Honouring Arthur Kroeger

Arthur Kroeger was a remarkable person who was integral in improving much of Canada’s social fabric. We were delighted to be able to launch his posthumous book, Retiring the Crow Rate: A Narrative of Political Management, at Carleton University during the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences in May 2009. It made perfect sense, given the large numbers of political scientists in attendance and the fact that Arthur was Chancellor at Carleton from 1993 to 2002, where there is a college bearing his name.

During the President’s Reception, mid-week, we met the president of Carleton University, Dr. Roseann O’Reilly Runte. As you would expect, she is extremely intelligent and charming, as well as being an excellent public speaker. She spoke of Arthur Kroeger’s long-standing relationship with the university and his myriad contributions. She was also kind enough to congratulate the University of Alberta Press on its 40th anniversary.

One day later, my colleague Mary Lou and I finally met Arthur’s two daughters, Alix and Kate Kroeger. It was the first time we had actually met, since email doesn’t count. They are fascinating and lively women and dinner at the Wellington GastroPub saw us sharing many delightful stories. Alix was in Ottawa from her home in Oxford, England, where she is a journalist with the BBC in London, and Kate had returned from New York, where she works with a development agency.

Later in the week, friends, colleagues, political scientists, and admirers of Arthur Kroeger joined Alix and Kate Kroeger for a  luncheon and book launch. Both Alix and Kate spoke movingly and with humour. Alix shared how she spent her vacation last summer, chasing down footnotes, including finding one elusive reference in one of her father’s notebooks, in shorthand, yet!

The writer of the afterword to Arthur’s book spoke next. John Fraser talked of Arthur’s great abilities, but also shared a story of how the two of them shared a “flat” in Canada when they were both new to the Foreign Service.

We were all taken with the words of James Roche, who spoke at length about the importance of Retiring the Crow Rate. I have his permission to share them here.

This is a book that can be read with great benefit at several different levels.

It is, first of all and most obviously, an excellent narrative recounting the ebbs and flows, the ups and downs, the setbacks and progress of the drive to make an important change in Government policy that had profound impacts on Western agriculture, the agri-food industry, the Prairie economy as a whole and on rail transportation.

For scholars, public policy-makers and for those who were involved in, or affected by, the change in the Crow Rate, Arthur Kroeger’s book is now, at the very first moment of its general availability, the most comprehensive and easily the most authoritative account of what happened and why.

It is a great – even a dramatic – story told in a compelling and sophisticated voice.

At another level, it is a case study of how federal government policy and decisions are made in Canada. The process whereby competing economic, social and regional interests are identified, weighed and accommodated is both fascinating and almost impossible to describe except by using a clear example. The formal rules and procedures of Government do not adequately convey the sense of how these decisions are made. Only a careful study of a case in point can illuminate a dynamic process that depends as much on personality, politics and circumstance as it does on objective analysis and evaluation. In turns out that the story of how the Government of Canada addressed the Crow Rate issue is a glorious example, and Arthur’s account of it is not only worthy of being described as a first-rate political science text, but it is probably the most engaging one most of us will ever read.

I was lucky to have been instructed by three of Canada’s greatest academics in the field of political science; Norman Ward and David Smith at the University of Saskatchewan, and J.R. Mallory at McGill University. I am certain all of them would have put this book on the required reading list for the students taking their Government of Canada classes.

At yet another level, this book provides those interested in how government works with a fascinating look at the relationship between a Minister of the Crown and his Deputy. Jean-Luc Pepin, as Minister of Transport, and Arthur Kroeger, as Deputy Minister of Transport, complemented each other almost perfectly. If they had not played their respective roles so well, they would never have prevailed. Jean-Luc had an ability to connect at a human and emotional level with all of the stakeholders involved, he proved to be a persuasive advocate for the proposed course of action, and he had the political instincts to know when to draw back, when to compromise, and when to hold firm. Arthur knew every detail of the file, worked the system to win the support of the all-powerful Centre within the Government, thus paving the way for every Cabinet discussion Jean-Luc had, and was able to devise solutions that responded to the needs of the many special interests affected by the proposal.

The Minister set the course and did the selling. The Deputy made sure there was a sound proposal that met Government objectives while covering the bases that needed to be covered to ensure public support.

Again, all of my professors would have been delighted to have Arthur’s book to refer to when discussing the relationship between elected officials and the bureaucrats who serve them.

There is still another level at which this book should be read. It tells us a lot about Arthur, the great public servant, the principled policy-maker and the virtuous man. This is the second book by Arthur that has been published and it is the more personally-revealing. That may seem an odd comment to make since his first book, Hard Passage, was actually the story of his family’s immigration to Canada, their hard struggle to survive and ultimately flourish. This second book, which is ostensibly about public policy, reveals more about the person who wrote it than the first did. His gentle humour, sometimes bordering on the sardonic, is in evidence, as is his obvious intelligence and dedication to the public good. So is his modesty and his generosity of spirit, well-evidenced by his willingness to give credit to others and to forgive those who did not behave during the process as he would have wanted them to.

There is something of great value to be gained from reading this book, no matter who’s reading it. It is at once high-minded, exciting, very human and, especially, edifying at a time when Government is not held in much regard.

James Roche

Thank you to all who made this year’s Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences in Ottawa such a dynamic experience this year. Chris Dornan, of the Arthur Kroeger College of Public Affairs, and Jonathan Malloy, local organizer of the Political Science events, helped immeasurably with finding us a space on the crowded campus and publicizing the event. The Carleton food services staff were unflappable and on time, which was amazing given how busy they were.

Most special thanks go to Kate and Alix Kroeger for coming so far and sharing their father with us; we all miss him here at the U of A Press. I know they are looking forward to a more formal event in Ottawa this fall, when Huguette Labelle, Arthur’s partner, will be able to join them in celebrating Retiring the Crow Rate: A Narrative of Political Management.