Rollercoaster: My Hectic Years as Jean Chrétien's Diplomatic Advisor, 1994–1998


358 pages
Contains Photos, Maps, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-7710-1094-X
DDC 971.0064'092




Serge Durflinger is an assistant professor of history at the University
of Ottawa. He is the author of Lest We Forget: A History of the Last
Post Fund, 1909-1999 and Fighting from Home: The Second World War in
Verdun Quebec.


Following his justifiably well received diplomatic memoirs, On Six
Continents, James Bartleman, now Ontario’s lieutenant governor, has
written another witty, evocative, and fascinating account of his service
as Prime Minister Jean Chrétien’s diplomatic advisor from 1994 to
1998. Rollercoaster demonstrates that Canada plays an important role
internationally and offers insight into the inner workings of the prime
minister’s office and its relationships with foreign-policy mandarins;
in doing so, Bartleman helps demystify the governing process.

The topics covered are extensive: he attended 35 international
conferences, G–7 summits, trade missions, and various multi- and
bilateral meetings. He also details numerous foreign policy crises,
including the 1995 “turbot war” with Spain (one of the best parts of
the book), Canada’s military role in the Balkans (he unintentionally
lays bare the inefficiency of the United Nations), and the aborted
peacekeeping mission to Zaire in 1996 (an unconvincing rationalization).
Through it all we encounter a bewildering array of foreign leaders,
warts and all. We also realize the obvious: Canada is not as loved
abroad as our own propaganda would have us believe.

One of the book’s subthemes is Canada’s post–Cold War
estrangement from Europe, which Bartleman terms the “widening
Atlantic.” The highly touted “team Canada” trade missions across
the globe studiously avoided the Europeans, who were prone to consider
Canada too firmly rooted in the American orbit. Canada’s gaze became
firmly fixed toward the Pacific. Canadian–American relations also
serve as a permanent backdrop and it is interesting to witness the
economic, military, and political policy linkages developed between the
two nations; Canada and the United States often scratched each other’s
backs and the close relationship between Chrétien and U.S. president
Bill Clinton did Canada no harm.

At times the book takes on a staccato rhythm, with too many topics
covered in brief order. Much of the material on Asian and Latin American
trade missions is dull. Bartleman is kinder to Chrétien than most
readers will feel is warranted; the former prime minister still seems
like an international lightweight. A number of small factual errors have
also survived the editing process. Nevertheless, Rollercoaster is
refreshing and a delight.


Bartleman, James., “Rollercoaster: My Hectic Years as Jean Chrétien's Diplomatic Advisor, 1994–1998,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 24, 2024,