kingston, are ignored as founding fathers by most of Canada and even in the historic places of their story, little is left behind to commemorate that they ever existed or what they accomplished.

Baldwin’s impact on Toronto is his family’s impact. Osgood Hall, Spadina, Front Street… all linked to Baldwin and his family but will very little current awareness for that fact. LaFontaine, first elected in York in what is now Sharon, Ontario leaves behind the Sharon Temple, the religious home of the Quakers who supported him but little else. There is a monument to the two men at Parliament Hill in Ottawa in a back corner of the grounds. Elgin himself has a long stretch of road nearby named after him.

The legacy of these men is in effect everyday in Canadian governance but we should celebrate their accomplishments more than simply using their model. Canadians rarely celebrate their own history and without celebration there is often a tendency to forget altogether. Baldwin and LaFontaine are too important to forget.

Women, Power, Politics: Sylvia Bashevkin, 2009

In a new book, Sylvia Bashevkin looks at why women’s progress in politics seems stalled in this country. She is a Professor of Political Science at the University of Toronto. Her book is called “Women, Power, Politics: the Hidden Story of Canada’s Unfinished Democracy”.

Many great comments in this interview however one idea stood out for me personally and that was the idea of false familiarization with female politicians as they are referred to as their first names instead of in the respectful way men are often referred to as Mr. or by their title.

Belinda Stronach, a former female politician and cabinet minister, frequently argues for reforms to be brought to the system that would benefit women and encourage more female candidates to step forward. One such suggestion was documented in Maclean’s Magazine:

‘Lester B. Pearson’: Andrew Cohen

Andrew Cohen discusses his contribution to the book series ‘Extraordinary Canadians’ about the 14th Prime Minister of Canada, Lester Pearson. Andrew Cohen argues that few leaders have changed this country so profoundly in such a short time.

‘My Years as Prime Minister’: Jean Chrétien, 2007

Former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien sits down with Allan Gregg for a wide-ranging interview. They discuss Chrétien’s new memoir, My Years as Prime Minister, his views on the state of politics in Canada and his recent heart surgery. Released earlier this fall, the book chronicles the high points and challenges of Chrétien’s decade in office as Canada’s twentieth prime minister – from eliminating the deficit to the 1995 cliffhanger Quebec referendum to his decision to keep Canada out of the Iraq war, as well as the rift between Chretien and his successor, Paul Martin.