The Best Laid Plans by Terry Fallis. McClelland & Stewart Ltd. 2007.
The Best Laid Plans, a political satire by Terry Fallis, won the 2008 Stephen Leacock Award for Humour. I picked it up because it is one of five books nominated for the 2011 Canada Reads, coming to CBC Radio in February. The Best Laid Plans will be defended by panelist Ali Velshi. For more on Canada Reads and a list of finalists, visit the CBC website.
As you would expect of a winner of the Stephen Leacock Award, The Best Laid Plans is a fun read, complete with many smiles and laugh-out-loud moments. LOL! The narrator, Daniel Addison, is a young man who has had enough of Parliament Hill. It has to be admitted that it was not politics, exactly, that caused him to turn his back on his position as head speech writer so much as his discovery, late one night, of his loved one actively engaging his boss in backroom activities. More than a little disgruntled, he decides to take up a position as a newbie English professor at the University of Ottawa. However, he agrees to perform one last task for his former employers: find a candidate for the riding he now calls home, someone who will run in the upcoming election.
The book is divided into two sections. In the first, Daniel makes a bargain with his curmudgeonly engineering professor landlord: If Daniel substitutes for Angus McLintock as English instructor for first-year engineering students, McLintock will stand as riding candidate, strictly on the understanding that he is committed to losing the election to his star opponent and thus washing his hands of the whole political scene ASAP.
It’s no spoiler to tell you that of course, things go sadly awry, and in an amazing (and amusing) twist of fate, Angus is accidentally elected, as it were. The second section of the book reveals Angus in office, an honest, too honest, MP with nothing to lose. The story reaches its climax, as a good Canadian story should, in the midst of a snowstorm, when a government vote on the new budget calls for heroic measures.
In addition to a generous dose of fun, The Best Laid Plans offers a couple of romantic threads. Daniel meets a new love interest, while Angus still grieves for his beloved wife. Each chapter concludes with a note from Angus to his wife, surprisingly touching. Daniel and Angus are warmly engaging characters, and even the supporting cast of Muriel, Lindsay, Pete 1 and Pete 2 quickly endear themselves. For grammarians, there are a few tips of the hat to proper grammar usage. The serious topics of environmental protection and industrial renewal and worker safety are all addressed as newly-minted MP McLintock deals with riding hot spots.
It was just coincidence that I happened to follow up The Trouble with Billionaires with The Best Laid Plans. However, they both shine a spotlight, in very different ways, on the problem with government promises of tax cuts, the oft-used ploy of buying votes with taxpayer dollars. This simple, mindless practice only works to erode serious debate, and obviously, any tax cut reduces government revenue, which inevitably must lead to either deficit spending or a reduction in services. I think that any government or candidate proposing tax cuts should be required by law (and certainly by ethical constraints) to outline in exact detail how the revenue loss will be compensated for with solid accounting rather than vague trickle-down speculations.
Although there is much to like about The Best Laid Plans, it was this look at unethical government manoeuvering that I most enjoyed.