Poisoned Chalice:
The Last Campaign of the Progressive Conservative Party?

by David McLaughlin,
322 pages,
ISBN: 1550022202

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Brief Reviews - Non-fiction
by William Christian

CANADA HAS WITNESSED SOME pretty uneven federal election bouts in its history: Macdonald vs all comers in 1867, John Diefenbaker vs Lester Pearson in 1958, and Brian Mulroney against John Turner in 1984. However, 1993 was undoubtedly the first time the knockout blow was self-administered.

David McLaughlin, Mulroney's chief of staff and a senior political and policy adviser to Kim Campbell, saw it all first hand during the campaign. In Poisoned Chalice: The Last Campaign of the Progressive Conservative Party? (Dundurn, 324 pages, $29.99 cloth) he delivers what is probably the best account ever written of a Canadian election campaign.

Whose fault was the disaster? Mulroney, naturally enough, bears part of the blame. He plunged to unparalleled depths in the opinion polls. But when Campbell took over, the party bounced back. Why the subsequent disaster?

McLaughlin thinks that Campbell lacked foresight during her run for the leadership. She took it one stage at a time, rather than positioning herself during the leadership race for the election that had to follow. Once she decided to call the election (after a summer of barbecues), she could offer no compelling reason why her party should be re- elected, other than that she found herself witty and a very agreeable companion.

Soon the flurry of punishing blows began. "Nothing can be done about unemployment for the rest of the millennium"; "An election campaign is too short a time to discuss the reform of social policy." Now she was staggering, almost punchdrunk. Campaign headquarters in Ottawa gave orders. The campaign team on the bus changed them. Then came the TV debate. She reeled again. With the ads mocking Jean Chretien's physical appearance and mannerisms, she went down for the count.

Can the Tories recover from Kim Campbell? Only, David McLaughlin says in this elegant and well-crafted book, if they can persuade voters that there is some reason for the party's continued existence.


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