Lucky guy, Pierre Trudeau. Most every book that has been written about him has been favourable. And guess what? Most have been written by Liberally inclined authors.
But the run of fortune ends this month. Bob Plamondon, a conservative chronicler and policy consultant, is bringing out a book, The Truth About Trudeau, that is an unrelenting castigation. It takes Mr. Trudeau apart on economic policy, foreign affairs, the Just Society, Canadian unity and all else imaginable.
By coincidence, our governing Conservative Party has just announced it is beginning a comprehensive review of Canadian history. Conservatives don’t like the way it has been interpreted. Too much Liberal spin.
But they need not worry about that with this tome. Mr. Trudeau’s son is giving them a whupping in the opinion polls, mainly on account of his iconic surname, but this trashing of his old man will salve their souls.
Although the book is one-sided, it helps balance the ledger. Our prime ministers should be seen from both left and right perspectives. In the interests of disclosure: A few years ago, I suggested to Mr. Plamondon, who was looking for a book idea, that he undertake this project. He took it on but had a tough time finding a publisher because they feared that a pan job on such a famous figure wouldn’t sell.
We’ll see. Western Canadians, I suspect, will be lining up at the counters for this one. In Quebec, Brian Mulroney will be dancing in the streets.
The Truth About Trudeau says PET ballooned the deficit, ballooned the unemployment rate, ballooned inflation. It says he undermined our alliances, downgraded our military, held hands with communist dictators. It disses the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It says he did zip on the environment and scuttled constitutional accords. It says no prime minister did more to damage national unity.
Mr. Plamondon presents a detailed array of statistics and some solid analytical work to buttress his claims. He draws on some pungent observations from Liberals themselves. On Meech Lake, former Trudeau minister Francis Fox says his old boss “couldn’t stand to see Brian Mulroney succeed where he had failed.”
Where critics will have a problem with this book is with its insufficient attention to context. While it’s correct to say Mr. Trudeau’s economic performance was mainly miserable, so were the results of most other leaders through the period. Economies were crashing all over the place. Check Britain’s foundering back then and the brutal misery index in the United States. There were the OPEC oil price shocks, then stagflation, then a widespread recession. It’s doubtful any Canadian PM could have fared well. Paring down the deficit, for example, was a goal of Tory finance minister John Crosbie with his tax on gasoline in 1979. It backfired. Mr. Mulroney later wanted to cut social entitlements. The public wouldn’t have it. Paul Martin broke the back of the deficit with his 1995 budget. It could have been done in a 1985 budget, but the Tories weren’t prepared to risk the wrath.
The book laments Mr. Trudeau’s take on the United States. Again, context is needed – context such as Vietnam, racial riots, assassinations, Watergate and Richard Nixon. In these times, the last thing Canadians wanted was a leader cozying up to Washington. They wanted more economic, cultural and military independence and so did Mr. Trudeau.
Mr. Plamondon is on the money in saying that Mr. Trudeau alienated wide swaths of the country. At the same time, he had an enchanting impact as well. He is still admired by so many Canadians “because of the way he made them feel,” former Liberal strategist Chris Vivone says in the book. “He gave Canadians confidence and a sense of independence.” Add to that, a sense of strength owing to his intellectual steel.
Political evaluations are most often determined by affiliation. Liberals view Pierre Trudeau one way, Conservatives the other and never the twain shall meet. The truth about Mr. Trudeau is in the eye of the beholder and Mr. Plamondon, a conservative beholder, has made the best case against him yet.
For conservatives who want history recast, this book is a heckuva start.