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Arts & CultureBooksHow We Lead: Canada in a Century of Change by Joe Clark - book review

How We Lead: Canada in a Century of Change by Joe Clark – book review

How we lead 001

by Amelia Gordon

The Right Honourable Joe Clark’s provocative book about Canada is now available in a trade paperback. First published in November of 2013 in hard cover, it is a thoughtful look at Canada’s legacy and it current dynamic.

One can only imagine the frustration with the Harper government that may have driven him to put pen to paper. The book is rife with his regret with the current regime’s  abandonment of Canada’s traditional influence

The book  has four main themes

  • Canada is a unique society with a cultural base that has  something special to offer the world;
  • a middle power, Canada punches well above its weight by collaborating with other key players to achieve change;
  • Canada is abandoning its unique position in turning away from its international leadership and focusing exclusively on trade advantage to Canada.
  • Technological change has brought new players into the arena, which should be recognized and used to partner with governments and contribute to international projects

The initial chapters of the book make one’s heart swell with pride in our country. It has a combination of hard ( natural resources and military power) and soft (skill at managing diversity, trustworthy interlocutor, capacity to conciliate) assets which Mr. Clark admires and values. He goes on, however, to excoriate the Harper government for abandoning our strengths in favour of a narrow concentration on Canada’s interests, as perceived by the Prime Minister. The Harper government has exchanged soft power for hard power, he explains.

Mr. Clark contrasts such conciliatory  key roles that Canada has played, as through the government of Brian Mulroney in ending apartheid in South Africa, to Stephen Harper’s snubbing of the United Nations and his  abandonment  of our much vaunted even handedness in the middle east, for unconditional support of Israel.

Mr Clark accuses Mr. Harper of freezing out professional advice, and limiting public discussion through such instruments as omnibus bills that contain multiple unrelated proposition through a failure to publish white papers on foreign policy or to engage public discussion.

Mr. Clark also makes the case for engagement with non governmental actors on the international stage, explaining how citizens can no longer be ignored and the NGO’s that they have formed can be usefully partnered for international projects. The priorities and capacities of government and NGO’s differ and can be complementary in achieving goals.

To be sure, Mr. Clark does congratulate himself to some degree on his accomplishments but he is generous enough to include references to both Liberal and Conservative governments in his explanation of how Canada has achieved its prominence as a middle power, a prominence now threatened by the ham handedness of the Harper government.

Mr. Clark has a very clear eyed and comprehensive vision of what Canada is and can be. Most of us recall him as a very short lived prime minister, but he has had a fascinating life and has been present of some of the  most vital international conferences and events.

Well worth a read for any Canadian.

How We Lead is published by Vintage Canada, a division of Random House.

It is available in hard cover, trade paperback and e-book editions.





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