Canada and the Reagan Challenge: Crisis and Adjustment, 1981-85


431 pages
Contains Index
ISBN 0-88862-791-2




Reviewed by Alexander Craig

Alexander Craig is a freelance journalist in Lennoxville, Quebec.


This is a very political book. It’s also a very important book. Impressive amounts of research and passion have gone into the new updated edition. Through extensive discussion, interviews, and surveying the written documentation, the author in his new final chapter assesses the Mulroney administration and its efforts to implement a radically new “special relationship” with the United States.

Such a complex study has to cover an awful lot of ground. Clarkson notes in his preface that he aims his book at the “general Canadian reader who is overwhelmed almost daily by items in the morning news involving issues — emissions causing acid rain, factors affecting high interest rates, the deployment of nuclear missiles, counter-insurgency in Central America, layoffs in the automotive industry, changes in the price of oil….”

While the author from time to time uses scary language (e.g., prior to Mulroney “the Canadian-American relationship had undergone a severe crisis and shifted onto a new and treacherous path”), it is undeniable that each of us is vitally affected by all sorts of activities going on south of the border. Clarkson subjects these to very close, very detailed scrutiny — one two-page table, for instance, looks at United States state limitations on foreign investment, sector by sector.

The tables are not listed, unfortunately, but this is a very minor criticism. In addition to a useful 22-page index, there are 32 pages of notes, footnotes and bibliographical references, and nine pages of the names and positions of people interviewed for the study. In that sense, this is an accomplished piece of scholarship. But — and this is not exactly common — Clarkson also manages to use his experience and talents to succeed in persuading the general reader while instructing him.

This, then, is a work that is continually stimulating, in large part because its author is continually dissatisfied, not just with the performance of Canadian politicians, but also with surface appearances. It’s well written, with some memorably snappy phrases, although a number of them show Clarkson’s own political biases (for example, he talks of how “the new Reagan team of free enterprisers” launched a campaign “to bring Ottawa to its ideological senses and political knees”).

Yet, while starting from a particular political point of view, Clarkson marshalls a very impressive array of facts and opinions to present his very strong Canadian nationalist argument on the whole range of socioeconomic issues affecting the Canada-United States relationship. Clarkson very ably represents a large and important body of Canadian opinion — he dedicates his book to Walter Gordon, “the first edition’s godfather...a Canadian of unflagging determination and inspiring optimism.” He cites with approval Eric Kierans’s epigram that “Canada while rich in resources is poor in policy.” Anyone wanting to be better informed on Canada’s social and economic policies, and problems, is bound to find this prodigious work highly useful and interesting.


Clarkson, Stephen, “Canada and the Reagan Challenge: Crisis and Adjustment, 1981-85,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 21, 2024,