Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Not On His Father's Terms



There are those who claim that Justin Trudeau became prime minister because of his name. And, in his first months in office, I find myself comparing him -- unfavourably -- to his father. Lawrence Martin argues that, in many ways, Justin is not his father's son. And that is all for the better:

In fact, the case could well be made that Justin Trudeau is a more complex individual than his father, deeper in terms of his range of emotions and vulnerabilities, broader in terms of of his interests and relationships. The father tended to limit his reading to non-fiction. Justin, while having studied engineering as well the humanities, was a habitual reader of novels, arguing in his home that “encyclopedias could teach me facts, but only a great story could transport me into the mind of another person.

While the father who lived only in Central Canada loathed the politics of door-knocking, the son who lived on the West Coast for a period revelled in it, developing a closer relationship with and understanding of regular people. The father moved through life into his forties as a boulevardier, generally doing as he pleased, experiencing little in the way of hardship. While benefiting from the security that parental wealth brings, Justin Trudeau has had experiences far more trying.

Justin has admitted as much. Trudeau the Elder

gave him books, one of which, as Justin Trudeau wrote about in his own memoir Common Ground, was about extraordinary steps to be taken to adapt to emotional agonies. “My father’s approach, which he encouraged me to practise, had little or nothing to do with emotions. It was exclusively intellectual.” But that approach didn’t work with Justin. Preoccupying him instead was the psychological turmoil of his mother, Margaret. “My mother’s challenge was to deal with her emotions, and I became caught up in that process.”

Time will tell just what kind of prime minister Trudeau the Younger will be. But perhaps we do him a disservice if we try to measure him using his father as a rubric.


Image: www.cbc.ca


12 comments:

Steve said...

I love the concept of a leader who takes experience from fiction. Speaking of which he could do worse than to have a converstation with Kim Stanley Robinson.

Owen Gray said...

I have to admit, Steve, that I am unfamiliar with his or her work.

Lorne said...

I suspect it is much better, Owen, to have a reader of novels than an ascetic philosopher king as our leader.

Owen Gray said...

I am withholding judgement on Justin, Lorne. However, at this point, I get the feeling that he is both his parents' son.

Pamela Mac Neil said...

It's very tempting Owen, to compare Justin with his father, especially for us of a certain age who were there when Pierre Trudeau was PM.It is better to give Justin more time, but I find even in these early days I am judging some of the decisions he has made. Some I agree with others I don't.I think after he has a few years behind him, people will have a fuller picture of who this new PM is.

Pamela Mac Neil said...

I agree Owen. I'm waiting to see what he does with CETA and TPP.

Owen Gray said...

The Saudi arms deal is deeply troubling, Pam. And I'm waiting to see where he stands on the environment. His first budget -- despite Kevin Page's warning -- is a good first step. We'll have to see where he goes from here.

Owen Gray said...

Two other big question marks, Pam.

The Mound of Sound said...


I find Martin's analysis pretty facile. Yes, JT dealt with a broken home and a mom with mental problems but that isn't especially unusual, unfortunately. And, yes, he did travel to the poshest part of Vancouver to teach elementary school but I can't see that as hugely character building.

Martin's take consigns a lot of PET's complexity to obscurity. After I read it, I just glanced at my own bookshelf. There I found some of elder's writings from Cite Libre, an anthology of his essays in "Trudeau, Federalism and the French Canadians," his memoirs aptly entitled "Memoir," and a few biographies including "Trudeau, Against the Current," "Trudeau's Shadow," "Trudeau and Our Times," "Shrug, Trudeau in Power," and "Just Watch Me, The Life of Pierre Elliot Trudeau, 1968-2000." Some of them are critical but, taken together, they provide a fairly detailed and balanced look at Justin's father. I also found a copy of Trudeau's address, "A mess that deserves a big NO" in which he denounced the Meech Lake/Charlottetown Accord initiative of Mulroney.

You cannot read these and conclude that the father is somehow less complex that the son. While Justin was at school and then teaching his father was editor of Cite Libre and in a protracted battle against Duplessis. The Jesuits taught him to put reason over passion in his dealings. It wasn't, as widely assumed, that the father wasn't passionate. He was, enormously so. That's what drove him to achieve such things as patriating the constitution and implementing the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, a legislative enactment unparalleled in the history of Canada's prime ministers. This is all swept under Martin's carpet.

Then we have C-51, BDS, the Saudi arms deal, support for pipelines and bitumen trafficking. I suppose that's complex although the significance is pretty straightforward to me.

Owen Gray said...

Trudeau Sr. was an amazingly complex man, Mound. When I read Martin's piece, I thought of my relationship with my father and my relationship with my three sons. My father was a mechanical engineer who thought like an engineer. But he insisted that I should think my own thoughts -- even when they came into conflict with his own. We had our disagreements. But we survived and I loved him dearly.

I try to remember that when I deal with my own kids. It's the father-son relationship that is really complex. And each son has to try and navigate his way through it -- and become a person in his own right.

Steve said...

Owen if you want to be uplifted by the human potential of a novel written well before we needed an esape fantasy read Kim, its fantastic and as real as an election promise.

Owen Gray said...

I'll look into her stuff, Steve.