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Henderson, Maxwell.

Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, c1984. 357pp, cloth, $24.95, ISBN 0-771040644.CIP

Reviewed by Thomas Chambers

Volume 13 Number 2
1985 March

Plain Talk is far more than a retired Auditor General's memories of government spending, as the title suggests. It is one man's record of the corporate and government history of Canada, from the 1920s to the 1970s. As such, it provides a valuable insight into the way businessmen and politicians operated in that period.

Maxwell Henderson was Canada's Auditor General from 1960-1973. In this position, he became a large thorn in the side of the Canadian government. Disliking waste and shoddy accounting, Henderson embarrassed the government with each of his annual reports to parliament. Newspapers greeted his disclosures with glee and entertained readers with a succession of horror stories.

One example of these tid-bits is enough to show why politicians came to fear and dislike Henderson. In 1965, seventy-five Benedictine monks in Quebec declared themselves unemployed and received $376,000. This money was put to good use, installing an auditorium and sewage treatment plant. This kind of practice was not unusual, and the government was upset at the disclosures.

Before he became Auditor General, Henderson was assistant controller for Hiram Walker, from 1935-1940, and secretary treasurer of rival distiller Joseph E. Seagram from 1945-1956. In between, he was loaned by Hiram Walker to Ottawa's Wartime Prices and Trade Board.

Some of his experiences in these positions are certainly interesting. Readers will tire, however, at the endless list of names of people Henderson met in his long career. These are really only of interest to him. He did meet a number of famous and powerful people like Sam Bronfman and Cyrus Eaton. His relationship with these men makes for a very good read, but there are times when he seems to be simply name dropping.

The chapter on Henderson's work with the Wartime Prices and Trade Board, which was set up to prevent unnecessary price increases in important commodities during the second world war, is a textbook case of bureaucracy at its worst. The red tape was remarkable-and almost laughable if it wasn't so serious.

Plain Talk will be of interest to businessmen who shared some of Henderson's experiences, but the general reader will find it rather dull.

Thomas Chambers, Canadore College, North Bay, Ont.
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