Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Shaughnessy Cohen Prize Series, with Paul Wells

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Paul Wells

Tonight dozens of Canada's most widely-acclaimed authors will join Members of Parliament, cabinet ministers, diplomats and philanthropists at Ottawa's legendary Fairmont Chateau Laurier Hotel for Politics & The Pen. The annual gala raises funds for the Writers' Trust of Canada, a literary charity which supports writers across the country through a variety of programmes and initiatives.

The main event of the evening will be the announcement of the 14th annual Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing, which rewards the year's finest book addressing a political subject of interest to Canadian readers. The winner of the prize will receive $25,000.

We've had the pleasure once again this year of speaking to the finalists for this prestigious award. Our final shortlisted author is Paul Wells, Political Editor for Maclean's magazine and one of Ottawa's wittiest and sharpest commentators. His shortlisted title, The Longer I’m Prine Minister: Stephen Harper 2006 – (Random House Canada) has been called "a political book that should be read by every Canadian with a shred of political awareness".

Paul speaks with Open Book about moving from current events to history, the definition of political writing and the epic Politics & the Pen after-party.

Stay tuned to Open Book for the announcement of the winner of the Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing.

Open Book:

Tell us about the book for which you were shortlisted and how the project came about.

Paul Wells:

I’m nominated for The Longer I’m Prime Minister: Stephen Harper and Canada, 2006 – . It’s a political biography of Stephen Harper since the day after the 2006 election. I have covered Harper as current events since I moved to Ottawa in 1994; when he won his first majority mandate in the 2011 election, I decided it was time to cover him as history. This book is the result.


In your opinion, what qualities or characteristics signify that a book qualifies as political writing as opposed to simply non-fiction?


That’s a good question. I’m pretty sure my book meets even the narrowest definition of political writing: it’s about a sitting prime minister, after all. But I think any book that examines how scarce resources are allocated to advance some notion of the public good would qualify as political writing.


The prize is presented at an evening event in Ottawa called Politics and the Pen. What are you most looking forward to about P&P? Have you attended before?


I’ve attended Politics and the Pen most years since its inception. In the early years, they gave me an “Author” medallion even though I hadn’t written any books yet. It’s fair to say I write books now because the P&P committee had spent years guilt-tripping me. The best thing about the dinner is the schmooze at Zoe’s Bar after the dinner. It’s always epic, a throwback to the days when some of us were younger, stupider, and spending three nights a week at Darcy McGee’s.


If you were to recommend one past finalist or winner of the Shaughnessy Cohen Prize to readers, which title would you choose?


I’ve always regretted that John Duffy’s book Fights of Our Lives didn’t win. It’s a dynamite primer on electoral strategy, as illustrated across more than a century of Canadian political history. One of my very favourite books on Canadian politics.


If you win the prize, how will you celebrate?


I will pay down some debt and take the family on a nice vacation.


What can you tell us about your next project?


It won’t be about Stephen Harper. If I have my way, it won’t be about politics at all. Beyond that, my lips are sealed.

Paul Wells is the political editor of Maclean’s magazine. His previous book, Right Side Up, was chosen as one of the Best Canadian Political Books of the Last 25 Years by the Writers’ Trust of Canada and Samara. Wells has worked for the National Post, the Gazette (Montreal), and has written for L’actualite, La Presse, Time and the Literary Review of Canada. He lives in Ottawa and can be followed on Twitter at @InklessPW.

For more information about the Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing, please visit the Writers' Trust of Canada website.

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