Pierre Trudeau and the campaign of 2011 - Macleans.ca

Pierre Trudeau and the campaign of 2011

This election may be the last on which the former Liberal PM will have had a shaping influence


Today’s voting marks the end of what might just be the last federal campaign in which it will still be possible to detect Pierre Trudeau’s astonishingly durable influence as among the most powerful shaping forces.

You don’t see it? Well, consider the campaign’s biggest surprise—Jack Layton’s Quebec breakthrough. The fact that Layton is a New Democrat to begin with is directly traceable to Trudeau, and in particular to his handling of the October Crisis. Here’s what Layton has written about it:

“Forty years ago, I was studying at McGill University when Pierre Laporte was murdered by the FLQ. Like so many, I found myself carried away by the popular impulse to applaud Trudeau’s drastic crackdown on the threat that the FLQ seemed to represent. Then Tommy began powerfully condemning the suspension of civil rights under the War Measures Act – risking terrible ostracism to give sober voice to principle: we mustn’t use fear as a smokescreen to trample basic rights. As the vans plucked hundreds of peaceful separatists from the streets of Montreal, something clicked and I rushed to become a New Democrat.”

So Layton is, at root, an anti-Trudeau New Democrat. No wonder he is so amenable to a Québécois nationalist positions, like extending prohibitions on English to federally regulator industries in Quebec. Similarly, Stephen Harper is an anti-Trudeau Conservative, especially on provincial autonomy and economic policy. Like Layton, though, this wasn’t a matter of dry, dispassionate policy; there was an angry edge to Harper’s reaction to the dominant political figure of his formative years.

He wrote about it in an astonishingly candid newspaper column after Trudeau died in 2000 (which I’ve written about before). He spoke of happening to see the former prime minister once as an old man on the streets of Montréal. “There I came face to face with a living legend, someone who had provoked in me both the loves and hatreds of my political passion, all in the form of a tired out, little, old man,” Harper wrote. “It was an experience at once unforgettable, nostalgic and haunting.”

My hunch, for what it’s worth, is that Harper’s single-minded determination to obliterate the Liberal party flows from his gut response. I wonder if his hatred for Trudeau and the party of Trudeau hasn’t made it hard for Harper to see the NDP as an adversary worth worrying much about, or for that matter the Bloc.

That leaves Michael Ignatieff. When he first returned to Canada to try his hand at politics, the comparisons to the last Liberal intellectual-leader came so often that he had to declare repeatedly that he didn’t see himself as a Trudeau-like figure. Still, Ignatieff was eager to counter charges that he wasn’t really very Canadian, or very Liberal, by talking and writing about the excitement he felt as a national youth organizer for Trudeau in 1968.

I never got the impression from Ignatieff, though, that Trudeau was a fraught figure in his imagination. He wrote insightfully, but not emotionally, about Trudeau’s constitutional approach in his 2000 Massey Lectures book The Rights Revolution. But the longing of many Liberals, and other Canadians, for another charismatic thinker like Trudeau seemed quite often to distort the way Ignatieff was seen.

It’s hard to imagine any future campaign will feature a bunch of leaders so clearly caught up in Trudeau’s powerful slipstream. But, then, who would have predicted his potent influence would have lasted this long?


Pierre Trudeau and the campaign of 2011

  1. I wonder if his hatred for Trudeau and the party of Trudeau hasn't made it hard for Harper to see the NDP as an adversary worth worrying much about..

    I suspect it is something entirely different: He just PREFERS the NDP as sole adversary, and sees the withering of the squishy leftish middle LPC as an opportunity to attract voters from that squishy middle, as they sensibly recoil in horror from the so-way-out-in-left-field-that-math-doesn't-seem-to-matter NDP.

    If polls are to be believed, we Canadians have not necessarily followed along with the entire plan, however.

  2. Uh, linking to a Layton article where he describes, at length, why he's a Tommy Douglas New Democrat is maybe not the best way to advance the theory that he's motivated by anti-Trudeauism…And let's be honest, with the central role of Medicare and CPP in this campaign, we're once again seeing the powerful slipstream of Tommy Douglas, more than the slipstream of National Energy Program, night of long knives Trudeau…

    • Right, cuz that’all Trudeau stood for. Being elected for 16 years was just a fluke i guess? Iliked and respected Tommy but the mythology surrounding him is sometimes as overblown as Trudeau’s faults.

      • Why do today`s Liberals praise Douglas and never mention Trudeau ?

        • I don't know blue, you tell me?

          Since your assuptions aren't even close to being accurate, why bother?

  3. If this is indeed true and forms an intellectual, rather than emotional, impetus for Mr. Layton, how does he square it with the fact the Charter implemented by Trudeau is probably our single greatest protector against the state ever acting like that again?

  4. Amazing that Canadians are supposed to remember Trudeau very well, but not remember Bob Rae's Ontario.

    • Then I suspect you share my astonishment that Leslie Frost's progressive excesses have been all but forgotten. It's almost like everyone outside of Ontario doesn't care enough about Ontario.

      • I meant Canadians in Ontario are expected to remember Trudeau, but expected to forget Bob Rae.

        • wonder if rae is hoping to destroy canada like he did to ontario
          lots of old turncoats in the fiberals

    • I remember the Mike Harris debacle.

      • Which is far more relevant to the current federal scene, given the presence of Clement, Baird and Flaherty as high ranking ministers.

      • Oh yes, that we all remember.

  5. Word search: "Socialis*"
    Result: 0 items found

    I wrote "so-way-out-in-left-field-that-math-doesn't-seem-to-matter." At least keep your favourite ridiculous caricatures straight, Michael.

    Enjoy the returns tonight.

    • Are you arguing that math matters to Harper?

      • No. I have given up on Harper being a true small-government sane conservative.

        The only math that matters to Harper is electoral.

  6. Harper and Trudeau were on the same side on the Charlottetown Accord. The only two major political figures at the time to oppose it (other than Clyde Wells). Harper had to drag Preston Manning kicking and screaming to oppose it. (Ignatieff sat out the Charlottetown debate. He just wasn't into Canada and us all that much then.)

    Trudeau brought Quebec into the bosom of Canada in Ottawa. Harper is completing the mission, "bringing the West in". Yin and yang.

    Layton is replaying the Mulroney agenda, of promising special status/powers to Quebec nationalists to advance his political career.

    • Harper in 2006 told Quebecers he'd give them "pride and power" if they supported him. Then, he had Parliament declare "the Quebecois" to be a nation. His opposition to Charlottetown was admirable, but where did that Stephen Harper go?

    • Don’t put it that way. I’m already nervous about voting NDP. I’ll predict that if Jack is goinning to attempt to one up Mulroney he wont be around long, and he wont have mine long either. Maybe he has a third way. Trudeau was great as a fighter…less so as a healer.

  7. Will future elections be free of Trudeau’s influence?

    one word: Justin.

  8. If that quote from Layton is anything other then a youthful failure to imagine all the repercussions of Trudeau not acting, then i say we have a problem Houston. I don't expect everyone to be on the same page by any means, but if Jack still thinks that just a bit of love and understanding would have saved that situation then he's a fool.
    I'll take issue with you JG. If Jack has nothing to offer but saying yes to Canada and yes to separatists, then the ghost of Trudeau will continue to stalk this land for a while yet at least.

  9. Might as well make another prediction, this seems the blog for it.
    One day someone is going to write a great book about how the two men were so much alike – Trudeau and Harper; despite Harper’s protestations to the contrary. They’re both brilliant, great strategists and both prone to absolutism, although both contarians in the sense they can/could be remarkably empathetic and insight on occasion. Both ruthless. Both capable of pushing whatever envelope they chose to. Both originals. Both capable of the breathtaking lie. Both determined to have their way. Hell, Harper;s even stolen a number of things from the Trudeau play book, including all the boutique micro tax credits that Trudeau loved and seemed addicted too.
    Of course they were polar opposites too…and i know which pole i much preferred.

    • Except one hated Alberta and the other loved it.

      • Yeah, that's soooo deep.

  10. a picture tells 1000 words, and that snapshot shows why Trudeau was the greatest Prime Minister of Canada.
    Mulrooney jealously tried to outdo him, but instead MulDUMMY almost split the country apart.
    Well, now we have our "mini-Mulrooney" at the conservative majority helm.
    What a sad sad day it is for Canada.
    And when Harper slowly turns against Alberta, B.C…., in the near future, since he doesn't need them anymore, then we'll all be glad that Jack Layton did become and NDP, and will hoepfully save us from Harper's final end of Canada, as we knew it.

    • THANK YOU!

  11. "Trudeau's faults" can NEVER be 'overblown!' Our great grand-children will be paying off the country's debt for what he did to Canada.

    • Give me a bloody break! The country was in surplus for several years before Harper squandered it all away BEFORE the recession even began.

      And I don't know why LPC & NDP don't attack Mulroney with the same venom for NAFTA & GST; a flat tax that hurt the low income earners.

  12. The Charter of Rights is more of an albatross around our collective necks rather than a 'great protector.' Think Human Rights Commissions and how absolutely redundant they have become – and you'll realize what I'm referring to.

    • First of all, Human Rights Commissions do not flow from the Charter. They are creatures of statute. Secondly, I'd guess that their ratio of sensible to loony decisions is no different from the ratio you'd get in the lower court system. And like loony decisions from lower courts, they can be appealed to higher courts. The only difference, therefore, is that Human Rigths Tribunals are extremely inexpensive for both complainant and defendant, meaning that people who have been fired from their jobs – possibly unjustly – can actually afford to have a hearing there. And that seems like an essential component of making sure human rights are upheld in this country.

  13. Under Bob Rae, as an NDP, Ontario's economy was shattered. When he turned Liberal, another form of mental illness, he definitely would have destroyed the country as a whole.

  14. Suffering through a global recession, Canada fared pretty good under the Harper government, compared to stateside and the majority of European countries. After the Bob Rae 'debacle' Mike Harris did a decent job of trying to clean up the mess he was left with.

    • Well thanks to the Chretien-Martin years of sane fiscal policy, Canada did fare "good" on a relative basis.

      Harris and Flaherty were a disaster and the effects of downloading to cities are still being felt.

  15. Obviously you weren't 'out here' during the '80's when thousands were forced to walk away from their homes due to Trudeau passing the NEP. You could describe that disaster as 'soooo deep'….as being deeply screwed by PET.

  16. If any PM in their disillusioned mind would ever think that Canada didn't need Alberta or BC anymore…TROC would hear a resounding "BAHEE!" We would separate so fast, Quebec would suffer whiplash. In other words, WE DON'T NEED TO SEND YOU GUYS ANY OF OUR OIL MONEY! Suck it up muffins, you either want our transfer money or share Jack Layton's socialist fantasy world.

    Oh yeah…born and raised in Ontario but proud of my 'red neck' now….muffins.

  17. Not to mention, Harper's put us in a greater debt far worse than Trudeau's… how long will it take our grand-children to pay off +$70B F35 jets, etc???