Race for the Rose: Election 1984
Hans B. Neumann is a history lecturer at Scarborough College, University
Charles Lynch, the grizzled doyen of Southam News, has channeled his unchallenged knowledge of the Ottawa political scene, his considerable writing skills, and above all his sharp wit and sense of humour into a pithy tome on the 1984 federal election. The book covers the period from before the Liberal leadership convention in June to the September election date. Considerable background material, especially on the various Liberal leadership candidates, is also presented. Some of these receive short shrift from the author. For example, Eugene Whelan is characterized as a “small-c communist” (p.22), Marc MacGuigan as possessing a “walleyed” gaze (p.28), and Don Johnston as “that elongated chimpanzee of a man” (p.39). Given such bluntness, how fortunate for Mr. Lynch that Ariel Sharon was not in the race! The book further includes an eight-page spread of black-and-white photographs relating to the campaign, an appendix summarizing the final election results statistically, and the full list of winner Brian Mulroney’s first cabinet.
Focus rests on personalities throughout the book. Those looking for a Theodore White-like analysis of an election will not find it here. The tone of the book remains light, chatty, and anecdotal giving the author ample opportunity to display his almost effortless grasp of Canadian politics. If this presentation is superficial, then the author seems to be saying that he is only reflecting the superficialities of the modern election campaign: devoid of substance but long on the glitz and gutten of public relations.
Lynch succinctly depicts the turning point in the long campaign: the fall-out from Turner’s unique “hands-on” approach to electioneering (pp. 139-42) and his even more devastating demonstration a short time later (during the first televised candidates’ debate in English held in late July) that his mouth was an even more brittle campaign weapon than his hands. Lynch quotes the Turner gaffe verbatim from the transcript of the debate (pp. 143-45). Television campaigning and opinion polls dominate the race for the Prime Minister’s office. But after the Turner gaffe, the final election results seem more and more a foregone conclusion — namely, a Tory landslide, with only Ed Broadbent (NDP) providing a spark here and there in his hopeless bid for the office.
Overall it is safe to say this highly personal account of the 1984 campaign salvages in eminently readable form (the large print selected for the book also helps!) the few highlights from an otherwise searingly dull and long “race for the rose.”