Way It Works: Inside Ottawa

Way It Works: Inside Ottawa

by Eddie Goldenberg

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The ultimate insider takes us behind the scenes, in the book everyone is waiting for.

As Jean Chrétien’s right-hand man for thirty years in Ministries all over Ottawa, Eddie Goldenberg got to know how things worked — especially from 1993 to 2003, when he was Senior Policy Advisor to the Prime Minister.

What did this title mean? It meant


The ultimate insider takes us behind the scenes, in the book everyone is waiting for.

As Jean Chrétien’s right-hand man for thirty years in Ministries all over Ottawa, Eddie Goldenberg got to know how things worked — especially from 1993 to 2003, when he was Senior Policy Advisor to the Prime Minister.

What did this title mean? It meant that Eddie made things happen. For example, during Paul Martin’s years at Finance, Eddie was the go-between who linked Chrétien and Martin, who were for much of the time barely on speaking terms. Or when vital decisions about the Iraq War had to be made, Eddie was the man who wrote the words, “If military action proceeds without a new resolution of the Security Council, Canada will not participate.”

And that’s the way this revealing book works; important decisions are used as case studies as we learn how things really happen in the tough world of politics.

Those less concerned with mastering the system will simply enjoy reading this as an engaging account of an exciting arena, filled with memorable anecdotes about the world’s biggest names.

“Journalists look for winners and losers so as to make good headlines. The real story is much more interesting, but is harder to write, and is very difficult to put in a clip of a few seconds.”

“President Bush smiled and said, ‘You know the guy who wanted to see me, What’s-his-name? I didn’t see him.’ I thought, poor Joe Clark; he had gone from ‘Joe Who’ to ‘What’s-his-name’ in less than twenty years.”

Excerpt from The Way it Works

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“When it comes to veteran Ottawa insiders, it doesn’t get more inside than Eddie Goldenberg.” The Way It Works is “engaging – part tutorial, part memoir, and the hottest Canadian political book on the fall list so far. . . . The real essence of the book, peppered with opinion and anecdotes – some quite surprising and entertaining – is offering a view of the inside, as promised.”
– Alan Kellogg, Edmonton Journal

“Conservatives are going to be lining up for Goldenberg’s book.”
– Roy MacGregor, Globe and Mail

“While he describes ‘complete co-operation’ between finance minister Martin and prime minister Chrétien on the big job of tackling the deficit, Goldenberg casts Martin in an unflattering light on several files. . . . The Goldenberg book also details the uneasy relationship between Chrétien and Martin, outlining the elaborate steps the staffers for each had to take simply to set up meetings and make sure they came off smoothly. And Goldenberg provides his account of the weekend Martin exited Chrétien’s cabinet, portraying Martin as indecisive at best as he tried to keep open the option of remaining finance minister after his own public remarks on his deteriorating relationship with Chrétien had clearly made that impossible.”
– John Geddes, Maclean’s

“Here is a splendid manual on the art of politics and the art of government from a very discreet Machiavellian manager. . . . a fascinating and valuable account of Chrétien’s rise to power and his uses of it. The author’s conclusions arise from a lifetime of personal experience and first-hand observation.”
– Neil Reynolds, Globe and Mail

“Goldenberg doesn’t disappoint. Part political science textbook, part memoir, The Way It Works is a fascinating and sometimes brutally honest look at the way the federal government really operates. . . . Sprinkled throughout are anecdotes that take the reader into the corridors of power and provide new insight into events like the 1996 Quebec referendum on sovereignty, the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and Canada’s decision not to participate in the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. . . . The Way It Works is a must-read for political junkies, students of history or anyone who aspires to government. However, it’s also a good read for average Canadians who just want to get a better idea of the way their government really works.”
– Elizabeth Thompson, Montreal Gazette

“An elegant primer on government, politics and politicians. . . . As Goldenberg describes it, the improbable relationship to settle separatism began badly. As was his wont, Chrétien set out to put his new minister at ease with a humorous story. Dion’s response was startling: ‘Prime minister, this is a serious matter, and we do not have time for joking around.’ There are other such nuggets that will provide joy for future historians.”
– John Gray, Literary Review of Canada

“The book provides fascinating insights from Goldenberg on one of the leading contenders in the Liberal leadership contest, Stéphane Dion.”
– Barbara Yaffe, Vancouver Sun

Product Details

McClelland & Stewart Ltd.
Publication date:
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Random House
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3 MB

Read an Excerpt

"Eddie, cancel this morning’s meeting. Something else has come up that is much more urgent.”

It was about 9:15 a.m. on March 17, 2003, and from the tone of Jean Chrétien’s voice, I knew this was something serious. At 9:45, we had a meeting scheduled at 24 Sussex Drive, the prime minister’s official residence, to discuss controversial proposed legislation to prohibit corporate bankrolling of Canadian political parties. I had been standing in my corner office on the second floor of the Langevin Building, which houses the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and the Privy Council Office (PCO), gathering documents to take to the meeting when the phone rang. The prime minister, as always, got right to the point. He had just learned from his foreign policy adviser, Claude Laverdure, that the British government had contacted the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs with four questions, which he proceeded to read to me.

“Will Canada provide political support for military action against Iraq?”

“What military capabilities will Canada contribute to such an action?”

“Is Canada prepared to make its position on this public?”

“What support will Canada provide to humanitarian assistance and reconstruction in Iraq?”

Worst of all, he added, “The British say that they and the Americans need an answer before noon — today. I want you to work right away with Claude to make recommendations on how we should respond.”

I left my office at once, darted upstairs, and crossed into the connecting building that housed the foreign policy and defence secretariat of the Privy Council Office. Claude Laverdure, who headed the secretariat, was waiting for me in his office. On the walls were some souvenir photographs of Claude’s long and distinguished career in the Canadian foreign service. On his desk were family photographs. In one corner — where we would spend most of the next three hours — was a standard-­issue government conference table where we could sit, review documents, and write. From his window, I could see across Wellington Street to the Parliament Buildings and pick out the windows of the prime minister’s own office, where the drama of the day would play out a few hours later.

Claude and I took as our starting point the fact that for months the prime minister had insisted publicly and privately that Canada would not participate in a war in Iraq without the approval of the United Nations (UN). So step one was to call Paul Heinbecker, the Canadian ambassador to the UN, to get an update from him as to what was happening there. We put him on the speaker phone and discussed for about twenty minutes the situation in New York. The ambassador told us that after weeks of debate and high-­stakes drama on the international stage, it was now absolutely clear that there was no way that the UN Security Council would pass any resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq.

For months, all of our discussions about Iraq had dealt with hypothetical situations. We now faced the ugly reality that Canada had moments earlier been confronted with an ultimatum by the United States and the United Kingdom, our two oldest allies. We were very surprised and puzzled that the Americans — who would lead the war effort — had not made a direct request to Canada for military assistance, but instead had used the British as an intermediary. But the surprising — and somewhat insulting — way they asked Canada ­didn’t influence our decision. The bottom line was that the United States was going to war against Iraq, and wanted Canada to be part of it. The prime minister would have to make a final decision as to whether Canada would participate, and we were there to advise him. Now that the clock was ticking so fast, there was no time for more debate or broad consultation, no time for the prime minister to call a meeting of caucus or Cabinet. The British and the Americans had asked for an answer by noon, less than two hours away, and Parliament would be sitting for question period soon after that.

Heinbecker, Laverdure, and I had the same reaction to the demand for an answer by noon. Regardless of the deadline our friends and allies were trying to impose on us, we believed that Parliament should be informed ahead of foreign governments of a decision as to whether Canada would go to war. I pressed “0” on the telephone and asked the PMO switchboard operator to put us through to the prime minister. Within a minute, Chrétien was on the line, and I told him that I would put him on the speaker phone because I was with Claude. It was a brief conversation. Claude and I reminded him that there is no constitutional requirement to inform Parliament first, but our view was that as the House of Commons was sitting, it was the right place in which to provide the Canadian response to a request to go to war. We therefore recommended that he announce Canada’s position at the beginning of the daily question period in the House of Commons, before our diplomats communicated it to Great Britain and the United States.

Chrétien agreed, saying, “We will be highly criticized in Parliament if the announcement of Canada’s position leaks out of Washington or London before it is made public in Canada. I want to announce our decision in the House of Commons first.” He instructed us to ask the Department of Foreign Affairs to inform the representatives of Great Britain and the United States in Ottawa that he would be responding first in the House of Commons at 2:15 p.m. Then he told Claude that the deputy minister of foreign affairs, Gaëten Lavertu, should arrange a meeting in the Lester B. Pearson Building, home of the Department of Foreign Affairs, with British and American representatives for a formal government-­to-­government response immediately after question period. Much later, some who disagreed with the decision not to participate in the war, including American ambassador Paul Cellucci, criticized Chrétien for the way in which he communicated with the United States at that moment. I have no doubt that they would not have been at all critical of first announcing the news to the House of Commons if the decision had been to go to war.

As the moments ticked away, Laverdure and I spoke again several times with Paul Heinbecker. We understood the gravity of a decision where Canada would be saying no to the United States on a matter of particularly high national security importance to the president, but Heinbecker was unequivocal that Canada should not participate. After reflecting on the principles that the prime minister and the government had articulated over the preceding weeks and months, the three of us agreed to recommend to the prime minister that our country not participate in the Iraq War.

Laverdure and I, and sometimes Michael Kergin, the Canadian ambassador to the United States, had been present at the weekly Tuesday-­morning Cabinet meetings as the issue of Iraq was discussed in the months before any final decision had to be made. The first item on the agenda at each Chrétien Cabinet meeting was “general discussion.” The prime minister often used this opportunity to express his initial thoughts and then get some reaction from other ministers on evolving policy issues that did not necessarily require immediate decisions. For months, the situation in Iraq was one of those issues discussed at length.

Claude and I were therefore well aware of the thinking of ministers and the prime minister.

Around noon we telephoned the prime minister again and gave him our recommendation not to participate in the war. He listened carefully and said that he, too, had come to the same conclusion. Then he said, “Eddie, prepare a statement for me for the House today. I will use it to reply to the first question from the Leader of the Opposition.” I had been crafting statements for Jean Chrétien for thirty years, since the time I was a law student at McGill University and he was a young Cabinet minister in the Trudeau government. Some of the statements I wrote over the years ­weren’t always as important as I liked to think they were. This one was, and I knew this time that I had to get the words just right.

From the Hardcover edition.

Meet the Author

Eddie Goldenberg was born into a distinguished legal family in Montreal, and duly became a lawyer. A summer job as an assistant to Jean Chrétien in Indian Affairs led to a life-long career in politics, where he honed his skills as a writer. He is now a lawyer in Ottawa.

From the Hardcover edition.

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