THE 1988 general election in Canada came almost a century after Sir John A. Macdonald's Conservatives defeated the forces of unrestricted reciprocity in the 1891 election. Twenty years later, the Tories administered a comparable thumping to Sir Wilfrid Laurier's Liberals for again trying to hand Canada over to the United States under the guise of a reciprocity agreement with Washington. There, until the Mulroney government, the issue stayed. But in 1988, Canada was transformed.
In Letting the People Decide: Dynamics of a Canadian Election (McGill-Queen's University Press, 304 pages, $39.95 cloth, $16.95 paper), Richard Johnston, Andre Blais, Henry E. Brady, and Jean Crete examine every feature of the 1988 campaign that their analytical tools can dissect, from advertising strategies to the impact of the mid-campaign debate. Most political scientists have disparaged the impact of political persuasion, and the 1988 election might seem to he a confirmation. Opinion at the beginning of the campaign was so close to the election results on November 16 that the politicians might have save the it breath and the corporations their huge outlay. In fact, using their analytical tool-kit, the authors of Letting the People Decide confirm what contemporaries certainly
sensed: the campaign produced dramatic shifts of opinion. Many voters moved to the Liberals and even to the NDP, then back to the Conservatives as fearful second thoughts battled with their profound mistrust of Mulroney and his policies.
To help ensure that their findings will be considered scientific as well as informative, the authors adopt a prose style as ingratiating as that of the average computer manual. However, anyone with a professional or private need to understand current Canadian political behaviour should endure the writing for the sake of the insights. These make the referendum campaign and the next federal election easier to understand.