The PM Series Interviews: Dorothy Pedersen

We asked the same five questions of the authors of the Prime Minister of Canada series.

Here’s what Dorothy Pedersen had to say.

5R: There are those who persist in saying Canadian history is boring. Having undertaken to write part of that history, how would you respond to that assertion?

DP: Canadian history, as it was delivered in the school system, WAS boring. We never learned about life as it was then, the stories behind the stories, or what made our leaders tick. Travelling through the evolution of significant events brings those events to life and makes them much more understandable and memorable. Recognizing the different thought processes of the time, and what influenced those thoughts from early childhood, adds colour to a drab picture. And then, when we can feel the hardships and pleasures of our early people, it gives us a sense of unity with our history. Boring? Not at all.

5R: Five Rivers’ senior editor, Robert Runté makes the statement: ‘Publishers have sometimes tried to protect school children and sensitive adults from any hint of controversy or scandal, and to pretend that our story is an unblemished example of rationality and progress.’ Do you feel that’s an accurate summation, and why?

DP: I agree with Runté. However, I believe that publishers have done this with in collaboration with the government. How incredibly boring – and untrue – is the story of a nation without controversy or scandal. We’ve had our share of unscrupulous and disgusting leaders. To paint them as honourable is downright dishonest. Our “unblemished image” is pure propaganda, and needs to be seen as such. Canada has plenty to be ashamed of and part of being patriotic is acknowledging our mistakes, our scoundrels, and our shame, and being able to reconcile those with decisions that are made today and the people we chose to make them.

Some of the best progress Canada has made has been in the face of controversy. Look at how the national identity, and our international identity, was affected by the controversies that took place during WWI. During boardroom battles with the leaders of other nations, those leaders were forced to show respect to Canadian soldiers – respect that they were, until those battles took place – willing to forego. And who fought those battles on behalf of Canadian soldiers? Well, that’s what history is all about, isn’t it? You’ve got to learn your history to know the answers. How exciting is THAT?

5R: What does it mean for you, as a writer, to undertake writing about the prime ministers you’ve chosen?

DP: It started out as an undertaking in curiosity. It has become an honour to write about them. But the more I research and write, the greater the honour, the more humble I become, and the more important it seems to let readers know about little known facts, to give them as complete a picture as I can create, and to help them derive the understanding that I’ve developed as a result of the research. It is frustrating when there is little information on PM’s. There seems to be such an incredible void in these instances that the challenge to convey pertinent information is overwhelming at times. Overall, I’ve been developing a deep appreciation for our history, one that I never had before. I want, very much, to convey my enthusiasm to the reader, in hopes that it will be infectious.

5R: Were there surprises for you during your research?

DP: Oh yes! The underhanded dealings, the people who were willing to exploit the nation for personal gain, the character flaws in men of power. They’re all in there, contrary to what we learned in school. We missed so much.

5R: Your most memorable anecdote from the PMs?

DP: I suspect that the answer to this question is yet to come. (Pedersen has not yet finished writing all the books assigned to her.)

5R: Of course, anything else you should wish to add is welcome.

DP: As I learn more, I want to learn more still. But alas, so little time, and sometimes, so little information other than the same small details repeated over and over. Know this: Our former PM’s still have a great deal to share with us, and their stories are better than 80% of the content that appears on television today, and unlike computer games, their stories are real. These historical stories are filled with emotion, drama, and intrigue. They’re well worth reading about.

Dorothy Pedersen is writing about:

Arthur Meighen
Robert Borden
John Abbott
Mackenzie Bowell
John Turner
Brian Mulroney
Louis St. Laurent