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The Way It Works: Inside Ottawa [Hardcover]

Eddie Goldenberg
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Sept. 26 2006
The ultimate insider takes us behind the scenes, in the book everyone is waiting for.

As Jean Chrétien’s right-hand man for thirty years in Ministries all over Ottawa, Eddie Goldenberg got to know how things worked — especially from 1993 to 2003, when he was Senior Policy Advisor to the Prime Minister.

What did this title mean? It meant that Eddie made things happen. For example, during Paul Martin’s years at Finance, Eddie was the go-between who linked Chrétien and Martin, who were for much of the time barely on speaking terms. Or when vital decisions about the Iraq War had to be made, Eddie was the man who wrote the words, “If military action proceeds without a new resolution of the Security Council, Canada will not participate.”

And that’s the way this revealing book works; important decisions are used as case studies as we learn how things really happen in the tough world of politics.

Those less concerned with mastering the system will simply enjoy reading this as an engaging account of an exciting arena, filled with memorable anecdotes about the world’s biggest names.

“Journalists look for winners and losers so as to make good headlines. The real story is much more interesting, but is harder to write, and is very difficult to put in a clip of a few seconds.”

“President Bush smiled and said, ‘You know the guy who wanted to see me, What’s-his-name? I didn’t see him.’ I thought, poor Joe Clark; he had gone from ‘Joe Who’ to ‘What’s-his-name’ in less than twenty years.”

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“When it comes to veteran Ottawa insiders, it doesn’t get more inside than Eddie Goldenberg.” The Way It Works is “engaging – part tutorial, part memoir, and the hottest Canadian political book on the fall list so far. . . . The real essence of the book, peppered with opinion and anecdotes – some quite surprising and entertaining – is offering a view of the inside, as promised.”
– Alan Kellogg, Edmonton Journal

“Conservatives are going to be lining up for Goldenberg’s book.”
– Roy MacGregor, Globe and Mail

“While he describes ‘complete co-operation’ between finance minister Martin and prime minister Chrétien on the big job of tackling the deficit, Goldenberg casts Martin in an unflattering light on several files. . . . The Goldenberg book also details the uneasy relationship between Chrétien and Martin, outlining the elaborate steps the staffers for each had to take simply to set up meetings and make sure they came off smoothly. And Goldenberg provides his account of the weekend Martin exited Chrétien’s cabinet, portraying Martin as indecisive at best as he tried to keep open the option of remaining finance minister after his own public remarks on his deteriorating relationship with Chrétien had clearly made that impossible.”
– John Geddes, Maclean’s

“Here is a splendid manual on the art of politics and the art of government from a very discreet Machiavellian manager. . . . a fascinating and valuable account of Chrétien’s rise to power and his uses of it. The author’s conclusions arise from a lifetime of personal experience and first-hand observation.”
– Neil Reynolds, Globe and Mail

“Goldenberg doesn’t disappoint. Part political science textbook, part memoir, The Way It Works is a fascinating and sometimes brutally honest look at the way the federal government really operates. . . . Sprinkled throughout are anecdotes that take the reader into the corridors of power and provide new insight into events like the 1996 Quebec referendum on sovereignty, the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and Canada’s decision not to participate in the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. . . . The Way It Works is a must-read for political junkies, students of history or anyone who aspires to government. However, it’s also a good read for average Canadians who just want to get a better idea of the way their government really works.”
– Elizabeth Thompson, Montreal Gazette

“An elegant primer on government, politics and politicians. . . . As Goldenberg describes it, the improbable relationship to settle separatism began badly. As was his wont, Chrétien set out to put his new minister at ease with a humorous story. Dion’s response was startling: ‘Prime minister, this is a serious matter, and we do not have time for joking around.’ There are other such nuggets that will provide joy for future historians.”
– John Gray, Literary Review of Canada

“The book provides fascinating insights from Goldenberg on one of the leading contenders in the Liberal leadership contest, Stéphane Dion.”
– Barbara Yaffe, Vancouver Sun

About the Author

Eddie Goldenberg was born into a distinguished legal family in Montreal, and duly became a lawyer. A summer job as an assistant to Jean Chrétien in Indian Affairs led to a life-long career in politics, where he honed his skills as a writer. He is now a lawyer in Ottawa.

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Customer Reviews

4.0 out of 5 stars
4.0 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Frank and Extremely Refreshing Sept. 26 2006
While all memoirs are to some degree an exercise in self-congratulation, the author keeps such a tone to a minimum as he offers his fascinating account of events during which he served as Senior Policy Advisor in Jean Chretien's PMO. Goldenberg, a clear-headed and engaging story-teller, lays everything out there: the PMO's referendum strategy, the tense relationship between Jean Chretien and Paul Martin and the trick task of managing it, surprising behind-the-scenes looks at Chretien's meetings with foreign leaders, and what he sees as the major high points and low points during those 10 years (93-03).

Perhaps more importantly, Goldenberg offers a strong (if somewhat belated) rebuttal to the oft-heard criticism by the Canadian media that the PMO represents a dictatorial power base from whence all government business flows. In his recounting of the events, he demonstrates not only the broad-based consultation basis of decision-making Chretien relied on, but the degree to which he allowed Cabinet ministers a free rein in their own departments. Not afraid to be critical, of either himself or his boss, Goldenberg shows for his readers a very different modus operandi from that which Jeffrey Simpson and other Canadian political scientists looking in the window have wrote is destroying democracy in Canada.

Ultimately, it's unfortunate that we hear so little about his time before his time in the PMO; Chretien's earlier years are equally fascinating and it's safe to assume Goldenberg's would be as well. But I understand that it was his choice to limit the scope of his work, and he deserves kudos on a book well-done.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A definite "must read" Oct. 18 2007
I don't think there is a better person to write about the "behind the scenes" history of the PMO than Eddie Goldenberg. When I picked up the book, I couldn't put it down. For all those political junkies, of all political stripes, this is the book for you.
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By Andrew
As an advisor and close friend of Jean Chrétien for over thirty years, Eddie Goldenberg had a unique vantage point on some of the most important events that shaped Canada during Chrétien's tenure as prime minister (1993-2003). Goldenberg - the son of former senator Carl Goldenberg - is the consummate political strategist and government insider. He served as Senior Policy Advisor to Chrétien throughout his time in office, and in this capacity he was previewed to the inner workings of the decision-making process in Ottawa. Goldenberg's easy going narrative style draws the reader into the action and makes the book hard to put down. Ultimately, The Way It Works is a compelling and provocative primer for students and political scientists who want to understand the behind-the-scenes manoeuvring and internal functioning of the Canadian government as seen through the lens of the most powerful office in the country.

The book comes on like gangbusters. The prologue serves as an excellent snapshot of the book as a whole. It provides a breathlessly paced retelling of Canada's response to the British government on Canadian participation in the so-called `Coalition of the Willing' prior to the invasion of Iraq in 2003. This brief introduction has it all: high-stakes drama, fascinating insights into Chrétien's decision-making style, and even a few well-timed splashes of humour to break the tension. Most of the early chapters are more political science fare, as Goldenberg sheds light on the nuts and bolts of government functions - namely the formation of Cabinet and how it operates, the prime minister's office (PMO) and its central role as the lynchpin of government, and how budgets are constructed.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Anecdotal and light reading July 23 2007
This book is not really about how it works in Ottawa as much as it is about superficial anecdotes on certain events that occurred during the premiership of Jean Chretien. I enjoyed reading it as one of the rare peaks anyone can get into the workings of government, but it was very almost entirely based on anecdotes and the reactions of the people involved.

Goldenberg made one of the strongest cases for opening up the decision-making process of government. His accounts showed clearly the utter lack of logic in the confidentiality of government operation, in several instances stating plainly that most of what happens behind closed doors is largely insignificant despite all the fanfare and mystic.

He also clearly showed how billions of dollars are sometimes spent from casual conversation between government officials and outsiders, with little long-term planning and a general lack of vision from decision-makers. The book showed clearly the amateur nature of politics, which has changed little from its humble civilized beginnings 2500 years ago.

Politics is shown in "The way it works" as the Ralph Wiggum of society, bumbling incoherently and charmingly but largely incapable of accomplishing much more than unintended humor and the occasional random success story.

It's an interesting read, but don't expect to find how government or politics in general works from this book. Like almost all political discourse, the intellectual content of this book is on par with a game of tic-tac-toe, however interesting it can be from some of the insider glimpses in government decision-making.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.5 out of 5 stars  2 reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Decision-Making Illustrated May 31 2011
By Eric Mayforth - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Eddie Goldenberg served as a close advisor for Jean Chrétien, prime minister of Canada from 1993 to 2003, and wrote "The Way It Works" to chronicle the inner workings and decision-making processes of the government of our northern neighbor during that time.

Several important issues arose during Chrétien's tenure, including 9/11 and the decision by Canada not to participate in the Iraq War, as well as the Quebec referendum of 1995. Goldenberg recalls some of the decisions made in the referendum campaign. Ultimately Quebec voted to remain in Canada, which was welcome news on both sides of the border--it was in the best interests of both Canada and the United States that the former remain a united country.

As the author states in the book, "The Way It Works" is not meant to be a history of the Chrétien government, but shows how governments (of whatever political hue) go through the processes of making big, history-changing decisions. Goldenberg also describes how Cabinets are assembled in Canada, and in the course of this fascinating book one sees both the similarities and differences between the American system of government and the parliamentary system that exists in other English-speaking countries.
4.0 out of 5 stars A Must Read: "The Way it Works". Feb. 25 2014
By John F. Leslie - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
A well-written and informative book of behind the scenes in Ottawa during the Chretien years. Eddie Goldenberg provides advice and lessons to future Federal governments. A very enjoyable read.
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