Book Review of the Mighty Hughes

A reader in search of a new book could be forgiven for taking a pass on The Mighty Hughes. After all, what could be interesting about the life and times of a saint who was neither mutilated nor martyred?

Such a reader should think again.

The story of the life of Ted Hughes QC, OC is a tale of aggressive virtue. His pursuit of honest outcomes and dishonourable individuals has brought him respect and fame throughout Canada. In the pages of Craig McInnes’s biography, Hughes is depicted as a heroic figure who has, at times, brandished the sword of righteousness with the zeal of John Brown, but is best known for having offered the hand of compassion to the fallen and the dispossessed.

The overleaf of the cover of The Mighty Hughes says:

“The Mighty Hughes tells the story of this remarkable man – a Canadian hero in every sense of the word – and how he became the lion Canadians needed him to be when the credibility of our political system was on the line. Veteran journalist Craig McInnes paints a detailed portrait of Hughes’ life and career, drawing on extensive interviews with Hughes himself, his wife, Helen – a formidable force of social justice in her own right – and numerous colleagues past and present. In our politically divided world, Ted Hughes’ brand of fair and humanitarian leadership is exactly what we need in public life today.”

Author McInnes is a veteran reporter, editor, and writer. His long newspaper career includes eighteen years with the Globe and Mail and fourteen years with the Vancouver Sun., where he wrote extensively about public policy issues. He lives in Victoria, B.C. as does Ted Hughes.

McInnes’s initial success in the writing of this biography was in his assistance to Paul Fraser QC, the present Conflict of Interest Commissioner for BC, in persuading a reluctant Hughes to co-operate in the writing of the book. Once the task of writing began, McInnes was given access to Hughes’ voluminous written records and “notes to file” which offered Hughes’ contemporaneous understanding of events, and his views on those events and of the people involved with them. The records are candid and thorough.

It is evident that in the course of his interviews with Hughes, McInnes gained the trust of his subject. Mr Hughes is quoted extensively, both from his records and writings, and in his conversations with the author. This intimacy allows the reader to gain a tangible sense of Hughes’ candour, his humour and his distaste for those who he has fairly concluded have breached the public trust.

McInnes also captures Hughes’ appreciation of the great responsibility assumed by individuals who pursue a public life, and who are charged with the responsibility for making very difficult decisions. This understanding is reflected in the “Praise” section that precedes the title page of The Mighty Hughes. Included in the tributes to the book and its subject is this from David Phillip Jones QC, “Administrative lawyer in private practice, Conflict of Interest Commissioner for Yukon and for NWT.”

“Craig McIinnes’ biography of Ted Hughes provides engaging insight into Ted’s life, career and unshakeable reputation for integrity, wisdom, sound advice, the ability to untangle other people’s messes, and his belief in the value of politicians, good government and the dignity of all individuals. The Mighty (and Fearless) Hughes is the model and high benchmark for all independent adjudicators in the country.”

The body of The Mighty Hughes follows a linear path tracing the life of Ted Hughes. However, it begins with an Introduction that describes a celebration of Hughes’ retirement at age 87. McInnes notes that initial plans (crafted by others) were for a formal dinner at Government House in Victoria to be attended by 160 guests. Hughes’ preference was for an intimate lunch attended by 38 individuals whom he felt were those “most important in his and Helen’s lives: family and the people who were both colleagues and friends, people who knew him well enough to affectionately call him Ted.”

If time travel or a return from the dead was possible, one of those present at that lunch would have been former Canadian Prime Minister, John Diefenbaker. Hughes’s relationship with Diefenbaker began when Hughes was a young lawyer practicing in Saskatoon. Hughes admired Diefenbaker’s skills as a speaker and was fascinated by the contrasting styles and political philosophies of Diefenbaker and his rival, Tommy Douglas. Author McInnes unravels Hughes’ early life in Saskatchewan, the events leading to his marriage to Helen Hughes (nee Larmouth), the beginnings of his legal career and political involvement, and his eventual ascension to first the Saskatchewan District Court at age 35, and his soon after appointment to the Court of Queen’s Bench. Throughout the book, McInnes matches the development of Hughes’ life and career with Helen’s relentless commitment to public causes and local government politics in Saskatchewan and British Columbia. One gets the sense that there is a Clintonesque partnership at work here without the amoral self- service.

McInnes devotes an entire chapter to Hughes’ judicial role in the notorious case of Thatcher v Thatcher. Colin Thatcher was the son of former Saskatchewan Premier, Ross Thatcher, a member of the legislature and had been a cabinet minister in the Saskatchewan government. He was later convicted of the murder of his ex-wife. Hughes presided over the division of property aspect of the extremely bitter matrimonial proceedings that preceded the murder. The description of the trial conducted under the then “new” Matrimonial Property Act, is factually fascinating and legally interesting. McInnes notes that decades later, counsel for Thatcher’s murdered spouse Jo Ann, described Hughes’ eventual judgment as a “death warrant” for his client.

The Mighty Hughes reveals the background to Ted Hughes’ unprecedented resignation from the Saskatchewan Court of Queens Bench over a matter of principle at the age of 53, and the Hughes family decision to move to Victoria B.C. – a decision that forced Helen to surrender her esteemed political role in local government politics in Saskatoon and Regina.

In Part II of the book, which focuses on Hughes life in British Columbia, we learn that, once there, Hughes took a role as a “line” counsel in the Attorney General’s office in Victoria. One of his first briefs involved his “spending part of the winter of 1981 in Fort St John in northern BC, representing the government at the BC Utility Commission hearings into BC Hydro’s proposal to build a dam on the Peace River in a place called Site C.”

The balance of Part II follows Hughes’s progression from Deputy Attorney General under Attorneys General Brian Smith and Bud Smith, to his appointment as BC’s first Conflict of Interest Commissioner. Ironically, the appointment was fatefully approved by then Premier, Bill Vander Zalm.

Each chapter offers examples of Hughes’ tenacious approach to investigation and fearless decision making. McInnes delves into scandals related to Peter Toigo and the Expo Lands; the missteps of Minister of Tourism and provincial secretary, Bill Reid (“The Blue Box Scandal”), and Hughes’ two rounds with Vander Zalm – the first over Fantasy Gardens and the second involving Hughes’ defamation suit to rectify Vander Zalm’s defamatory comments about Hughes in Vander Zalm’s self-published autobiography. The Part concludes with Hughes’ version of events surrounding the Glen Clark-led governments attempt to abruptly replace Hughes as Conflict of Interest Commissioner in 1996.

Part III of The Mighty Hughes offers the story of perhaps Hughes’ most important life’s work under the title: “Canada and First Nations”. Because the events described are most fresh in the minds of today’s readers, there is much to be gained from Hughes’ experience and his many recommendations for meaningful change in the relationship between Canada and First Nations, including the acute need for restoring health and prospects in the lives of indigenous children and their families.

The Mighty Hughes has been launched with much fanfare in Saskatchewan and BC. In order to attend a large and enthusiastic gathering at the University of Saskatchewan in October, 2017, Ted and Helen Hughes got in their car and drove to and from Saskatoon. These are people of principle and endurance. To learn of the value of their lives in the pages of this book is a necessary education for all Canadians.

A return to the “Praise” preface to The Mighty Hughes offers this commendation from Vaughn Palmer of the Vancouver Sun:

“We used to say that if Ted Hughes did not exist, we would have to invent him. But as Craig McInnes makes clear in this remarkable biography, Ted was his own invention – a public servant who established his credibility and integrity case by case, year by year, making some of the toughest judgment calls ever faced in this country.”

Financial support for the writing and publication of The Mighty Hughes was provided by the Law Foundation of Saskatchewan and the Law Foundation of British Columbia.

The Mighty Hughes is published by Heritage House Publishing Company Ltd. Copyright 2017 University of Saskatchewan. List price $32.95

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