Grits: An Intimate Portrait of The Liberal Party


479 pages
Contains Illustrations, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-7715-9573-5




Reviewed by Eric P. Mintz

Eric P. Mintz is an associate professor of political science and
environmental studies at Sir Wilfred Grenfell College, Memorial
University of Newfoundland.


Grits provides the general reader with an interesting and entertaining account of the Liberal Party of Canada in the 1960s and 1970s. Christina McCall-Newman, a prominent Canadian journalist, does not focus on the substance of Liberal government policies, but rather uses character sketches of those on the inner circles of power (including Keith Davey, Jim Coutts, Michael Pitfield, Marc Lalonde, and Pierre Trudeau) to provide insight into the workings of the Liberal Party and the political problems faced by the Trudeau government.

The unexpected resurrection of Trudeau in the 1980 election has made this book the first of a projected two volumes on the Pearson-Trudeau era. Unfortunately, this has deprived Grits of the strong conclusion it needs to pull together the various observations the author wishes to make. But, basically, the author attributes the Liberal Party’s success at the national level to the shared beliefs of its leading figures in the importance of electoral popularity, party unity and loyalty to the leader, the conciliation of diverse interests, and the maintenance of a strong English-French alliance. The difficulties of the Liberal Party in the 1970s are partially attributed to the lack of understanding of and concern for the Liberal Party machine by Trudeau and his closest advisors and the attempt to reform the government decision-making process along rationalistic lines that contributed to the government’s inability to cope with the growing economic crisis.

Although the book is generally very well written, the author’s extensive interviewing has resulted in an overabundance of anecdotes that are not always relevant to the points being made. Similarly, the author at times seems interested in writing a Liberal “Who’s Who” which, combined with an appendix, makes the book unnecessarily long even though many important questions about the operations of the Liberal Party are not thoroughly discussed. But even though a considerable proportion of the book is devoted to matters of ephemeral interest, this is offset by analyses of such topics as the history of the Liberal Party and the nature of the civil service, which provide useful background to the events being discussed.

The reviewer eagerly awaits the publication of the final volume.


McCall-Newman, Christina, “Grits: An Intimate Portrait of The Liberal Party,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 23, 2024,