Thursday, September 29, 2011

A Country For Old Men

On Tuesday, at the Museum of Civilization, David Frum argued in favour of the proposition that Pierre Trudeau was "Canada's most disastrous prime minister:"

Pierre Trudeau was a spending fool. He believed in a state-led economy, and the longer he lasted in office, the more statist he became. The Foreign Investment Review Agency was succeeded by Petro-Canada. Petro-Canada was succeeded by wage and price controls. Wage and price controls were succeeded by the single worst economic decision of Canada's 20th century: the National Energy Program.

Frum's argument is the standard conservative criticism of Trudeau..For conservatives, Trudeau is the bogeyman of their nightmares. The trouble is that their memories are highly selective. Lawrence Martin, who argued the other side of the resolution, reminded his audience of Trudeau's accomplishments. Trudeau, Martin said, was The Great Emancipator:

With his repatriation of the Constitution, Trudeau liberated us at long last from Great Britain. With his Charter of Rights and Freedoms, he liberated us from the authority of the state. With his bilingualism and multicultural polices, he liberated us from unilingual, unicultural trappings; from anti-pluralist prejudice that had rarely seen a woman in top governing posts, that saw no Jews in the cabinet or on the Supreme Court.

Frum argued that Trudeau made the October Crisis worse:

Trudeau responded with overwhelming force, declaring martial law in Quebec, arresting dozens of people almost none of whom had any remote connection to the terrorist outrages. The arrests radicalized them, transforming many from cultural nationalists into outright independentists. As he did throughout his career, Trudeau polarized the situation - multiplying enemies for himself and unfortunately also for Canada.

If Frum had grown up in Quebec, he might see things a bit differently. Martin suggested that Trudeau's greatest accomplishment was not the Charter of Rights, the repatriation of the constitution or winning the 1980 referendum. Rather than alienating Quebec, Trudeau brought that province into the centre of Confederation:

This was a country with a 25-per-cent francophone population, yet for 100 years, Canada had a central government that functioned only in English. Trudeau’s bilingualism program ended that shame. Bilingualism was expensive, was resisted in parts of the country, but never shoved down anyone’s throat. Today millions of our citizens speak French who otherwise would not. This is a richer and more cultivated country as a result.

It is significant that Stephen Harper's new Director of Communications doesn't speak French. Harper's goal is to erase Trudeau's accomplishments. He wants to return Canada to the country is was before Trudeau, when:

There was that howling blowhard from the prairies, John Diefenbaker. He wasn’t dull, just deluded. His main appeal was to rural folk, aged 60 and over. Lester Pearson has a very good image today but back then he was no star. On the campaign trail, he was a bumbler, spoke with a lisp, could empty a room faster than R.B. Bennett.

Trudeau's crowning achievement was that he convinced a young generation of Canadians that politics mattered. Stephen Harper has convinced young Canadians that politics don't matter. They know that, for Harper, politics is about old people. Canada has become a country for old men.

This entry is cross posted at The Moderate Voice.


Anonymous said...

As usual, Frum doesn't know his ass from his elbow.

Trudeau's response to the FLQ crisis was at the request of Premier Robert Bourassa and Montreal Mayor Jean Drapeau. In fact, under the National Defence Act, Drapeau could have requested aid directly from the Canadian Armed Forces without involving Trudeau and Bourassa, but the War Measures Act was required to suspend civil liberties.

This was a popular A December 1970 Gallup Poll found that 86% of French-speaking Canadians supported this action. PC Leader Robert Stanfield also supported this action - at least at the time.

While "dozens" may have been arrested (497 actually), some were of a serious enough nature to have bail denied. As well, compensation was offered to those unjustly arrested. It's interesting that Frum gets his knickers in a knot over this yet has been silent on the Federal and Ontario governments' handling of last year's G8 and G20 protests.

While Frum may believe that Trudeau drove Quebecers to the separatist fold, there is also evidence that the FLQ's actions in precipitating the crisis severely damaged the credibility of the violent separatists and led supporters to seek a peaceful political solution.

Owen Gray said...

Frum forgets that the champion of civil liberties, Frank Scott -- a native Quebecer, poet and professor of law at McGill -- fully supported Trudeau's actions.

Trudeau was arrogant; but he was also courageous. The present prime minister, who desperately wants to put an end to Trudeau's legacy, can't hold a candle to him.

Tossing Pebbles in the Stream said...

I admire Trudeau for his accomplishments. He has done the most to shape the Canada of today, which I think most Canadians are proud of.

BUT: I will never forgive him for allowing himself to be frightened by Quebec politicians afraid of the FLQ. He fell victim to the big lie, that there were 1000 FLQ cells when in fact there was one, maybe two. What should have been a police concern became a military one that suspended our civil rights.

I was in the US at the time and told my friends there that Canadians trusted their government and that Americans would riot in the streets before they would allow government to take their rights away. How wrong I was! Along came GW Bush's politics of fear and the Patriot act (and other sinister legislation) which Americans accepted with hardly a whimper of complaint.

Owen Gray said...

I was living in Montreal during the October Crisis, Philip. I remember passing by Dominion Square, seeing the troops and feeling very uncomfortable.

On the other hand, I remember the fear people felt when Pierre Laporte's body was found in the trunk of that car.

I also remember Trudeau refusing to seek cover when the annual St. Jean Baptiste Parade descended into chaos.

There was much about Trudeau I didn't like. But I maintain that his refusal to buckle to the FLQ forced separatists to seek a political resolution for their grievances rather than a violent one.

kirbycairo said...

Leaving the FLQ crisis aside, Frum is simply a ideologist who would say and do anything to drive home his conservative agenda.

The ironies are thus: The present government oversees a larger state apparatus than Trudeau ever imagined. The present government is seeking to make the prison system more Draconian than ever. The present government is less accountable than any previous government. The present government is more lawless and more anti-democratic than any government. And of course most ironically, the present government oversees the largest debt and deficit of any Canadian government.

The fact should be clear to anyone - modern conservatives like Frum are not interested in smaller government, more accountability, genuine democracy, greater civil liberties. They are interesting only in more power for the rich and corporations; period.

Owen Gray said...

It really is interesting, Kirby, to see how Trudeau's record stacks up against Harper's record.

Frum calls Trudeau a "bad man"-- as if he were a villain in an old fashioned melodrama.

His reading of history is more hysterical than factual.