After he sold his Calgary practice, Darryl Raymaker—lawyer, corporate director, political junkie, folk music aficionado and raconteur—embarked on a lifetime labour of love: a book about the wayward course of the Liberal Party in Alberta and its love–hate relationship with Pierre Elliott Trudeau during the prime minister’s first mandate (1968 to 1972). Trudeau’s Tango is the ably written result.
Until now little has been published about Alberta’s Liberals. Raymaker’s book goes some distance to rectify that state of affairs. A Liberal stalwart through bad times and worse times, Raymaker says the key to political discipline is “just to hang in.” He has done that for 50 years in a volunteer political career—including running in four elections as an unsuccessful federal candidate—and his book recalls a tumultuous political era with wry humour and a touch of anger.
Trudeau’s Tango opens with the chimera of Liberal success. In the Trudeaumania spring of 1968, Alberta Liberals caught the fever and saw Trudeau as “the one” who would reverse their dismal fortunes. In five elections from 1957 to 1965 the Liberals had won only two federal seats in Alberta, in Athabasca and in Edmonton. In 1968 the Liberals won four.
Raymaker tells of the opportunity created by Trudeau’s successful handling of the 1970 October Crisis in Quebec. Had an election been called on the strength of that episode, Raymaker thinks the Liberals would have retained and gained seats in Alberta in the following election. But along came Peter Lougheed and the political climate changed.
Meanwhile, the broken provincial wing of the party couldn’t retain a credible leader. The ultimate folly was a scheme to swap Liberal support for Social Credit in the 1971 provincial election for Social Credit help for Liberals in the 1972 federal election. The sole beneficiary was former Social Credit premier Ernest Manning, who received a Senate appointment.
The four Liberal MPs elected in 1968 were accused of explaining Ottawa to Alberta instead of fighting for Alberta in Ottawa. In 1972 all of them lost their seats.
Journalist Tom Kennedy told Trudeau he had disappointed his audience after a 1969 speech in Calgary because he didn’t speak about oil. Trudeau flourished his Stetson and replied, “I like to disappoint people sometimes.” Trudeau’s Tango tells of the ways the man disappointed Alberta from 1968 to 1972, long before the National Energy Program. The Liberal brand in Alberta is still in recovery.
—Frank Dabbs is an Alberta journalist and author.