BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Truth About Trudeau’

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THE TRUTH ABOUT TRUDEAU
By Bob Plamondon
Great River Media, $34.95, 411 pages

Pierre Elliott Trudeau served as Canada’s 15th prime minister from 1968 to 1979, and again from 1980 to 1984. His critics and admirers both acknowledge he was many things to many people: youthful, energetic, intelligent, strategic and a keen observer of politics. A liberal by political persuasion, he was loved by Canada’s left and reviled by Canada’s right.

Two of Trudeau’s biographers, Christina McCall and Stephen Clarkson, coined a popular saying about their well-known subject, “He haunts us still.” This is certainly true in terms of books written about this particular prime minister, which have been overwhelmingly positive. That’s not to say the work of Trudeau biographers such as John English, Richard Gwyn, Thomas Axworthy, Max and Monique Nemni, Ms. McCall and Mr. Clarkson are devoid of merit. Rather, it’s just that the critiques — that include a few volumes by Lubor J. Zink — have been few and far between.

Bob Plamondon has taken a huge first step in changing this perception. An author, researcher and conservative political commentator, he is among those Canadians spoken about in mere whispers who refuse to worship at the feet of false political idols. Mr. Plamondon’s new book comes with one of the most straightforward titles you’ll ever see: “The Truth About Trudeau.” In turn, it will help blaze an important trail in achieving some level of balance in the analysis of Trudeau’s time in office.

To fully understand how Canadians got caught up in “Trudeaumania” (as it used to be called), the myths of “Trudeaupia” (his utopian vision) have to be systemically broken down.

Mr. Plamondon’s well-written account shows how Trudeau “distanced Canada from our traditional allies and undermined our relations with countries upon whom we relied for trade and national security.” Meanwhile, the former prime minister’s “fascination with socialism, even communism, made him unique among western leaders. It proved a lifelong enthrallment, grounded by Trudeau’s socialist inclinations and his many treks to communist countries while a private citizen, places where most foreigners did not often tread.” With the notable exceptions of Mr. Zink and now Mr. Plamondon, few writers have been willing to discuss Trudeau’s political past in the shadow of the Iron Curtain.

Conservatives, libertarians and other right-leaning individuals will be pleased with the way “The Truth About Trudeau” dissects Trudeau’s various political and economic positions.

For example, this “self-proclaimed champion of individual liberties … largely tilted the playing field against free speech by imposing an expensive, bureaucratic and, at times, zealous Human Rights Commission and Human Rights Tribunal.” With respect to immigration, he “embraced multiculturalism as the antidote to nationalism and the dominance of Canada’s ‘two solitudes,’” rather than following the more logical American melting-pot theory. He fought for official bilingualism, which “has been costly and divisive at times” and led to “significant public anxiety,” all in the name of appeasing the province of Quebec. When it came to Canada’s financial well-being, Mr. Plamondon correctly notes, Trudeau “imposed socialist economic policies that were experimental, extravagant, and ultimately destructive.”

One of the most interesting chapters in “The Truth About Trudeau” is his never-ending infatuation — or, as Mr. Plamondon calls it, “obsession” — with the Canadian Constitution. It was often depicted as Trudeau’s raison d’etre during his long political career. As prime minister, he “took offense at Canada’s ongoing legislative connection to Great Britain.” He found the British North American Act to be “a rather bland piece of legislation,” and desired to see “a constitution that spoke to high-minded values rather than precedent and good governance.” More to the point, Trudeau “wanted those values ultimately to be protected by the courts rather than the people’s elected representatives.”

Trudeau’s vision was to rebuild Canada in his own image. He was a lone wolf who truly didn’t care about other people’s opinions. The author neatly describes his philosophy as “personalism.” He continually rolled the dice on pet issues that mattered to him. Trudeau, who died in 2000, shattered the local economy so badly in his second term that it took decades for Canada to recover. That’s why Mr. Plamondon writes, “Far from being one of our best prime ministers, he was one of the worst.”

There is a subtle amount of irony that Trudeau’s son, Justin, was just elected Liberal Party leader this April. Party supporters are clearly hoping for a second dose of political lightning in a bottle. If Canadians are smart, they’ll read Mr. Plamondon’s book — and break the glass before it has a chance to cause further political and economic damage.

Michael Taube, a former speechwriter for Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, is a contributor to The Washington Times.

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