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Pickersgill. J.W.

Toronto. University of Toronto Press, e1986. 255pp. cloth, $27.50, ISBN 0-8020-2598-6.CIP

Grades 11 and up
Reviewed by Grace Shaw

Volume 15 Number 2
1987 March

Jack Pickersgill's story in The Road Back: By a Liberal in Opposition is clearly one he loved to tell. A lifetime civil servant and politician, Pickersgill is almost synonymous with the Liberal Party. Influential in policy decisions, pragmatic and astutely observant, Pickersgill gives his personal account of the Diefenbaker years 1957-1963 in this, his fifth political book. The reader observes, through Pickersgill's unsympathetic eyes, the massive Diefenbaker majority as it disintegrates and his leadership as it self-destructs, Imputing impulsive and vindictive behaviour to his arch-enemy, Pickersgill obviously has little respect for Diefenbakcr's political ability. The Liberals in opposition did their homework fastidiously and overlooked no opportunity to embarrass the government. Gleefully leading the attacks, the puckish and irrepressible Pickersgill became an expert at using his opponents' own words against them. Referring to any matters embarrassing to Diefenbaker, he happily States: "We in the opposition brought the question up at every opportunity." Pickersgill enjoys a little "I told you so" and certainly is concerned with vindicating his own judgement.

Despite some colourful pettiness, the book supplies pertinent background on issues of the era. Enlivened by Diefenbaker-Pickersgill cartoons, the sixty-eight small sections deal with every aspect of parliamentary and political life (federal-provincial relations, the Coyne affair, the nuclear crisis, the Social Credit schism, votes of non-confidence. Diefenbaker's divisive cabinet) with touching personal comments on the life of a politician and the joys and travails of campaigning in the isolated stormbound outer reaches of Newfoundland, always a special place to J.W.P.

The reader may weary occasionally of the constant "I raised the matter." "I quoted," "1 thought." "I pointed out," and might prefer a more impersonal tale. The book remains, however, valuable and informative reading material for all students of political science and anyone interested in the vagaries of twentieth-century Canadian politics. The Road Back makes no apology for its bias; it may well be loved and celebrated by Liberal supporters and heartily disliked by all but the most broadminded or anti-Diefenbaker Conservatives.

Grace Shaw, Vancouver C.C., Vancouver, B.C.
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