Allan Blakeney’s An Honourable Calling

Earlier this week I was at former Saskatchewan premier Allan Blakeney’s Toronto launch of his new book An Honourable Calling: Political Memoirs, published by the University of Toronto Press. Blakeney and I were co-authors of an earlier book Political Management in Canada (University of Toronto Press, 1998). Here are a few impressions from the evening.

Two of the guests were former Ontario Premier Bill Davis and Attorney-General Roy McMurtry. While Davis and McMurtry were and are Tories and Blakeney was and is a NDP’er, they were politicians during the same period, and were all deeply involved in the repatriation of the Canadian constitution in the early Eighties. This was clearly a significant life experience, and their mutual affection is far stronger than the differences in their political allegiances.

Rather than the traditional reading from his book, Blakeney and I continued the dialogue we initiated in Political Management in Canada. In Blakeney’s view, political campaigns should involve parties presenting their ideas in some detail, and providing opportunities for voters to meet the leader face-to-face and unscripted. We agreed that the American presidential primaries – particularly the early ones – live up to this ideal, but Blakeney decried the Canadian practice of leaders campaigning in a tightly-controlled cocoon, reciting a purposely vague message.

Looking back at Blakeney’s eleven years as premier (1971-1982), he was called upon to guide Saskatchewan’s transition from what the late sociologist Seymour Martin Lipset called “agrarian socialism” to a resource rich economy. In this, Blakeney’s challenge was to balance three priorities: prosperity for the province, efficiency in government, and equity for the entire society, in particular its large aboriginal population. I asked him to focus on current-day Saskatchewan, and one development of which he was particularly critical was the privatization of the Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan and of Cameco Corporation. Both were crown corporations started during the Blakeney Government, and Blakeney believes that they should have remained as Crown corporations, which would have searched within Saskatchewan rather than outside for their leadership, and would have been more likely to allocate their earnings to benefit all the people of Saskatchewan.

I urge you to read Blakeney’s book. It is in part a history of the policies and programs of one of Canada’s most effective and creative provincial governments. It is also a personal narrative about how someone from a Nova Scotia Tory background – and Blakeney reminded us that none of his ancestors ever voted for the CCF – came to join the political left, embracing democratic socialism as an ideal and a program. Blakeney also writes about his post-political career of the last two decades, encompassing academe and numerous public causes such as world federalism, aboriginal development, and political institution-building in South Africa. Blakeney is very experienced and very wise and there is much we can learn from him. I recognized that two decades ago when we taught public management together and recognize it just as much today.

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