The High Road by Terry Fallis. McClelland & Stewart 2010.
The High Road is the sequel to Canada Reads winner Best Laid Plans. If you enjoyed Best Laid Plans, you will want to read The High Road. If Best Laid Plans wasn’t your cup of tea, you can give The High Road a pass.
The High Road takes up the story of new MP Angus McLintock where Best Laid Plans leaves off. The minority government has been brought down by a non confidence vote and it is election time again. Although previously reluctant to run for Parliament, McLintock has now found that he has a taste for public office and decides to run again. This time around, he can’t count on the opposition self-destructing, and so, with Daniel and Muriel and the two Petes at his side, he sets out to run a strategic campaign. Although the reader expects a win, Fallis is still able to instill the election with a surprising degree of suspense.
On the night of the election, Ottawa is shocked by the collapse of the Alexandra bridge and, anxious to occupy his troublesome, newly-returned MP elsewhere, the Prime Minister assigns engineer Angus to look into the mishap. McLintock is happy to take on the challenge and a few weeks later delivers a report that is everything expected…and a lot more.
The High Road would make a great pick for a reading club. The humorous story moves along quickly and might even be described as a page-turner, but at the same time, Fallis addresses serious issues that should be considered by every voter. In the first half of the book, Fallis looks at the practice of negative attack campaigns by establishing “Flamethrower” Fox as McLintock’s opponent in his re-election campaign. The built-in inequities of our outdated and undemocratic ‘first-past-the-post’ system are also highlighted, although in this case, the usual beneficiaries find the system working against them.
The second half of the book considers the costs of paying down the deficit. Fallis downplays the fiscal cost of running a deficit to look at the cost of underfunding important departments. Presumably, Fallis chose Infrastucture Canada to serve as an example because the need for bridge maintenance is easy to grasp, but I would imagine that in fact, departments where results are less visible would be more likely to take a hit. Things like environmental protection and poverty fighting programs are easier to cut. Infrastructure Canada has actually been a beneficiary of the “Canada Action Plan”, as infrastructure work can easily be used to create jobs and has a solid presence that can be pointed to.
While Fallis makes a valid point, I was concerned that the fiscal cost of the deficit was undervalued. Canadians currently owe over $500 billion, and that debt grows at a rate of $1,400 per second. Anyone who has ever paid a mortgage knows how much borrowing money costs.
In the end, the inimitable Angus triumphs again. Is another sequel in the works? Possibly. There is still plenty of work left for McLintock and his supporters.