Sensing a gap in my knowledge of our own history and hankering to know more, I picked up The Last Act. It tells the story of the controversial repatriation of the Canadian Constitution in 1981. Why did I pick this book? For one reason, I can remember listening to the repatriation ceremony on the radio. I was driving a delivery truck at the time and had CBC radio on all day. As I listened to the live broadcast, I experienced a sense of elation that I was bearing witness to an historic national event. When I spotted Ron Graham's book, I was intrigued to find out what really happened behind the scenes. René Lévesque's refusal to sign the Repatriation Act on behalf of Quebec suggested a troubled process that undercut the show of apparent unity presented by "the Gang of Eight."
And troubled it was. In fact, the likelihood that the premiers and Pierre Trudeau would ever reach a deal seemed an impossibility only hours before they came together to sign the document. In fact, it took an all-night session of political wrangling before Canadians awoke on the morning of November 4, 1981 to discover that the repatriation of the Constitution and the Charter of Rights was a fait accompli.
Graham does an excellent job of explaining the historical context and the divergent views of all the participants, from the premiers jealously guarding their provincial powers in the face of Trudeau's attempts to implement a more centralist vision of Canada to the impossible position that Lévesque found himself in as leader of a party dedicated to take his province out of Confederation.
This is a story about raw politics and honestly held but competing visions of what Canada should be. In telling this story, Graham reveals much about what Canada is and how it functions, its strengths and its weaknesses.
The Last Act is a part of The History of Canada series from Penguin books. The series deals with crucial and sometimes under-reported historical moments that have shaped Canada. I'm currently reading another book in the series, The Destiny of Canada by . It explores the issues that saw Laurier's Liberals defeat Macdonald's Conservatives in the election of 1891, an election fought most contentiously, if not exclusively, on the issue of "free trade." Sound familiar?
|Categories: Book of the Day, History|