No Holds Barred: My Life in Politics

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9780771024276: No Holds Barred: My Life in Politics
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John Crosbie became famous in Canada as a politician unlike the others, someone with a sharp tongue who has always spoken his mind. Now that he is out of politics, he has given us a book that will have many politicians and public figures running for cover–and many readers chuckling and cheering him on.

This memoir takes us from Crosbie’s younger days as a medal-winning student to municipal politics in St. John’s and then the crucible of Joey Smallwood’s corrupt dictatorship. (And if that phrase seems too strong, the proof is in these pages.) The stories of those Newfoundland days seem almost incredible now, and affected Crosbie’s attitude towards greater provincial powers.

We tend to forget that John Crosbie came close to succeeding Joe Clark as Tory leader. Typically, it was his testy response (“I can’t speak Chinese either”) to a question about his French that crippled his campaign and gave Brian Mulroney a narrow win. But he served at the very highest levels as minister of finance, transport, justice, international trade, and fisheries and oceans. He was arguably Mulroney’s most effective cabinet minister, and it is instructive to see just how progressive his legislative record–which included promotion of gay rights and divorce reform–was.

He was not, however, the most reticent of ministers, and this book is studded with unrepentant “Crosbie-isms.” Never one to worry about political correctness, he delivers powerful broadsides on such topics as patronage, feminism, and the “lazy” and “uninformed” media.

In No Holds Barred, Crosbie offers trenchant opinions on issues ranging from Atlantic Canada’s prospects after Quebec separation and the desirability of fostering a closer relationship with Castro’s Cuba. At the same time, he shrewdly and unflinchingly assesses the politicians he has known. He describes the baseness of Smallwood, the laidback style of Frank Moores, the vacillation of Joe Clark, and the crass opportunism of the “brothel-creeping” Liberals. He evaluates Kim Campbell’s disastrous leadership of the Conservative Party and discusses his epic feud with “Tequila” Sheila Copps. Nothing is withheld in this entertaining (and sometimes outrageous) memoir by one of the dominant politicians of his generation.

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Review:

John C. Crosbie is one of Canada's best-known political leaders, an outspoken Tory who could have become the leader of the Conservative Party in 1983 instead of Brian Mulroney had it not been for his sharp reaction to constant questioning about his inability to speak French. As it is, he served in several ministerial capacities, overseeing everything from Canadian fisheries to international trade. In No Holds Barred, the retired Crosbie reflects on his career and his peers.

He was born in 1931 in Newfoundland, at a time when that region was an independent member of the British Commonwealth. His father was a businessman who turned to politics to promote the cause of continued self-rule ("responsible government") and economic union with the United States, although he was thwarted in these goals by Newfoundland voters' decision to become part of Canada in 1948. Crosbie himself became a vocal proponent of free trade and was a major promoter of NAFTA within Canada. "The Canadian concern about the United States and how it is going to affect our cultural values comes largely from Toronto," he writes. "It comes from the cultural literati, the encyclopedia peddlers, all those people who have a direct interest in protecting their writing, or performing, or whatever they do, from U.S. competition."

Crosbie speaks frankly about his beliefs concerning Canadian government, such as the advocacy for gay and lesbian civil rights that aggravated many within his party, and particularly the economic necessity of continuing as a unified nation. Readers outside Canada will find No Holds Barred a lively and spirited crash course in that country's politics, while its citizens will appreciate the insider's perspective Crosbie brings.

About the Author:

Geoffrey Stevens, who worked with Mr. Crosbie on No Holds Barred, has been a member of the Parliamentary Press Gallery, a political columnist and managing editor of the Globe and Mail, and publisher of the Sun Times of Canada. He is the author of Stanfield (1973) and Leaders and Lesser Mortals (with John Laschinger, 1992). He is currently managing editor of Maclean’s magazine.

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