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ALAN HOLMAN: Mean and pointed pen

Tom McMillan, a former P.E.I. MP and federal cabinet minister, shows a copy of his book ‘Not My Party: The Rise and Fall of Canadian Tories, From Robert Stanfield to Stephen Harper,’ during a visit to Charlottetown last December.
Tom McMillan, a former P.E.I. MP and federal cabinet minister, shows a copy of his book ‘Not My Party: The Rise and Fall of Canadian Tories, From Robert Stanfield to Stephen Harper,’ during a visit to Charlottetown last December.

Somewhere in 550 pages of Tom McMillan’s tome ‘Not My Party’ there might be a good book, but his verbosity, his ego and lack of focus make it difficult to find.

It claims to be an overview of the Progressive Conservative party from Robert Stanfield to Stephen Harper. It’s an autobiographical meander through the history of the party from the 1960s to the present day through the eyes and personal experience of Mr. McMillan. During this journey, he pauses from time to time to comment on how Mr. Harper and his right-wingers have ruined his venerable progressive Tory party.

Mr. McMillan grew up in Charlottetown in 1950’s and 60’s. It was a society divided on religious grounds, Protestants and Catholics.

His father, Dr. Joe, was a big shooter in the Catholic community, a prominent local Tory, and also a man of means. His father built a new brick home in a “prosperous neighbourhood.” Designed by a Toronto architect, “it was the largest built in Charlottetown, and likely on the whole Island, since the start of the Great Depression in 1929.”

Tom McMillan needs you to know these and other details of his privileged upbringing.

The first third of the book deals with the work he did with Tom Symons, the president of Ontario’s Trent University, who had been charged with developing a new policy framework for the new leader, Bob Stanfield. Unless you are a policy wonk, Mr. McMillan goes into far more detail than necessary. 

When he gets named to cabinet in the first Mulroney government the book picks up a bit as he offers insights into the perils of patronage and other intrigues. While speaking highly of some of his colleagues, he rips others to shreds. Mr. McMillan wields a mean and pointed pen.

He had little or no use for Halifax MP Stewart McInnes, the minister of public works and he’s very disdainful of Erik Neilson, the Yukon MP and former deputy prime minister.

Among the premiers he had to deal with, he was no fan of Joe Ghiz. Mr. McMillan believes the P.E.I. premier tried to undermine the construction of the Fixed Link, using the provincial plebiscite on the Link as an example of this. He also thought Premier Ghiz worked to defeat him in the 1988 election.

Mr. McMillan was also no fan of former Conservative premier, Angus MacLean, terming him a reactionary, not just for his opposition to the Fixed Link but also because he opposed modern shopping centres.

Former provincial politicians petitioning for federal patronage were another target of Mr. McMillan. He was astounded by former P.E.I. supreme court justice Horace Carver’s sense of self-importance, which is a bit rich coming from Mr. McMillan who constantly refers to himself as being a ‘high-profile minister’ and is quick to quote anyone who praises him.

In his book Mr. McMillan devotes an entire chapter to his 1988 campaign. Though he was beaten by George Proud, in 1988, and again in 1993, Mr. McMillan never considered him a worthy opponent. Using coffee as an analogy, Mr. McMillan never understood he was Starbucks, and Mr. Proud was Tim Horton’s. And, there were no Starbucks in Charlottetown in those days.

In Mr. McMillan’s view he lost the 1988 campaign because of the media and their opposition to the Fixed Link. That, and the intervention late in the campaign of a former employee, one Elizabeth May, the environmentalist. Mr. McMillan never considered the possibility that Mr. Proud might know and understand the constituency in ways that he didn’t.

This book was in dire need of a good editor. It is over-written, full of clichés and niggling errors; Ricks instead of Rix, Ron Lewis instead of Frank Lewis. Sen. Elsie Inman was the last senator to sit with a life appointment, instead of praising her for her long service, he mocks her for not knowing who he is.

A lot less ego and a little humility would have also helped.

 

 

- Alan Holman is a freelance journalist living in Charlottetown. He can be reached at: acholman@pei.eastlink.ca

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