By George Jonas
National Post, via JeanChretien.Libertyca.net, October 16, 2000: When Pierre Elliott Trudeau died last month, many Canadians, even among those who recognized the flaws in his legacy -- his support of Soviet tyranny, his taste for command economics, and the deep fissures created by his multiculturalism -- nevertheless suspended judgment as the nation indulged in a reprise of Trudeaumania. Here, George Jonas argues that while Trudeau's charm and charisma are gone, his execrable ideas and institutions live on.
Like a flashback from a bad LSD trip, Canada has been in the grip of Trudeaumania. One standard dictionary defines "mania" as an "obsessional enthusiasm." This is at best. The primary definition is "a mental disorder characterized by great excitement." Perhaps Trudeaumania fit the kinder definition in 1967, but 33 years later it can only be defined in the primary sense. In the year 2000, obsessive partiality to Mr. Trudeau's legacy presupposes either ignorance of what his legacy is, or a mental disorder.
Mr. Trudeau walked among us between 1919 and 2000. He concerned himself with public affairs during the 55 years spanning 1942 and 1997, first as a student and journalist, then as a politician and national leader, and finally as an elder statesman. During those years, the first main domestic argument in Canada was between free enterprise and the interventionist economy, and the second between the unitary and the devolutionary state. Internationally, the main argument was between liberal democracy and totalitarianism. [emphasis added]
It's safe to say that in the first and the third of these arguments, Mr. Trudeau took the wrong side. The jury is still out on the second.
Some would argue Mr. Trudeau didn't take the wrong side between liberal democracy and totalitarianism, only the middle ground. This is silly. One cannot take the middle ground between life and death. If one proposes to conduct electricity, declaring neutrality between brass and rubber won't do. Mr. Trudeau did make a choice, and -- to stick with the same metaphor -- he chose rubber. Domestically, he favoured the command economy over free enterprise, and the unitary state over devolution. Internationally, he sided with Marxism-Leninism over liberal democracy. No wonder the lights failed to go on.
The wonder is that many of the same people who wouldn't see eye to eye with Mr. Trudeau on minimally two of the three fundamental questions that confronted him during his stewardship of Canada -- i.e. people who take the failure of Communism and the command economy for granted -- still grew misty-eyed at his passing, and spent the past two weeks extolling his legacy in near-hysterical terms.
David Frum (whose piece in The Wall Street Journal was titled "A Great Man, but a Catastrophic Prime Minister"), writing in this paper, helped to dispel one particularly misleading myth about Mr. Trudeau with his accurate description of Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms as "the opposite of a liberty-enhancing document." Though initially even the National Post joined the chorus of weeping and wailing, by Oct. 7, in an editorial titled "His communist pals," the paper put Mr. Trudeau's relationship with totalitarianism squarely on record. Some journalists refrained from writing about Mr. Trudeau for days after his death, because (as the columnist Michael Coren put it) "I thought it fit that he was buried before comment." Seemly as such reticence was, it allowed a deluge of appalling nonsense to inundate the media virtually unchallenged for the first number of days.
Mr. Trudeau was cut of the same cloth. He was bright, had an acid tongue and didn't suffer fools gladly. This might have been fine, except he regarded everyone who disagreed with him as a fool. Such leaders run the risk of surrounding themselves mainly with groupies, sycophants and nonentities. Mr. Trudeau was no exception. As Mr. Fulford wrote, his cabinet eventually "turned into a collection of mediocrities."