Portarits from a Life

240 pages,
ISBN: 1550650777

Post Your Opinion
Sketches of a Naive Enthusiast
by John Pepall

In eighteen years as a member of parliament, Heward Grafftey barely escaped being one of Pierre Trudeau's nobodies. He was for most of his time one of a handful of Tory members from Quebec and briefly the only one. He held two minor portfolios in Clark's forgettable government. His background in wealthy Anglo Montreal and his political career introduced him to a number of interesting people and after an account of his childhood and his mother, who committed suicide when he was fifteen, and his father, who died when he was twenty, Portraits from a Life is a series of accounts of his acquaintance with notables ranging from his aunt, the painter Prudence Heward, to Ralph Nader and Pierre Trudeau.
Grafftey says he likes to tell a good story, but much of what he recounts is inconsequential. He tells of the death of his dog, two cats, and a pony. A typical story tells how as president of the McGill Liberal club in 1952 he brought Jimmy Sinclair to friends' apartment while Trudeau was calling, but Trudeau did not meet his future father-in-law.
He does not explain how from being an active Liberal in 1952 he became the Tory candidate for Brome-Missisquoi in 1957. Using the standard line he says he is a social progressive and a fiscal conservative, evading the problem that social progressives want to spend and fiscal conservatives want to retrench. He says he is no longer a Tory. His chief political enthusiasms have been accident prevention and an entirely new constitution for Canada. He does not go into details in this book. What he suggests is not intriguing. He has written several tracts on safety and Why Canadians Get the Politicians & Governments They Don't Want for those who want more.
Shortly before he died, Grafftey's father told his son, "Heward, I fear you are a bit of a buffoon, like me, and no-one is going to take you very seriously." "Buffoon" does not quite capture Grafftey. He seems a very nice man. But he has been carried through life by a naive enthusiasm and has seldom been taken seriously. He came a distant ninth in the 1976 Tory leadership convention. He records every occasion when Ralph Nader or another notable was "very supportive". He remembers when Trudeau commended his presentation to the Commons Justice Committee on auto safety in 1966 and greeted him warmly during the 1980 referendum campaign. On the other hand he can be resentful of Conrad Black, whom he saw quite a bit of in the late 1960s when Black was starting his newspaper career in the Eastern Townships and despised Mulroney from the same time, as he evidently would not take Grafftey seriously. He particularly blames him for foisting Claude Wagner on the party in 1972.
In his warm account of Trudeau, almost unrecognizably kindly and devout, Grafftey implies regret that he did not turn Liberal in 1968, when he was defeated by Trudeaumania. "Who could blame me for not foreseeing the corruption and disgrace of the elitist Mulroney years, which not only destroyed my party in Quebec, but destroyed it across Canada as well." he asks. In his 1987 Lessons from the Past: From Dief to Mulroney-which is more of a political memoir than this book but still does not explain how he became a Tory-Grafftey has advice for Mulroney, but no condemnation. Portraits from a Life is simply, occasionally awkwardly written. It is not always reliable. Grafftey confuses the litigation arising from Duplessis' Padlock law with that arising from his persecution of the restaurateur and Jehovah's Witness Roncarelli through the liquor board. It was presumably the latter case that Grafftey's judge godfather heard at first instance. He imagines he recalls a toddler Jean Charest from his campaigning in the 1957 election when Charest was not born until after the 1958 election.
Grafftey has seen quite a bit of a number of interesting people, but he does not seem to have known them all well. The most interesting parts of the book are his accounts of his childhood and his parents. Grafftey probably has one good book about his life and politics in him. Unfortunately he has written three. 

John Pepall is a Toronto writer, art collector, barrister, and solicitor.


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