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Book Review: Gerry Nicholls- Loyal to the Core: Stephen Harper, Me and the NCC

March 23rd, 2009

Gerry Nicholls first book, the autobiographical Loyal to the Core, begins and ends with his time at the National Citizens Coalition (NCC). Nicholls takes us quickly through his early political leanings (Liberal), to his conversion to conservatism at the University of Windsor and to his postgraduate days at London’s Western University. Chapter two begins his career at the NCC in 1985, which lasted until 2007.

Loyal to the Core

Nicholls discusses learning to keep his writing short, simple and on message, and those lessons serve him well in this book. It is tightly written with not a superfluous word to be found in the 200 plus pages of the text: if somebody offers you an over/under of two for semi-colons/colons in Nicholls’ next tome, take the under. This book reads very much like a long version of any of Nicholls well known columns in the daily newspapers. It is readable and enjoyable.

I took this book with me for a two-day visit at my mother in laws and easily read it in the two days. A true rarity in the world of political books Loyal to the Core is enjoyable and never boring. The reason for this is that Nicholls is one of those rare birds: a backroom player who is not a policy geek. Nicholls doesn’t suffer with the ego of a politician or the boring insistence that policy rules all. Instead Nicholls has a pragmatic approach to match firm convictions about what is right. His communication background means his abiding concern is making a point.

The first half of Loyal to the Core is full of good yarns about the National Citizens Coalition and it’s work through the years. If you have paid attention to Canadian politics over the lasts 20 years, then you will fondly remember many of the campaigns that Nicholls was involved in, including the famed pigs at the trough campaign to highlight MPs “gold-plated pensions”, a term the NCC created.

The juicy part of the book, however, is when Stephen Harper becomes President of the NCC. At this juncture we get an insight into Stephen Harper that is not common, neither flattering nor a partisan slag. It is not, however, a personal hack job either. While there is some personal slags, the insight into Harper’s eating habits, and the fact he was called FB, or Fatboy, by NCC staffers is one, Nicholls description of Harper comes across as honest and thoughtful: a cold and tough boss; a boss who would call the Toronto office at 4:30 on a Friday afternoon (he worked out of Calgary) to make sure his employees where still at their desks; a boss who shut down ‘Friday afternoon drinkfest,’ and banned alcohol from the NCC offices; We see that Harper’s ideas are the law, that he takes council poorly and that he was more interested in policy than the NCC’s more traditional advertising blitzes.

Lest you think this is a Harper slap-down, Nicholls is very fair to the man who promoted him to the Vice Presidency of the NCC, and gave him the title of his first book, noting that Nicholls was “loyal to the core”.

Loyal to the Core is a good read, an interesting look at Gerry Nicholls, Stephen Harper, the NCC and the conservative movement in Canada over the last twenty years. If you are interested in politics, then you should probably read it. If you are a conservative who wonders how conservatives can communicate their message in a hostile media climate, it is a must read.

Order Loyal to the Core, and other Conservative books from Freedom Press.

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