For the Canadian Right, Pierre Elliott Trudeau is the bogeyman. Stephen Harper, who used to admire Trudeau, came to believe the standard Conservative line, best expressed by Bob Plamondon in his book, The Truth About Trudeau:
“Far from being one of the best of our prime ministers, he was one of the worst. [He] left deep divisions and scars that remain to be healed. … It took successive leaders many decades to clean up the disorder.”
Somewhere between the time he left Toronto and started to refer to Calgary as his "home town," Harper dedicated himself to undoing what Trudeau had achieved. But, Andrew Cohen writes in The Ottawa Citizen, Plamondon's take on Trudeau is fundamentally misguided:
Consider national unity, where Trudeau was indispensable. Plamondon correctly argues that Trudeau was “obsessed” with bringing home the British North America Act, a process that initially left most Canadians indifferent. After all, he says, we’d done fine with things as they were. Sure, patriation would happen, “but only when the time was right.”
Yet the time was never right — and likely never would be, at least in Trudeau’s lifetime. We had been trying since 1927 to free the BNA Act from British trusteeship. That paralysis appalled Trudeau, who believed in a striving, mature, self-respecting nation. His magnificent obsession, as it was called, was what drove him to detach ourselves from Great Britain, to create an amending formula and to entrench a Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It was to become adults in this world.
If anything, Stephen Harper wishes he could turn back the clock and return us to our colonial past. As for dividing the country -- a mantra which the right continually repeats -- Cohen writes:
Trudeau repeatedly took on the forces of division. He spoke for Canada with a singular, eloquent passion. In 1968, at a federal-provincial conference, he challenged Daniel Johnson’s suffocating nationalism. In 1970, he vanquished the terrorists in the October Crisis. His response crushed the FLQ, sparing Canada the violence that stung Italy and West Germany in the 1970s.
In 1980, in the Quebec Referendum, he rallied the flagging federalists. In three timely, brilliant speeches, he reversed the trend — an intervention reflected in a shift in public opinion. As one critic said, had Trudeau been a separatist rather than a federalist, Quebec would be independent now.
In 1987, he challenged the Meech Lake Accord, and in 1992, the Charlottetown Agreement. He thought they were flawed. Such was his stature among Canadians that both times he carried the day.
Every time things became hot in the Constitutional Wars, we were told this was the end of Canada. If it wasn’t the separatists in Quebec, it was the premiers or the devolutionists in the most decentralized federation in the world. Patriation, the Charter, the collapse of Meech Lake, the end of Charlottetown: each time, the Cassandras, the Jeremiahs, the shiver sisters, the currency traders — and often the political elite — issued their alarms.
Trudeau, bless him, ignored them. He knew this country was stronger than that.
Cohen freely admits that Trudeau was a flawed leader: "He made mistakes and enemies." But, "That’s what greatness is. Nations don’t raise statues in parks to managers of banality or accountants of envy."
What really drives Stephen Harper is his knowledge that he isn't Pierre Elliott Trudeau. In the final analysis, he is an "accountant of envy." He may battle Trudeau's son. But he can't hold a candle to Trudeau the Elder.