Trudeau Revisited: Paeans and PainsOctober 23rd, 1994
October 18th was Pierre Trudeau’s 75th birthday. A former aide, Dennis Mills (Broadview-Greenwood), drew the attention of the House to it and the contributions this “political scientist” had made to Canada. There was moderate applause. In the evening Romeo Leblanc, Speaker of the Senate, hosted a dinner in his chambers for the man he served as press secretary, then as a minister. The 10 or so guests had been on Trudeau’s PMO staff. Second-hand word is that “It was a wonderful, thoughtful occasion.”
It happens that some new books have much to say, “pro” and “con,” about PET as prime minister. The most positive, often glowing, stuff is in the romp through our prime ministers by historian Michael Bliss and in vol. 2 of Trudeau and Our Times, by Christina McCall and Stephen Clarkson.
The negative, very critical insights on Trudeau are in Derailed, by historian David Bercuson and philospher Barry Cooper, who see Trudeau as a disaster in economics, and in Seeing Canada Whole; A Memoir, by Jack Pickersgill, now 89, who served Liberal prime ministers and governments from 1935 forward in a host of roles, and who cannot forgive Trudeau for his part in destroying the Meech Lake Accord.
In this particular week on the Hill it seemed fair to reconnoitre the praise of Trudeau, particularly that by McCall and Clarkson. In this volume, as in their first one on Trudeau’s times, they posit that “He haunts us still.”
Ah yes, he does. And will our children’s children ever shuck his most obvious legacy?
Consider that his 75th birthday week coincided with the heaviest critical display of the national peril that all Canadians must face from because of two decades of high annual deficits and a debt burden whose annual interest payments will soon bust over the $50 billion mark.
In the passel of figures and graphs produced by Paul Martin to hammer home the peril, there is parade of often forgotten evidence that the high deficits (e.g., the first to boom over $10 billion a year) and the zoom of the debt burden above $100 billion began in the 1975-79 years under Trudeau. The deficits broke over the $25 billion mark annually in his last-stand years in office, 1980-84.
Dennis Mills chose to describe his old boss to fellow MPs as a political scientist. Fair enough. The man won top office of this difficult federation and held for 16 years. Electorally, and arguably in constitutional issues (the referendum, the repatriation, the Charter) Pierre Trudeau was a success. But on economic issues ?
Well – in my observation of the Trudeau years and their commentary I cannot recall any enthusiasm for Trudeau as economist. Rather, an assumption flowered quickly and lasted through his years in office that his interest in economics was small, random, and lacking in stamina. That’s why the debt juggernaut took shape and began its inexorable roll in his time. His ministries threw money at so many problem and interest groups. Several of the prime endeavors were failures at high costs. Think of the National Energy Program or his pathetic wrestling of inflation to the ground with the “6 and 5” program.
Since their most readable, first volume on Trudeau, the McCall-Clarkson team have found more material on their hero’s “intellectual brilliance” and his education at Harvard, London, and Paris, and on his period in the PCO in the early 1950s under the great Keynesian, Bob Bryce. The consequence is a word portrait of Trudeau as the most cerebral and knowledgable authority on economic theories and history Canada has had as prime minister. However, as the authors put it: “… he was neiher interested in nor ignorant of the economy. It was just not his main concern.”
The recent success of the Trudeau “memoirs” in both book and film form is evidence for McCall and Clarkson that “the Trudeau era has taken on the glow of a golden age …?” Proof their hero is “still a live political force in Canada, dangerous, provocative and unpredictable.”
They conclude with a grandeur which may be solace in this week of warning and foreboding from Messrs Martin, Chretien, and Axworthy about the desperate straits we face in debt and deficits.
They say: “At the age of 75, he continued to daunt his enemies, inspire his allies, and enliven the public discourse he had dominated for so long as the most compelling and controversial Canadian of his times.”
Yes! But shouldn’t there be a third adjective to that string?
“… the most compelling, controversial, and costly Canadian of his times.”
Source: BY DOUGLAS FISHER, TORONTO SUNTop
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