Thursday, September 20, 2007

Mulroney Right About Pierre Trudeau

Dion reacts to uncomfortable facts about Trudeau

If anything has become a trend in Canadian politics recently, perhaps it’s Stephane Dion’s great love of criticizing anyone and anything Tory.

In this case, former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, who has apparently made some unwelcome comments about Pierre Trudeau.

“This is a man who questioned the Allies, and when the Jews were being sacrificed, and when the great extermination program was on, he was marching around Outremont on the other side of the issue,” Mulroney said in a recent interview.

Mulroney also suggested that Trudeau, his practical predecessor as Prime Minister (John Turner may have held the position, but was never elected to it), was morally unfit to govern because he withheld his anti-Semitism from his Jewish constituents.

"I'm sure many people will say because he wants to sell his book, ensuring that people will read a lot of cheap shots about a lot of people, in his one thousand, one hundred pages. Many people will say that, but I'm not here to comment about the book or the motives of Mr. Mulroney. I'm just here to say that Mr. Trudeau has been, indeed, an exceptional individual," Stephan Dion said.

Surely, many people will predictably rally behind Dion and the myth of Pierre Trudeau, but neither that fact, nor Dion’s comments, change the fact that was Mulroney has said is true.

Anyone who has so much as read the surprising Young Trudeau: Son of Quebec, Father of Canada by Max and Monique Nemni (surprising in that it examines Trudeau’s youthful flirtations with fascism despite slavishly trying to dismiss them), knows that the things Mulroney has alluded to are all true.

Trudeau strongly believed in many things that contradict the modern political mythology surrounding the man. He was a separatist. He was anti-Semitic. He sympathized with fascists, and imagined Quebec as something of a fascist French-Canadian sovereign state. He even had a bizarre blueprint for decentralized corporatism (two concepts that are as preclusive of one another as anything).

The book even alludes to an essay, written by Trudeau while still in school, in which he suggests that he would “return to Montreal sometime around the year 1976: the time is ripe to declare Quebec's independence.”

In all fairness, any similarities between the plot Trudeau hatched as a schoolboy and the 1970 October Crisis that he faced as Prime Minister should probably be considered merely ironic.

Apparently, Dion, like the Nemnis, believes that we should disregard these, and many other facts about Trudeau, and instead say only good things about him.

"I am not hear to argue about what happened in the '40s. It's not a good context, considering what Mr. Mulroney is trying to do," Dion said. "When Mr. Trudeau passed away, Mr. Mulroney said that Mr. Trudeau was an exceptional individual who served his country effectively and well. Mr. Mulroney should reconcile his views with what he said at that time."

Yet Dion may want to reconsider whether or not Mulroney’s comments, then as now, require any reconciliation with one another. The fact of the matter is that Trudeau was an exceptional individual. Trudeau did a passable job of governing Canada (although his narcissistic insistence that the constitution had to be patriated, even without Quebec’s support, has opened a constitutional jar of worms that may never be successfully closed), including successfully dealing with the FLQ uprising of 1970 (even if he did step on a few toes in order to do it).

Perhaps it’s Dion, like the Nemnis, who need to reconcile Trudeau’s youthful beliefs with their comical image of Trudeau as “the father of Canada”.

The fact is that the mythical Pierre Trudeau and the historical Pierre Trudeau are two very different individuals. When stripped away of all the rhetoric and partisan imaginings, Trudeau simply becomes yet another politician who, acting largely out of self-interest and civic disinterest, made empty promises that he never intended to keep – as an example, Trudeau meant his grand promises of “participatory democracy” as a promise to make access to information regarding the activities of Canada’s government more accessible – so long as one was a Liberal party member.

What Dion will simply have to accept is that the legacy of Pierre Trudeau is one that is currently in a state of flux. It’s being reevaluated by a considerable number of people, and the Liberals aren’t guaranteed to like what is left over once this process is complete.

It may be discomforting to Liberals to watch the myth of Pierre Trudeau transform before their very eyes, as it has been doing more and more since his death. But it’s a reality the Liberals will have to learn to live with.

Dion would be wiser to convince his party to stop living in the past, as it (and perhaps the country) has been, than to try and keep such myths alive by castigating Brian Mulroney.


  1. I think you are far kinder to Pierre's memory than I would be. There is very little from his sixteen years in office that I would think was in any way the sign of a competent head of government, including the War Measures Act imposition (which was overdone - it did not need to be nationwide: talk about a sledgehammer approach to swatting a few flies!).

    But that's me, and I know there's many who will disagree, which is one of the reasons why the world remains an interesting place.

    One reason why the Canadian right, centre-right, and radical centrist Tories remained out of power for so long was that we all went through a long period of hagiographic responses to criticism: "can't criticise Dief", "can't criticise Preston", "can't criticise Joe", etc. Mulroney (the old Diefenbaker battles), and MacKay and Harper (the Reform/PC war) buried those hatchets, and a good thing, too.

    Hagiography, or the writing of former luminaries in a party into sainthood, inevitably becomes a source of discord once some start to re-evaluate the legacy and others cling to the myths. It's yet another Dion Amateur Hour move to have planted himself so firmly in the Mythological camp. The Turner-Chrétien and Chrétien-Martin of recent years will seem like pillow fights by comparison once the mytho- and realist- camps establish themselves fully in the Liberal Party.

    Then maybe we can achieve what Brian Mulroney set out to do (not the specifics of Meech/Charlottetown, but the idea that the mess we were left with by the philosopher-king needed to be cleaned up and the whole nation brought together and moved forward). Those of us who lived the whole ups-and-downs of that five year battle for reconciliation and a way to get back our freedom to change "the grand design" know that the most implaccable enemy of Mulroney's attempt to heal the wounds of Trudeau's obsessions was, of course, Trudeau himself.

    I have no professional respect for any politician who comes bearing the "maintain the Trudeau legacy" banner. End of subject.

  2. The man who enshrined multiculturalism was a closet bigot. The man behind the Charter of Rights was a closet fascist. The man behind the 'Night of the Long Knives' was a closet separatist.

    Patrick: I'm sorry for being rude, but this post is idiotic. I did like the incredible irony of your first sentence, though.

  3. Then feel free to tell the Nemnis what you think of their work. In their book, they describe themselves as having been close personal friends of Trudeau, yet they're the ones who uncovered these clearly unsettling facts.

    What the earlier revelations about the youthful Pierre Trudeau lead to question are whether or not Trudeau dreamed up multiculturalism or the Charter as acts of political genuinity or merely as political tools, as was his conceptualization of participatory democracy. Consider the fact that Trudeau's omnibus bill (rightfully) decriminalized sodomy. Yet the Liberals, at the time (particularly John Turner) defended the omnibus bill by claiming it didn't decriminalize sodomy.

    Turner even declared sodomy to be "repulsive" in the House. Hansard reflects this. Claiming that the omnibus bill (as merely one example) proves Trudeau believed in tolerance falls a little flat when one considers the intolerant language used to defend the omnibus bill.

    This, naturally, was a product of a different point in Canadian history. Today, it would be unthinkable for a politician to refer to sodomy as repulsive. Clearly not so in the 1960s.

    This, however, is all a mere aside. If you want to defend the myth of Pierre Trudeau at the expense of historical accuracy, be my guest. The straight poop on Trudeau is available for consideration, and any amount of admonishment on your part or anyone else's won't discourage many people from digging into that.


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