Text Box: James Allan Evans

Fugitive Fragments

Pierre Trudeau’s Mind.


Commentator 12/4, April, 1968.


              Pierre Elliott’s Trudeau’s Federalism and the French Canadians (Macmillan, $5.25) appeared with fine timing, before, but not too much before, the Liberal leadership convention. The image makers have been presenting him as an intellectual in politics, but Anglo Canadians who have not read Cité Libre in the 1950s, have been more or less unfamiliar with what has been engaging his intellect. Now they can find out.

              This image of politician as intellectual is relatively new here. Every politician worth mentioning these days has written a book; at the moment I have two by Paul Martin and one by Eric Kierans sitting on a corner of my desk. Trudeau’s Federalism and the French Canadians is somewhat better bound and printed than a great many of these efforts. The quality of mind is somewhat better, too. The pages of Cité Libre, which Trudeau helped to found, used to present cogent, well-written articles, and some of this style comes over into the English of this book.

              However, it was Trudeau the intellectual who interested me as I read this book, which is a collection of essays and speeches, the last of which dates to 1967. He is a man who likes to oppose prevailing ideas, but there is something a little self-conscious, perhaps, about this quality. Yet, as far as French Canada is concerned, it strikes me that he is the true revolutionary, far more than any separatist. Compared to Trudeau, Daniel Johnson is on the side of the Establishment in Quebec. Johnson’s style is different from that of Duplessis, and his power base has shifted a little. After all, a great deal has happened in Quebec in the last decade, and Johnson has updated his party, the “Union Nationale”, to go along with the changes. But plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. Trudeau’s attitude is new. I think that if I were a French Canadian, I might admire him, but I should find it hard to like him.

              English Canadians will probably be more interested in his concept of federalism. For Trudeau, as far as I can discover, federalism should be based on an agreement between provincial and federal governments, whereby each stays in its respective cage, and does not encroach on any other government’s power. This is ideal classic federalism. In practice, the provincial and federal governments will always compete for power, the Anglo provinces as much as Quebec. And Quebec, since it is different, is likely to do it more successfully.

              In any case, Trudeau’s intellectual image comes through well. His book is quite as well written as President Kennedy’s Profiles of Courage, and a good deal more courageous. And, since the image makers are asking us to compare Kennedy and Trudeau, that is a good thing.

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