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U.S. President Richard Nixon and Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau meet in Ottawa on April 14, 1972. (John McNeill)
U.S. President Richard Nixon and Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau meet in Ottawa on April 14, 1972. (John McNeill)

Norman Spector

Canada's 'draft dodger' PM Add to ...

In his final telegram home before leaving Ottawa, British High Commissioner Lord Moran observed about Pierre Trudeau:

"With some reason, he has not been greatly respected or trusted in London. He has never entirely shaken off his past as a well-to-do hippie and draft dodger. His views on East/West relations have been particularly suspect."

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Perhaps Lord Moran had Mr. Trudeau's "peace initiative" in mind when he wrote these words. Indeed, the most damning assessment of that initiative - until now - was that of our former ambassador to Moscow under Mr. Trudeau, Robert Ford, who famously observed that Canada lacked the power to effect change in either East or West.

According to a CP report by Joan Bryden, the second volume of John English's biography of Mr. Trudeau, which will be in book stores tomorrow, may explain Lord Moran's harsh judgment of our former prime minister:

"When Trudeau approved testing of cruise missiles over Canadian territory in 1983, one of his paramours at that time - Margot Kidder, an actress and peace activist - took it upon herself to persuade him to reconsider.

While he maintained that Canada had no choice as a member of NATO, Trudeau nevertheless invited Kidder to a dinner during a visit to Washington, in which she 'argued vehemently with senior Reagan administration officials while he urged her on by squeezing her thigh each time she scored a point,' English writes.

Kidder pressed Trudeau to meet with anti-nuclear activist Helen Caldicott. She taunted him about being on 'the other side' but, as she put it in one letter, 'You're a potential ally. I'll get you on our side if it kills me.'

'Slowly,' writes English, 'Pierre began to shift to her side.'

Pressured by Kidder, harassed by anti-nuclear protesters on Parliament Hill and worried about the possibility of a nuclear war, Trudeau launched a personal peace initiative in the fall of 1983. He planned to meet with the heads of the five nuclear superpowers and other foreign leaders, trying to tone down the belligerent Cold War rhetoric and kickstart negotiations for an expanded non-proliferation agreement.

His initiative won accolades from Kidder, as well as Streisand and Garnett, among others. But Canadian pundits were skeptical about his sincerity and English himself concludes that Trudeau's impact on the end of the Cold War was 'marginal.'

With his poll numbers down and his caucus in open revolt, a discouraged Trudeau allowed his peace initiative to peter out in February, 1984, and announced his resignation from politics a few weeks later - even though, English says, 'There can be no doubt that Trudeau wanted to stay'."

Some Canadians will agree with Lord Moran's assessment of Pierre Trudeau. On the other hand, a Toronto Star columnist, apparently unaware that it would take a unanimous agreement to amend the constitution, was so infuriated by the "trashing" of Mr. Trudeau that he suggested we cut our links with the Crown if we cannot get the respect of the British in future.

Notably, in advance of the book launch this evening in Toronto, Toronto Star readers will not be reading Ms. Bryden's report this morning; instead, they will read this about Professor English's biography of the former prime minister.

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