By Michael Nesbitt
CENTRAL BEDEQUE – More than 100 supporters, admirers and colleagues of Sen. Catherine Callbeck jammed a conference room at the William Callbeck Centre for the launch of a biography of her life and times.
“Catherine Callbeck: The Politics of Principle” is perhaps a most unlikely book reflecting the achievements of a most unlikely political figure.
“I always said, when people asked, that I wasn’t going to write a book, and that there wouldn’t be a book,” Callbeck admitted.
“But Wayne MacKinnon convinced me that it was important that my life, and my time in public office, should be recorded. I was really touched and honoured.”
MacKinnon and Callbeck have a long acquaintance, extending to when she entered public life in the early 1970s, and even working within executive council during her time as premier of the province.
A highly regarded historian, he also has books to his credit detailing other Island political figures, so the Senator had good reference for expectations.
MacKinnon did extensive research on her family, career and the Bedeque area, Callbeck noted, adding that the book includes a lot of the history of P.E.I. and of the political institutions.
“This book isn’t just about me. That’s why I can heartily recommend it,” she joked.
MacKinnon cited three main reasons for wanting to chronicle Callbeck’s career.
That career spanned five decades since she was first elected to the provincial legislature from Fourth Prince, through her time in cabinet, to being elected as Member of Parliament for Malpeque, to returning to the Legislature as representative of First Queens and becoming premier and, finally, to her current role as Senator, and the recognitions that have followed.
“Catherine Callbeck has a remarkable record in public office,” said MacKinnon. “I thought it was important to put that very impressive record on paper.”
He added that her tenure also covers some of the most interesting periods of Island history.
As Minister of Social Services, she presided over the development of policies to treat people with greater dignity that were just beginning to take hold. She participated as a MP in the Meech Lake debates and Free Trade debates. As P.E.I. Premier, she shepherded an unparalleled record of economic development, getting the budget deficit under control, improving the health and education systems, salvaging the Confederation Bridge. Her government also reformed the Legislature and amalgamated urban municipalities.
“Through Catherine’s career, we get a better perspective of Prince Edward Island history over the last 30 years,” MacKinnon expressed.
He also recognized that Callbeck is not a typical politician.
“She’s always put her own political interests aside and done what she believed was right.”
That aspect of her character inspired the title of the book, coming from a quote MacKinnon discovered during research, regarding a decision she made as a minister in the Campbell government over a contentious issue.
“Callbeck simply said, ‘It was a matter of principle. I had a job to do.’ That’s been, I think, what has guided her throughout her political life,” he assessed. “The theme that I was trying to convey was that Callbeck has always put principle ahead of politics. That impressed me. I hope that is reflected throughout the book.”
It was in her character to make the difficult decisions, but both MacKinnon and Callbeck suppose that it may have been too much, too fast.
The story is still in progress, however. The Senator has about 18-months left in her current political position.
“I still want to give it my all, and I will,” she promised.
The book is dedicated to Callbeck’s parents, Ralph and Ruth, and her extended family for the impact they’ve had on her life.
One thousand copies were published by JHB Publishing of Alexandria, P.E.I., and are available through Island bookstores.