'The evil men do lives after them'
When Pierre Elliott Trudeau died last month, many Canadians, even among
those who recognized the flaws in his legacy -- his support of Soviet
tyranny, his taste for command economics, and the deep fissures created by
his multiculturalism -- nevertheless suspended judgment as the nation
indulged in a reprise of Trudeaumania. Here, George Jonas argues that while
Trudeau's charm and charisma are gone, his execrable ideas and institutions
Like a flashback from a bad LSD trip, Canada has been in the grip of
Trudeaumania. One standard dictionary defines "mania" as an "obsessional
enthusiasm." This is at best. The primary definition is "a mental disorder
characterized by great excitement." Perhaps Trudeaumania fit the kinder
definition in 1967, but 33 years later it can only be defined in the primary
sense. In the year 2000, obsessive partiality to Mr. Trudeau's legacy
presupposes either ignorance of what his legacy is, or a mental disorder.
Mr. Trudeau walked among us between 1919 and 2000. He concerned himself with
public affairs during the 55 years spanning 1942 and 1997, first as a
student and journalist, then as a politician and national leader, and
finally as an elder statesman. During those years, the first main domestic
argument in Canada was between free enterprise and the interventionist
economy, and the second between the unitary and the devolutionary state.
Internationally, the main argument was between liberal democracy and
totalitarianism. [emphasis added]
It's safe to say that in the first and the third of these arguments, Mr.
Trudeau took the wrong side. The jury is still out on the second.
Some would argue Mr. Trudeau didn't take the wrong side between liberal
democracy and totalitarianism, only the middle ground. This is silly. One
cannot take the middle ground between life and death. If one proposes to
conduct electricity, declaring neutrality between brass and rubber won't do.
Mr. Trudeau did make a choice, and -- to stick with the same metaphor -- he
chose rubber. Domestically, he favoured the command economy over free
enterprise, and the unitary state over devolution. Internationally, he sided
with Marxism-Leninism over liberal democracy. No wonder the lights failed to
The wonder is that many of the same people who wouldn't see eye to eye with
Mr. Trudeau on minimally two of the three fundamental questions that
confronted him during his stewardship of Canada -- i.e. people who take the
failure of Communism and the command economy for granted -- still grew
misty-eyed at his passing, and spent the past two weeks extolling his legacy
in near-hysterical terms.
David Frum (whose piece in The Wall Street Journal was
titled "A Great Man, but a Catastrophic Prime Minister"), writing in this
paper, helped to dispel one particularly misleading myth about Mr. Trudeau
with his accurate description of Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms as
"the opposite of a liberty-enhancing document." Though initially even the
National Post joined the chorus of weeping and wailing, by Oct. 7, in an
editorial titled "His communist pals," the paper put Mr. Trudeau's
relationship with totalitarianism squarely on record. Some journalists
refrained from writing about Mr. Trudeau for days after his death, because
(as the columnist Michael Coren put it) "I thought it fit that he was buried
before comment." Seemly as such reticence was, it allowed a deluge of
appalling nonsense to inundate the media virtually unchallenged for the
first number of days.
Mr. Trudeau was cut of the same cloth. He was bright, had an acid tongue and
didn't suffer fools gladly. This might have been fine, except he regarded
everyone who disagreed with him as a fool. Such leaders run the risk of
surrounding themselves mainly with groupies, sycophants and nonentities. Mr.
Trudeau was no exception. As Mr. Fulford wrote, his cabinet eventually
"turned into a collection of mediocrities."
Mr. Castro acted as pallbearer at Mr. Trudeau's funeral because he and the
former prime minister of Canada were friends. On a 1973 visit to Havana, Mr.
Trudeau felt moved to shout "Viva Castro!" Returning to this country, he
defended his gesture by saying it was just a customary greeting in Cuba, a
bit like "good morning" in Canada. On this basis we might have expected him
to shout "Heil Hitler!" in Nazi Germany.
Shouting "Viva Castro!" was by no means an aberration. Mr. Trudeau embraced
Communist despots wherever he could find them. On his four visits to China
between 1960 and 1979, he continually played the role of appeaser and
apologist, first to Mao Zedong, and later to his heirs. In 1973, he defended
Mao's policies in Canada's Parliament, oblivious to (or uncaring about) the
fact that he was seeking accommodation with a system responsible for the
deaths of some 80 million people. In 1981, Mr. Trudeau expressed sympathy
for Poland's General Wojciech Jaruzelski. This was after the notorious
general in his trademark pink Neophane glasses banned Solidarity and jailed
or sent into hiding its leaders, including Lech Walesa. In 1983, Mr. Trudeau
argued with some passion in Parliament that he simply "couldn't believe" the
Soviets would knowingly destroy a commercial airliner. This was after the
Kremlin finally admitted knowing that Korean Air Flight 007 was a passenger
plane, and justified shooting it down along with its 269 passengers because
it was "spying."
In a free country, people are entitled to their opinions. Still, having a
soft spot for a Mao, a Castro or a Jaruzelski exceeds ordinary political
latitudes. There's a material difference between alternative ways of looking
at the world and apologizing for mass murder. Consorting with killer despots
may be viewed as a fundamental flaw. If Mr. Trudeau had a similar weakness
for Nazi-type regimes and rulers, it would have made him a pariah, and
rightly so. But in an astounding reversal, even the mention of Mr. Trudeau's
Communist associations has been viewed as not quite comme il faut in
As a counterweight to Quebec's special status in Confederation, Mr. Trudeau
took the idea of the cultural mosaic one step further. He advanced
multiculturalism. According to this notion, all inhabitants of Canada from
any part of the world could retain -- forever, if they wished -- their
separate identities and traditions. The whole mosaic would be Canadian,
while the constituent bits in it could remain as distinct as they have ever
been. But none, not even the Québécois, would be more distinct than any of
the others. Mr. Trudeau cleverly proposed to abolish special status by
offering special status to all.
Did this multicultural ideal lead Canada to a colourful but harmonious
pattern, or did it lead to a fragmented country of ever-multiplying
Mr. Trudeau flirted with the command economy. More precisely, he liked to
command, and neither knew nor cared much about economic matters. Since he
couldn't control a free market by definition, it held little fascination for
Mr. Trudeau's economic ideas embraced wage-and-price control, deficit
financing, confiscatory taxation, intrusive social engineering and the
National Energy Policy. [emphasis added] The last, apart from the harm it did to individuals,
created a sense of alienation in Western Canada second only to the
separatist sentiment in Quebec.
It's possible to quantify the economic results of Mr. Trudeau's legacy of
Big Government, as the columnist Eric Margolis did recently. The national
debt grew from $11.3-billion in 1968 to $128-billion in 1984. The annual
federal deficit went from zero to $25-billion. Ottawa's spending rose from
30% of Canada's total economic output to nearly 53%; our dollar plummeted
from around US$1.06 in 1970 to 66 cents today. The unemployment rate has
been running between three and five percentage points higher here than in
the United States, and Canada reduced itself from being one of the world's
three richest nations 30 years ago (along with Switzerland and the U.S.) to
one of the three leading debtor nations in the West, alongside Belgium and
Though Canada no longer runs an annual deficit, the debt Mr. Trudeau
entrenched, and Brian Mulroney continued to cultivate, remains. Today it
exceeds half a trillion dollars. To service it, Canada's taxpayers paid
$41.5-billion in interest in 1999 alone [emphasis added] -- four times more, as Mr. Margolis
pointed out, than they spent on national defence.
One of the most telling examples of Mr. Trudeau's thinking occurred many
years ago when it came to light that the RCMP had burned down some barns
belonging to Quebec separatists. There was a big fuss in the media. Mr.
Trudeau shrugged, and said that if people were so upset by the Mounties
burning barns illegally, perhaps he'd make the burning of barns by the
Mounties legal. It seemed not to occur to him that it isn't wrong to burn
down barns because it's illegal, but it's illegal to burn down barns because
Like other statist politicians, Mr. Trudeau seemed to think his ability to
set out for his country what is legal and illegal also entitled him to set
out for his citizens what is right and wrong. He either didn't see, or
resented, that right and wrong are only reflected by the laws, not
determined by them. [emphasis added]
To the dismay of Plato's latter-day disciples who are forever trying to set
up the Just Society by central edict, right and wrong are resolved by the
inner moral compass of people, though modified from time to time by their
religion, common experience, climate, technology, social organization,
historic period and cultural fashion. Even commissars or ayatollahs have to
deal with something akin to Immanuel Kant's categorical imperative.
Philosopher-princes find this a hard pill to swallow, and Mr. Trudeau was no
exception. He had no patience with anyone's moral compass but his own.
[The editors of this site hold that the Word of God in the Christian Scriptures is
the final standard for morality. All other ethical ideas are valid only as far as they
reflect God's transcendent law-word.]
... Mr. Trudeau's legacy has been particularly forgettable.
The social models he promoted and admired, from outright Communism to the
lib-left's peculiar quasi-Marxist, quasi-Keynesian structures of command
economy, have not only been discarded and discredited, but ended up "in the
dustbin of history," to borrow the Politburo's favourite idiom. Mr.
Trudeau's promise of unifying the country also came to nothing. Bilingualism
didn't do the trick. Non-traditional immigration and multiculturalism may
have changed the face of Canada, but they did little to either unify or
imbue it with a new sense of identity. Today, Canada is as much a nation of
"two solitudes" as it was in 1945 when Hugh MacLennan used the term for the
title of his novel.
If anything, Canadian society is more fragmented than it was before the
Trudeau era. Some of the concepts that contributed to Canada's splintering
into hostile, self-seeking xenoliths were inspired by Mr. Trudeau's ideas,
and some evolved as reactions to them, but in either case the result was the
same. Multiculturalism, Western alienation, interest-group politics, the
gender wars, and aboriginal separatism created only an increasing number of
solitudes. [emphasis added] In this sense, Mr. Trudeau still walks at night. Even driving a
stake through his heart may no longer make a difference. The mini-vampires
of his legacy have taken on bloodthirsty lives of their own. His repatriated
Constitution has turned a relatively respectable judiciary into a seething
army of Frankenstein monsters who lurch around making law without regard to
the original purpose of the legislation. By now the country resembles an
elaborate survival game, in which hostile tribes of Canadians clamour for
the attention of governments and courts to enforce their claims against
other Canadians. [emphasis added] It's not a pretty picture, and Rachel Sa's contemporaries
shouldn't worry if they don't recall much about the man who conjured it up.
Click link below for full article.