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Between the morning of Wednesday, November 4, and the morning of Thursday, November 5, 1981, a fateful drama unfolded that changed Canada forever. In one last attempt to renew the constitution with the consent of the provinces, Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau met behind closed doors in Ottawa with the ten premiers. It was the culmination of more than five decades of c Between the morning of Wednesday, November 4, and the morning of Thursday, November 5, 1981, a fateful drama unfolded that changed Canada forever. In one last attempt to renew the constitution with the consent of the provinces, Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau met behind closed doors in Ottawa with the ten premiers. It was the culmination of more than five decades of constitutional wrangling, and has been called the most important conference since the Fathers of Confederation got together in Quebec City in 1864. Faced with the threat of Quebec independence, the ambitions of Western Canada, and the provinces’ demands for more power, Trudeau was embattled. But he was fiercely determined to make Canadians fully independent and to entrench a Charter of Rights and Freedoms. What happened that day still reverberates. It severed the last important link to Canada’s colonial past. It guaranteed individual liberty and minority rights in the future. It weakened the grip of the elites and gave ownership of the constitution to Canadians. But it came at a price. Quebec alone refused to sign the final deal. René Lévesque, its separatist premier, claimed he had been betrayed by his allies in the Gang of Eight. The legend of the "Night of the Long Knives"took hold, precipitating a series of events that came close to destroying the country. Thirty years later, author Ron Graham delivers a gripping account of the fractious debates and secret negotiations. He uses newly uncovered documents and the candid recollections of many of the key participants to create a vivid record of that momentous twenty-four hours. Authoritative and engaging, The Last Act is a remarkable combination of scholarly research and historical narrative.


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Between the morning of Wednesday, November 4, and the morning of Thursday, November 5, 1981, a fateful drama unfolded that changed Canada forever. In one last attempt to renew the constitution with the consent of the provinces, Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau met behind closed doors in Ottawa with the ten premiers. It was the culmination of more than five decades of c Between the morning of Wednesday, November 4, and the morning of Thursday, November 5, 1981, a fateful drama unfolded that changed Canada forever. In one last attempt to renew the constitution with the consent of the provinces, Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau met behind closed doors in Ottawa with the ten premiers. It was the culmination of more than five decades of constitutional wrangling, and has been called the most important conference since the Fathers of Confederation got together in Quebec City in 1864. Faced with the threat of Quebec independence, the ambitions of Western Canada, and the provinces’ demands for more power, Trudeau was embattled. But he was fiercely determined to make Canadians fully independent and to entrench a Charter of Rights and Freedoms. What happened that day still reverberates. It severed the last important link to Canada’s colonial past. It guaranteed individual liberty and minority rights in the future. It weakened the grip of the elites and gave ownership of the constitution to Canadians. But it came at a price. Quebec alone refused to sign the final deal. René Lévesque, its separatist premier, claimed he had been betrayed by his allies in the Gang of Eight. The legend of the "Night of the Long Knives"took hold, precipitating a series of events that came close to destroying the country. Thirty years later, author Ron Graham delivers a gripping account of the fractious debates and secret negotiations. He uses newly uncovered documents and the candid recollections of many of the key participants to create a vivid record of that momentous twenty-four hours. Authoritative and engaging, The Last Act is a remarkable combination of scholarly research and historical narrative.

30 review for The Last Act: Pierre Trudeau, the Gang of Eight, and the Fight for Canada: The History of Canada

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jean

    This book is about Pierre Trudeau’s battle to rewrite the Canadian Constitution. The British North American Act that Canada continued to live under was left over from being a British Colony. Every Prime Minister attempted to obtain a new constitution but failed. It was a constant fight with Quebec and the other provinces. Each province wanted more power and less federal control. This all took place in 1981. I attempt to read about the history of the countries of North America. It is too easy to This book is about Pierre Trudeau’s battle to rewrite the Canadian Constitution. The British North American Act that Canada continued to live under was left over from being a British Colony. Every Prime Minister attempted to obtain a new constitution but failed. It was a constant fight with Quebec and the other provinces. Each province wanted more power and less federal control. This all took place in 1981. I attempt to read about the history of the countries of North America. It is too easy to just read about the history of the United States. The book is well written and researched. The book read like a novel and not a history book. I found it exciting how Trudeau went about the battle for a new constitution and Bill of Rights. It was more interesting because it took place in my lifetime. After reading this book I have great respect for Trudeau and his accomplishment in uniting Canada under a new Constitution. I found the fight about whether or not to be a bilingual country most interesting. I could just imagine what a discussion like that would be like in the United States. I read this as an e-book downloaded from Amazon to my Kindle app for my iPad. The book is 336 pages and was published in 2011.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Matt

    Having recently read the tome associated with Canadian Confederation in the History of Canada series, I wanted to complement it with Ron Graham’s book about the eventual Canadian patriation of the British North America Act, 1867—its own constitution—and the battles that ensued to do so. While likely not of great interest to those readers who are not Canadian political geeks such as myself, the detail Graham uses to present his arguments are both convincing and easy to comprehend. That Canada fai Having recently read the tome associated with Canadian Confederation in the History of Canada series, I wanted to complement it with Ron Graham’s book about the eventual Canadian patriation of the British North America Act, 1867—its own constitution—and the battles that ensued to do so. While likely not of great interest to those readers who are not Canadian political geeks such as myself, the detail Graham uses to present his arguments are both convincing and easy to comprehend. That Canada failed to create an amending formula for its constitution was lost on few, even as far back as 1867. As some historians mentioned, the Fathers of Confederation knew this, but thought it a trivial aspect that could be ironed out later on. A gaffe that had not been rectified over the 115 or so years up to this point, though many had tried. Many contentious issues arose to create clashes amongst the players, which Graham explores in depth. However, it was one day at the 1981 First Ministers’ Conference on the Constitution—Wednesday, November 4, 1981—that saw things go from disaster to a shaky agreement that many of the premiers could accept. Graham discusses the events in detail, including the many characters who served as political hurdles for Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau to bring home Canada’s beloved constitutional document. From linguistic arguments by a separatist premier to refusal to cede control of knowing what its people wanted best when the Gang of Eight sought to torpedo the amending formula and even trying to ram a Charter of Rights and Freedoms past these wily men, Graham delved into the drama of this single day that tipped the scales and brought home the Constitution, once and for all. Riveting in its detail and discussion of many political issues of the day, Ron Graham turns Canadian history into something that many can comprehend with his flowing style. Recommended to those who enjoy all things Canadian politics, especially the reader (geek or not) who loves constitutional discussions. When I noticed that this book was part of the History of Canada series, I knew I would have to get my hands on it as soon as possible. The topic has long been something that has interested me and while I am somewhat well-versed on the topic, this insider look hooked me from the opening pages. Graham does set the historical narrative on a single day, though he weaves in much of the political and social backstory that brought things to this point. There is a discussion of many of the key players: Trudeau, the premiers, federal and provincial ministers, and even some advisors. All these men (yes, like 1867, it was men making the decisions) clashes and fought as best they could, each feeling they knew what was best. Graham offers powerful backstories and some of the behind-the-scenes discussions that took place on that fateful November day, including some of the late-night moments that broke open the logjam and led to an agreement that most could agree upon, even if it was still contentious. There was much to learn from this and historians (and Canadians alike) can still learn from the arguments made at this conference. But, when the dust settled, however bloodied the actors were, Canada had what it needed. True, this opened up a new can of worms, but that is for another review. Full of well paced chapters that clearly explore central political and social events, the reader is able to better understand the nuances of the political infighting and the cleavages that separated some of the central players. Graham is fair in his depiction, though he surely could have written something three times as long and still held the attention of many. Kudos, Mr. Graham, for such a great primer on the topic of Canadian constitutional reform/patriation. I will have to keep my eyes open to see what else you’ve published on the subject. Love/hate the review? An ever-growing collection of others appears at: http://pecheyponderings.wordpress.com/ A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/...

  3. 5 out of 5

    Adrian

    The inside story of Canada's constitutional conference of early November 1981. It begins with a good synopsis of how the country arrived at this impasse from several perspectives. The progress of the three day conference is often a little difficult to follow as Graham casts back to show how provincial players got to their positions. Scenes of infighting and horse trading are fascinating. Graham believes that 1) the gang of eight was broken when Levesque agreed to Trudeau's idea of a referendum 2 The inside story of Canada's constitutional conference of early November 1981. It begins with a good synopsis of how the country arrived at this impasse from several perspectives. The progress of the three day conference is often a little difficult to follow as Graham casts back to show how provincial players got to their positions. Scenes of infighting and horse trading are fascinating. Graham believes that 1) the gang of eight was broken when Levesque agreed to Trudeau's idea of a referendum 2) Trudeau was forced to compromise when he learned he wouldn't have Ontario's support if he went the referendum route and 3) the Night of the Long Knives in Quebec is myth since Levesque would never have signed on. There is also a sharp bit of reporting on Brian Mulroney's perfidy as an addendum.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Aaron Brown

    from my blog http://canadianbookreview.wordpress.com The Last Act by Ron Graham is from Penguin’s new History of Canada series. When I first saw this series in the bookstore, with titles exploring the legendary 1891 federal election, the now mythic Plains of Abraham battle, Expo 67, and the German U-boat battles in the St. Lawrence, I almost had a stroke induced by excitement. A quality series of books, by very reputable writers, digging into events that are known at at least in a general way by from my blog http://canadianbookreview.wordpress.com The Last Act by Ron Graham is from Penguin’s new History of Canada series. When I first saw this series in the bookstore, with titles exploring the legendary 1891 federal election, the now mythic Plains of Abraham battle, Expo 67, and the German U-boat battles in the St. Lawrence, I almost had a stroke induced by excitement. A quality series of books, by very reputable writers, digging into events that are known at at least in a general way by the Canadian citizenry is something to be celebrated. I immediately grabbed a pile of these titles and headed to the cash. Since I just finished Donald Creighton’s pair of histories on Canada, I figured this book would be a good follow-up. Two great things happened to Canada in 1982: I was born and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms was passed. Ron Graham’s The Last Act: Pierre Trudeau, the Gang of Eight, and the Fight for Canada is an account of the November 1981 conference that resulted in severing one of the last lingering remnants of colonialism. (Eventually we will sever the last and get rid of that anachronistic monarchy that is still technically our Head-of-State). This meeting brought about constitutional patriation, the Charter, an amending formula, and set into motion the wheels of the Quebec sovereignty movement that culminated in the 1995 referendum. While the book focuses on the events of November 4 and 5, there is a great prologue giving historical context and a fantastic epilogue discussing Mulroney’s failed Meech Lake and Charlottetown accords. Ron Graham has written a masterpiece of Canadian political history; it is highly readable and accessible, but also very thoroughly researched and scrupulously cited with a huge bibliography. In years to come, The Last Act will be looked at as an authoritative text on the 1981 constitutional debate. Something that is interesting about Graham’s writing style is, with the exception of his epilogue, the utter neutrality he takes towards the people involved, especially Rene Levesque whom he tries to portray in as sympathetic manner as possible. As a reader though, depending on your ideological tendencies, you will definitely end up taking sides and developing strong dislikes of certain players (for instance I would have liked to beat Peter Lougheed and Sterling Lyon with a rubber hose). This book could have become bogged down in philosophical notions of federalism, the role of the courts, and constitutionalism. These ideas are present, but they come out in the words of the players themselves through interviews, quotes, and their general actions. After reading Creighton’s The Road to Canada and learning about how opposed the Fathers of Confederation were to the concept of “provincial rights” and their destructive nature, I was fascinated by the importance of it in the negotiations. I have always been a huge admirer of Pierre Trudeau, and this book did nothing but deepen that admiration. Trudeau took the long view. By introducing the Charter, he ensured fundamental freedoms for all Canadians. The political scientist in me firmly believes that for a liberal-democracy to function in the interests of its citizens, checks-and-balances need to be in place. The Charter provides this; important changes in Canada’s social fabric were brought about because of the Charter, changes that politicians would be terrified to touch (reproductive rights, same-sex marriage, safe-injection sites, and soon hopefully, assisted suicide). Trudeau was a Canadian visionary, but above all, he was a shrewd political mind, and love him or hate him, in November 1981, he was definitely the smartest guy in the room.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Daniel Kukwa

    A lovely book, examining the era that made me (1) fall in love with politics, and (2) fall in love with the greatness of Pierre Trudeau...the last Canadian leader who understood what it is to have a vision for a nation. A grand dream of history and unity, not simply a desire to tend the store and wallow in emotion-shredding, ideology-fixed mundane politics. The Charter is an amazing document, the result of an amazing series of events...and this book distills the time of patriation with considera A lovely book, examining the era that made me (1) fall in love with politics, and (2) fall in love with the greatness of Pierre Trudeau...the last Canadian leader who understood what it is to have a vision for a nation. A grand dream of history and unity, not simply a desire to tend the store and wallow in emotion-shredding, ideology-fixed mundane politics. The Charter is an amazing document, the result of an amazing series of events...and this book distills the time of patriation with considerable, concise skill. It makes me weep a bit to realize there are no more giants bestriding this great country of ours. No more vision, no more dreams.

  6. 5 out of 5

    TheIron Paw

    A fascinating and well written account of the patriation of Canada's constitution in 1981. Graham describes the negotiations from the perspectives of the various participants (Trudeau, Levesque, Lougheed, Davis et al.). Graham illuminates the various philosophies or views of what confederation means and describes the dialectical relationship between "power of the people" versus "power of the government". My only problem with the book was Graham's tendency to jump back and forth in time frames. A fascinating and well written account of the patriation of Canada's constitution in 1981. Graham describes the negotiations from the perspectives of the various participants (Trudeau, Levesque, Lougheed, Davis et al.). Graham illuminates the various philosophies or views of what confederation means and describes the dialectical relationship between "power of the people" versus "power of the government". My only problem with the book was Graham's tendency to jump back and forth in time frames.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Augusto Barros

    Very interesting book about the events that end up on the patriation of Canada's Constitution and the creation of the Bill of Rights. I'm on my way to submit my citizenship papers and reading this book only made more eager to get it. After spending 3 decades watching the circus of the Brazilian politics, it was amazing to read about the actions of real public men, such as Trudeau, Levesque and Lougheed. I'm adding Trudeau's biography to my "to read" list too. Very interesting book about the events that end up on the patriation of Canada's Constitution and the creation of the Bill of Rights. I'm on my way to submit my citizenship papers and reading this book only made more eager to get it. After spending 3 decades watching the circus of the Brazilian politics, it was amazing to read about the actions of real public men, such as Trudeau, Levesque and Lougheed. I'm adding Trudeau's biography to my "to read" list too.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Fromehtoz

    This is a great resource on the patriation of the constitution. Graham's narrative is informative and lively. A great edition to anyone's political and/or historical library. The author's narrative is consistently fair, never laying blame for the breakdown of the talks and the refusal of Quebec to sign the agreement at one person's feet, which is refreshing in an accessible constitutional narrative. This is a great resource on the patriation of the constitution. Graham's narrative is informative and lively. A great edition to anyone's political and/or historical library. The author's narrative is consistently fair, never laying blame for the breakdown of the talks and the refusal of Quebec to sign the agreement at one person's feet, which is refreshing in an accessible constitutional narrative.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Raimo Wirkkala

    Interesting and entertaining account of this important event in Canadian history. As someone old enough to remember the televised portions of the process, this was also an exercise in nostalgia. The background info on the premiers of the day was also quite interesting.

  10. 5 out of 5

    VaughanPL

    Click here to find it in the catalogue Click here to find it in the catalogue

  11. 4 out of 5

    Kyle

  12. 5 out of 5

    David Akin

  13. 4 out of 5

    Stewart

  14. 4 out of 5

    Gwk

  15. 5 out of 5

    Timothy Ross

  16. 4 out of 5

    John

  17. 5 out of 5

    Bruce Sutherland

  18. 4 out of 5

    Scott

  19. 5 out of 5

    Diana

  20. 5 out of 5

    Lowell

  21. 5 out of 5

    Michael Haack

    Who knew the repatriation of Canada's constitution could be a thrilling, page-turning adventure?! Who knew the repatriation of Canada's constitution could be a thrilling, page-turning adventure?!

  22. 4 out of 5

    Sébastien Belliveau

  23. 4 out of 5

    Matt Portiss

  24. 5 out of 5

    Paddy

  25. 5 out of 5

    Orie Niedzviecki

    Makes Canada's history - decided mostly in boardrooms - rather interesting. Makes Canada's history - decided mostly in boardrooms - rather interesting.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Joe

  27. 4 out of 5

    Graeme

  28. 4 out of 5

    Davidjcolussirogers.com

  29. 4 out of 5

    Ryan

  30. 5 out of 5

    Michael Chiarello

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