The new anti-Trudeau book: I'm in there, just not recognizably -

The new anti-Trudeau book: I’m in there, just not recognizably


Finding your name in the index of a real, honest-to-goodness, hardcover book, especially if you toil making short-lived works of journalism, is generally an ego-replenishing moment. So it was for me—if only fleetingly—when I saw a little something I’d written cited in Bob Plamandon’s The Truth About Trudeau, the Conservative commentator’s newly published bid to “set the record straight” about Pierre Elliott Trudeau.

Plamondon touches on a blog post I dashed off for the Maclean’s website one morning back in the fall of 2011. With my coffee that day, as I recall, I read a David Frum piece in the paper about what a terrible failure Trudeau had been, and I found his arguments flimsy. To sum up very briefly, Frum slammed Trudeau for mismanaging the economy and fomenting national disunity. But hadn’t governments all over, I thought, struggled in much the same way Trudeau did with 1970s stagflation? And wasn’t Trudeau the guy who held off René Levesque’s compelling brand of separatism in the anxious 1976-1980 period?

So I wrote up a little rejoinder. Plamondon’s account of it is not what I would have expected. He’s right that I credited Trudeau with standing up to separatists, but where did he get the impression that I admitted the prime minister of my youth “failed in just about every other important dimension”? I conceded nothing of the sort.

In fact, in that blog post I pointed out how Trudeau’s economic-policy shortcomings were largely the product of confounding times, not a distinctive failure of his government. On issues related to Quebec’s place in Canada, I lauded his bilingualism policy, argued that he was the essential counterbalance to Levesque, and mentioned two authors (William Tetley and John English) whose books cast his controversial actions during the October Crisis in a favourable light.  The only signal Trudeau failure I touched on specifically was the National Energy Program, though I guess I could come up with others if pressed.

But that was supposed to be the task Plamondon took on in writing The Truth About Trudeau. I’m not sure how well he succeeds. On Trudeau’s economic record, for instance, he seems to imagine this packs a wallop: “As a share of Canada’s economy, federal spending under Trudeau increased from 17.1 per cent of GDP to 24.3 per cent.” Anybody gasp at that? No? Me neither. It’s just not an outlandish figure. For comparison’s sake, U.S. federal spending as a share of GDP hovers around the 20 per cent mark.

I thought I might find the chapter entitled “At war with the Canadian military” more persuasive. It’s certainly true that defence’s portion of federal spending dropped during Trudeau’s years in office. But I read along wondering how Plamondon would incorporate into his narrative the Trudeau government’s watershed decisions after 1975 to initiate a spate of major military purchases, including new Leopard tanks, CF-18 fighter jets and naval frigates. (Experts tell me these multibillion-dollar buys underpinned the sense of renewal in the military, as the new equipment was delivered and put into service, during the early Brian Mulroney years. ) But Plamondon passes over the procurement boom, devoting space instead to other telling details, like Trudeau’s meeting with John Lennon and Yoko Ono.

Plamondon fair-mindedly credits Trudeau’s approach to official languages. “Trudeau’s policies and programs have not only been endorsed and expanded upon by his political successors of all stripes, but the public has increasingly come to support the notion of Canada as a bilingual nation,” he writes. However, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, according to Plamondon, “remains a divisive document.” I suppose that’s so among academics, but poll after poll shows the Charter to be solidly popular with the people.

Perhaps the most serious charge Plamondon levels is that Trudeau resorted to the War Measures Act in 1970, not in response to “kidnapping and terrorism,” but to counter “the separatist cause itself.” He writes: “That was the real political issue Trudeau sought to confront, even if he required the army and the suspension of civil liberties to do it.” It’s entirely valid of course to debate, as many have, whether suspending civil liberties was justified by the FLQ kidnappings and their immediate aftermath; but to assert that Trudeau merely used those events and that climate as a pretext is another matter.

I look forward to real experts—historians, policy specialists, people who were actually there—hashing over this dark claim, and much more, in what I expect will be a thoroughly enjoyable debate over this book. If I had already decided that Trudeau failed in just about every “important dimension,” I suppose these arguments wouldn’t matter much to me. But that is assuredly not where I stand.


The new anti-Trudeau book: I’m in there, just not recognizably

  1. Wasn’t Bob Plamondon’s first book Hay West where he helped organize hay shipments from Eastern Canadian farmers to those in drought stricken Northern Alberta?

    I remember hearing a lot about that in the media, then driving west of Calgary to Banff some time later and seeing no shortage of large circular bails of hay in fields lining both sides of the TransCanada. Apparently, southern farmers avoided the drought and had plenty of hay, they just wouldn’t sell it below market.

    The funniest was the farmer on the local talk show encouraging listeners to “adopt a cow” – ie feed it so it could be butchered next year instead of then with the depressed prices for beef (as a result of culling of the herds).

  2. Ever since Canada had a PM who admired the nazis and spent the war years in Montreal riding a motorcycle wearing German paraphernalia, Canada has seen an increase in inequality with immigrants and we also now have a week dedicated to Jew bashing at our universities that didn’t exist before.

    Does Plamondon discuss what having an ethnic nationalist in charge of so much social policy did to Canada’s immigrants and their chance of success?


    Even as Canada has worked diligently to attract the world’s most educated workers, the country has witnessed a dramatic decline in the economic welfare of its most skilled immigrants. It’s a decline other countries—nations far less welcoming to highly skilled imimigrants than Canada—have managed to avoid.

    In 1970, men who immigrated to Canada earned about 85 per cent of the wages of Canadian-born workers, rising to 92 per cent after a decade in the country. By the late 1990s, they earned just 60 per cent, rising to 78 per cent after 15 years, according to Statistics Canada studies. These days, university-educated newcomers earn an average of 67 per cent of their Canadian-born, university-educated counterparts.

    • You’re an imbecile. Ever heard of a book called, One is too many? Anti Semitisim long pre dated pet in Canada. If you haven’t i suggest you read it and quit bsing.

      • anti antisemitism existed in Canada before PET, but it wasn’t openly celebrated on University campuses until he came along.

        • That’s simply idiotic. The radicalizing of campuses has happened to some degree or other all over the western world…was Trudeau responsible for that too?

          • Everybody knows that Trudeau was an open anti semite. Stop trying to deflect from that fact. He’s largely responsible for the open anti Semetism that comes many many people on the left wing.

          • Did you read that in a book somewhere? Or did some read it for you? Perhaps you can explain why Trudeau owned the Jewish vote while PM? Why he had the first Jewish cabinet minister – Herb Grey?
            Your problem is you don’t read anything but anti Trudeau diatribes like Plamondon’s most likely figures to be.

          • Ah the old generalization, the everybody tp. Always the last refuge of the partisan with no actual facts.


    I remember that interview/debate. Lawrence Martin kicked Frum’s butt.

    I think you have a line that you might want to revise there Mr G. As for Plamondon, he’s another tub thumping idiot when it comes to Trudeau. Like Frum he can’t seem to see the guy through his bias. To assert Trudeau used the WMA to go after Quebec separatists, in the face of the known facts is ludicrous.Even Tommy didn’t go that far. Does he give supporting evidence? I’ll bet not!

    Why don’t they take a leaf out of Conrad’s book when it comes to acknowledging pet’s accomplishments? But even he starts to froth at the mouth if you mention relations with the US or Cuba during Trudeau’s time. Fact is Trudeau was in sinc with the majority of public opinion back then, and it just eats these guys up to have to admit it.

    I once had a brief email debate with Conrad, who started to lose it when i suggested that Trudeau was right to oppose or be skeptical of Ronnie’s star wars programme…Trudeau was crazy, insane to oppose it…his Lordship bellowed at me.[ i imagine he was bellowing]

    What is it abut that time that drives these guys nuts? Trudeau’s secret was – as Richard Gywn said – was that underneath it all he really was a conservative man – at least not radical in the way he actually governed. Yet people like Jonas virtually accused him of being a Russkie spy…weird! But we also forget just how ideological the right was back then too.

    • Trudeau was well-educated and well-travelled and so was more cosmopolitan than most of his contemporaries….especially second-raters like Reagan, Nixon….and Black

      Trudeau had a wider view of the world once he was able to excape from his parochial little society and actually see it. Some Canadians loved him for this, others hated him for the same views. They did the same thing with Dion and Ignatieff…..the very reason many people left Canada in the first place.

      • True enough. There’s a reason this country keeps on picking folks like Harper or Chretien to run the shop. I hate to say it, but we are [ not so much now many of us are city dwellers]a pretty provincial lot , by and large. We don’t like intellectuals as PMs. Trudeau was the exception, because he was also a tough bastard too.
        It’ll be interesting to see what happens with JT. The fight he had is likely to loom large in the mind of voters down the road. The best thing Ignatieff could have done for himself was to duff up John Baird. I suspect it would have been a cat fight though.

        • Agree totally Any other country would give it’s eyeteeth to get the choices we’ve had…..but WE keep picking ‘average guys, unless they hide the brains.

          And in Harper’s case, they’re so well hidden, we’ll never find them LOL

        • boneheads and bast$rds – that is the choice for a canadian PM – get rid of the former a.s.a.p and we always re-elect the latter .. I rememeber working very hard for Trudeau Senior after he gave the protesters the finger :) and then the young Liband a few men went crazy for the guy – I daresay if you broke the demographics down women were the reason he became and stayed PM until the charm wore off – much the same will happen with junior I daresay in about a year to year and a half watch – nowadays with so many choices it’s hard to stay enraptured by a new cult for very long!

          • I very much doubt just having the female vote kept PET afloat for 16 years. And while it may be more true of JT, it isn’t exclusively so at all.

  4. “If I had already decided that Trudeau failed in just about every “important dimension,” I suppose these arguments wouldn’t matter much to me. But that is assuredly not where I stand.”

    Obviously that’s not where you stand, you’re a partisan Liberal John. The fact that the NEP is the only failure you can attribute to him is a sure sign you were in the bag for him long before you researched any facts.

    Trudeau was the guy who wracked up massive deficits that were bankrupting Canada so badly that Mulrooney had to implement the GST, and even with that massive new source of revenue Chretien had to take the axe to many important services like healthcare and education in the 90’s. If it weren’t for Trudeau, Canada likely would have never run a deficit in the last 20 years.

    But sure, try to view him through rose colored glasses. Everybody west of Thunder Bay knows damn well what Trudeau’s legacy is.

    • Trudeau and the Liberals left Canada with a debt of 160 billion dollars. Mulroney and the Conservatives, with their economic policies, inflated Canada’s debt during 2 terms to over 500 billion dollars.

      • No, it was Trudeau’s spending. Unless you’re suggesting that Mulroney should have slashed spending by 60%? Mulroney couldn’t undo Trudeau’s spending, so was forced to bring in the GST. That’s the thing about Trudeau’s deficits, is he doesn’t just take credit for the debt accumulated while he was in office, but all the debt that added up over the decades because of his deficit spending.

    • Ask the 65000 people that live in Ft McMurray how bad the NEP was….it built that city!!!

  5. Thank you for this article- the virtual hate speech at the NPost is disturbing

  6. The Charter is popular with the people sure, but anyone who disagrees with the dictates of the Supreme Court has no voice. What about the religious conservatives who object to same sex marriage? Should they be left without a voice? Should unelected judges choose the laws of Canada based on Trudeau’s and the Provinces’ lawyers?