Mathias Rodorff Reviews Crucial Biographical History
J.L. Ilsley: A Political Biography
James Lorimer Ilsley (1894-1967), born and raised in the Annapolis Valley, had, as the Minister of Finance, a key role in the cabinet led by Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King during the Second World War. Although he is regarded as one of the significant politicians in the history of Nova Scotia and Canada, Ilsley’s legacy remains unknown to many.
The loss of his private papers, little scholarly attention and conflicts between Ilsley and Mackenzie King after the war may have contributed to this relative obscurity. Through the extensive use of various alternative sources, Barry Cahill reduces this imbalance by publishing the first political biography of JL Ilsley. Framed within a biographical focus, with seven well-balanced chapters, this book presents how Ilsey shaped socio-economic and political developments in Nova Scotia and Canada.
Chapters 1 and 2, in a classic approach, introduce Ilsey’s upbringing and education in Nova Scotia, until he goes to Ottawa. The author offers conciseinformation on how Ilsley’s personal and educational background affected his political and legal career.
In the next three chapters, the focus lies on Ilsley’s roles as Minister of National Revenue during the Great Depression and Minister of Finance during the Second World War. Cahill correctly reminds us that Canada did not win the Second World War on the aerial, land and maritime battlefield alone, but also in successfully financing the war effort.
In Chapters 6 and 7, the author deepens our understanding of Ilsley’s motives for retiring from his political career, and his accomplishments for Nova Scotia as Chief Justice.
Elaborately written, clearly structured with a wealth of quotes, this political biography is a crucial addition for those who want to learn more about the life and legacy of JL Ilsley, and the relationship between the provincial and federal governments in Canada from the 1930s to the 1960s.