Promises to Keep

Western Producer Prairie Books (1990)

A political biography describing how Allan Blakeney defeated the Liberal government of Ross Thatcher in Saskatchewan, and how as premier Blakeney stunned the continent by taking over half the province’s potash industry; how he broke with many in his own party over the issue of uranium development; and how he fought Pierre Trudeau in the constitutional wars of the early 1980s.

Out of print. Available from the author. Tel: 613-730-6902

Reviewer Comments

Gruending’s book is more than just Allan Blakeney’s story. It’s also the story of well over a decade of Saskatchewan history. The two are inseparable.“ Saskatoon Star Phoenix



When Allan Blakeney swept to power in June 1971 he had promises to keep-about 140 of them. They had been printed months before in a slim blue-on-white booklet called New Deal for People. Someone in a Prince Albert constituency office had wanted a promotional matchbook with the letters “NDP” on the cover. It seemed clever. Provincial office picked it up, and it became the campaign slogan . . .

As premier, he was immediately in his preferred element – building, fine tuning, and running a government, dealing brilliantly with a broad spectrum of issues and a constantly shifting mass of detail. He performed those tasks with a range and discipline which was quite remarkable, but which, in the best Saskatchewan tradition, he was careful not to flaunt. Asked by a reporter how he would like to be remembered, he said, “People can say about us, ‘They run a pretty good shop’.” He was the ultimate civil servant.

The people side of politics did not come easily to Blakeney. He had to work at it. He showed great determination in applying himself to the task. Early on he attempted to downplay the inevitable comparisons between himself and Tommy Douglas. He liked to tell reporters that, although he was premier, he was really only a “retreaded” civil servant. In that description he was being honest, if typically understated . . .

Blakeney gained a national reputation as a pan-Canadian statesman who cared about the integrity of the federation and the aspirations of Quebec, and at the same time demanding a new deal for the West and the Maritimes. During the constitutional negotiations, he remained the point of contact between anti-Trudeau hardliners like Lougheed and Lyon, and the pro-federal forces led by Bill Davis. He was supple, always ready to negotiate, to make a deal. Trudeau was wary of him; he thought Blakeney was indecisive at best, disingenuous at worst. There was respect between them, but also bad blood. Their contact brought out the pride and competitiveness in each.

In the early 1980s, as interest rates soared and recession loomed, the immediate benefits of Blakeney’s state capitalism were not always apparent. He and his senior ministers were looking over their shoulders at the emerging Conservatives, aware that society was changing but not knowing quite what to do about it. In 1982 the Tory deluge came. Blakeney was not only defeated, but routed, by Grant Devine, whose government spent the following years pursuing their New Right agenda-a shredding of government services and the wholesale sell-off of Crown Corporations . . .

Blakeney observes the fracas from a distance. He stepped down as leader in 1987. He has made a gracious transition from public figure to private citizen. He appears comfortable, and at peace with himself. But his life is by no means over, and, as this book will indicate, he has missed no detail in recent political debates.

Gringo: Poems and Journals

Fron Latin America – Coteau (1982)

In the late 1970s Dennis Gruending traveled alone for nine months in Latin America. Gringo is a journey of discovery, told with the reporter’s careful eye for detail and a poet’s feeling for the nuances of the heart.

Out of print. Available from the author
at 613-730-6902

Reviewer Comments

Gruending’s language is vivid but restrained. The poems are accessible and powerful; the journal entries are self-mocking and informed by an eye for irony.“ Vancouver Province.


Introductory Diary Entry

For years Latin America had beckoned. A teacher from my boarding school went to Brazil as a missionary, and I recall how we clustered around his car, a hundred boys tense with excitement as he left. Later he sent me letters saying that South America might become the next Viet Nam.

While modern colonizers levelled Amazon forests and leaned from airplanes to shoot Indians, I went to university in a prairie city and later made the obligatory trip to Europe. I returned, graduated, took a job, fell in love, took a better job, bought a house. Seldom did I think about the love and torture being committed in the south.

My mother and father began to die. I was filled with grief and became a stranger to everyone I knew. Then suddenly it was over. My parents dead. A near marriage of five years lost. An empty house. A stumbling man being helped by friends he had neglected. I felt compelled to break with the past; to do something dramatic; to place myself at risk.

I had begun to write poetry. I began to read it again: Unborn Things, Patrick Lane’s book about Latin America; Earle Birney’s poems about the “sunflowering women” of Tehuantepec; Eli Mandel’s description of Intihuana, the “hitching post of the sun,” where the Incas tried to stop the sun in its solstice so it would not leave them in darkness.

I found Neruda in translation, his treasurehouse of detail and imagination about Chile and all of Latin America. I became acquainted with Chileans who arrived in Canada after the coup that killed Allende and destroyed the country. I felt close to them in a politically instinctive way, but knew little in detail about the continent which Eduardo Galeano calls the “region of open veins.”

I gave notice at work and packed my bags.


You Send Feathers

You send feathers from Canada
tell me
to ride dreams like white-backed gulls
listen to what birds say
read the flowers.

I see high stone walls
topped with hedges of blue bougainvillaea
and chunks of broken glass in concrete
to protect the parrot
complaining in his cage.

My nights are bruised
by the din of dogs fighting over cans
in dark alleys where stones
break the ground like teeth.
There are boys in heavy black boots
who ride the backs of trucks
and point guns at the sky.

I dream blue mountains leaning over us
morning streets, hands patting the corn flour
children snug in rebozos, women braiding hair
and men carrying machetes to a harvest of flowers.