Book review: The Best Laid Plans

WARNING: Slight spoilers below. Also, The Best Laid Plans is a work of fiction. Eric Cameron is a fictional character. There has never been a real Finance minister in Canada named Eric Cameron.

The Best Laid Plans is a novel by Terry Fallis which won the Stephen Leacock Award for Humour in 2008.

The premise of the novel is quite simple. The main character, Daniel Addison, leaves Ottawa after several years working for the Liberal Party, most recently as head speechwriter for the leader (who is Leader of the Opposition), and returns to academia as an English professor at the University of Ottawa. Daniel’s decision to leave the world of politics began with a growing malaise as he became more jaded and cynical, but was finalised when he discovers his long-term girlfriend in a compromising position with the party’s House leader. That scene alone should win a prize for most creative use of parliamentary language to describe something other than parliamentary procedure.

However, Daniel can’t make a clean break from politics or the party – he has to do one last favour for them. There is an election coming up, and the Liberals need to find someone to stand for them in the riding of Cumberland-Prescott, a seat which has been Tory forever, and is currently held by the Conservative Finance minister, Eric Cameron, dubbed the most popular Finance minister in Canadian history. It’s a hopeless cause of course, and Daniel is desperate to find someone willing to run. He finally manages to convince his landlord, a retired Engineering professor named Angus McLintock, to stand, in exchange for Daniel taking over the teaching of English for Engineers, which has been foisted upon Angus again, much to his absolute dismay. While there is no chance that a Liberal will win Cumberland-Prescott, Angus makes doubly sure of that by insisting on several conditions: no lawn signs, no press, no photos, no actual campaigning, etc. He even leaves the country during the latter part of the campaign.

Of course, things don’t go as planned, and in the dying days of the campaign, a scandal involving Eric Cameron comes to light. The rest of the novel traces Angus’s reluctant acceptance of being an MP, and his decision to do things his way, much to the party leadership’s dismay.

Anyone who is interested in Canadian politics (or even politics in general) will probably enjoy this novel. It provides the reader with a fascinating look at party politics and behind-the-scenes machinations. And if you’re particularly a fan of the idea that MPs should behave more independently, you’ll embrace Angus McLintock – even if he is a Liberal.

Farris published a sequel earlier this month entitled The High Road. You can read that review here (although there are spoilers re: The Best Laid Plans).

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