Since Confederation there have only been twenty-five individuals who have served as the Premier of Ontario. It is a small and exclusive club. Steve Paikin has been a reporter at Queen's Park for decades now and has a rare perspective. As Paikin writes, the books origins were in an observation that he was the only journalist to interview every Premier since 1971.
Paikin and the Premiers: Personal Reflections on a Half Century of Ontario Leaders is a collection of interviews and connecting biographies and histories. The interviews mostly consist transcriptions of interviews conducted at TVO. I found this perhaps the most disappointing part of the book. Paikin might be the best poised journalist in Ontario (or Canada) to land high-profile, challenging interviews. Former-Premiers Bill Davis and Mike Harris will not sit down for anyone, nor will current Premier Kathleen Wynne. When I began this book I assumed these would be new dedicated interviews with the Premiers on topics related to being a leader, governing Ontario, etc. The transcripts are fine and offer insight into the men and woman who have led the province, but at times it feels a bit like a square peg in a round hole. I cannot help but think this book would be substantially better with fresh interviews. I will concede this format did not work as well with me as I watched many of these interviews originally on TVO.
While most of the text is the transcripts of interviews I think the best parts might be Paikin's interstitial writing. The setup and context for each interview and the brief windows into Ontario's political history might be the most interesting aspects. Some of this is predictable given the subjects of the interview. Most of the interviewees were sitting Premiers. Their honesty and forthrightness could be, let's say, limited. Going into an election that one seemed doomed to lose (Eves, Rae) they were talking like victory was around the corner. It would be more valuable to interview them today and reflect back on that time.
The interviews with the men I was least familiar with were the most interesting. In particular, John Robarts, Premier from 1961-1971, had a fascinating and difficult life and remarkable premiership. The personal histories might be the real strength here. Paikin has a well-known sympathy and interest in politicians.
This book has a niche appeal. If you're interested in Ontario politics and snapshots of the past it may be of interest to you. I know it did not meet what I was hoping to find, but that's not to say it isn't interesting or compelling at points. Paikin's earlier books The Life: The Seductive Call of Politics and The Dark Side: The Personal Price of a Political Life are far stronger case studies of political life. Sadly, these interview may best be explored through TVO's archive of interviews rather than in written form.