He has been a lawyer, a political junky and a four-time Liberal candidate. Now, at 77, Calgary's Darryl Raymaker is an author. His book – Trudeau's Tango, Alberta Meets Pierre Elliott Trudeau, 1968-1972, officially released this week – chronicles the Liberal party's Western workings during Trudeau's rise to prominence. Raymaker, also known for his karaoke singing at a neighbourhood pizza place, speaks with Allan Maki.
What drew you to the Liberals, first as a voter, later as a candidate, in a province where being a Grit has usually meant going it the hard way, with little hope of winning?
Its principles were consistent with mine, generally speaking – a centrist party with a strong emphasis on social justice. There was concern for the average Canadian and willingness to assist in maintaining a good safety net and a good measure of opportunity, and so I was very supportive of those principals. To give you an idea of how long I've been [with the Liberals], in 1966, I went to my first provincial leadership convention at the Palliser Hotel here. One of the candidates was a lawyer from Peace River named Donald Freeland. He's the father of Chrystia Freeland, who is the current Minister of Foreign Affairs.
How was Trudeau first viewed in Alberta?
In the great aftermath of Expo '67, everyone was positive about the country and the future. Along comes Trudeau, [a] very fascinating character who seems to tell things like it is. He caught my imagination and my wife's imagination. [Patricia Raymaker shared her husband's passion for politics. She died of cancer on Feb. 12.] He started off like a ball of fire. Trudeaumania struck here as well as in the rest of the country. He drew an affectionate crowd and I'm talking about beginning with the leadership campaign in the winter of 1968. After he won the leadership in early April, the [federal] election took place in June and he had a full slate of candidates. He didn't campaign much in Alberta – and I touch on this in the book – or in any of the Western provinces, for that matter. The prize was him getting Ontario and Quebec and the Maritimes and that's what he concentrated on … Both [Pierre and his son Prime Minister Justin Trudeau] have that magnetism that people do find interesting. Pierre was a man of mystery. There's nothing mysterious about Justin. He's got youth on his side, all of which I think the Canadian people took to. I think he's doing really well.
So why didn't Trudeaumania last long in Alberta?
That was a four-year period [from 1968 to 1972] during which a lot of changes took place. Peter Lougheed was coming on strong and, by 1971, had won the provincial election. We were producing more oil. There was clamouring for a pipeline to Montreal by some elements of the oil industry here. We were looking to expand our market in the U.S. Does this sound familiar – pipelines to market? … The farmers had a lot of unsold grain in the elevators and that also created a big problem for the government. Trudeau implemented the Official Languages Act regardless if it was popular in some quarters, certainly not all quarters. There was tax reform. Inflation was running high in the early Trudeau years and he applied pretty rigorous anti-inflation policies and [it] seemed under temporary control. But with a battle against inflation you've got commensurate unemployment on the other end of the scale. Then during the election of 1972, inflation picked up again and unemployment stayed where it was at … For those first four years, I thought they were doing pretty well. I was really quite surprised not only that Alberta lost its four seats, all of them in 1972, but that Trudeau only won a minority government by a narrow margin. I really didn't see that coming.
Why did you decide to write this book?
I sold my legal practice and I always wanted to write a book. Very little had been written about that era, and I thought that I knew something about it. I was not at the centre of things but I was on the periphery of the party organization. I observed many things and I said to myself, "If you're going to write a book, write a book about something you know." … There's a myth surrounding the Liberal party in the West [that it lacked quality candidates] and I wanted to set the record straight. Mel Hurtig, for example; very prominent in the years that I write about. Sharon Carstairs, she was the first female leader of the opposition [in Manitoba] in any legislature in Canada. Ken Moore, chief justice for Alberta. Grant MacEwan. There were a lot of good people in the west who worked in the party, not patronage seekers.
Along with politics and the law, you're a karaoke devotee. What's the story behind that?
I was out with my accountant – who is a strong Tory who became a bag man for Ralph Klein. He and I were over at a pizza joint, Pizza Bob's, and we happened to be there for karaoke night. And I said, "I'm going to sing a song," and I sang – Sinatra's My Kind of Town. I said to myself, "Darryl, I can do this." So I started going over to Pizza Bob's every Friday. Now, you go in the early part of the week because you get to sing more. You go Friday or Saturday when it's crowded, you only get one or two songs – but you throw out your best and hope like hell the crowd likes them. Regrets, I've had a few; but then again, too few to mention.
This interview has been edited and condensed.