SUNNY WAYS: THE TRUDEAU LEGACY IN FOREIGN POLICY.
By Paul Merkley.
After we have seen a few months of Mr. Trudeau’s foreign policy in action we will be in position to judge to what extent it really does diverge from the policy in effect over the last nine years or so – as everyone seems to assume that it will. However, no grown-up person imagines that by then our foreign policy will really have evolved into the “sunny ways” that Mr. Trudeau remembers as characterizing the policies of his father, Pierre Elliot Trudeau (Prime Minister 1967-1979, 1980-1984.)
The Apprenticeship of Pierre Elliott Trudeau.
Pierre Elliot Trudeau was brought into Federal Politics at the top: recruited by Prime Minister Lester Pearson as a stellar-member of Quebec’s chattering class, he was parachuted to a safe riding (1965) and immediately made Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister, without ever having had any experience of public office. This exercise conformed to the blue-ribbon career-pattern already established for W. L. M. King and for Pearson himself. Acclaimed throughout the English-language media as the best hope for Quebec in Canada, Pierre Trudeau was quickly elected Party leader, and as Pearson stepped down, moved into the Prime Minister’s office in time for the election of June, 1968.
While the mercurial Trudeau had consistently expressed contempt for the Canadian tendency to over-rate Canada’s significance in world affairs, he at once changed tack on becoming Prime Minister, and, in effect, became his own Minister of Foreign Affairs.
The Legacy of Realism.
Canada’s government had, in fact, only taken jurisdiction over its own Foreign Policy in the years following the Second War. It was the Liberal Governments of W.L.M. King and Louis St. Laurent who gave shape to this Foreign Policy and to the Defence Policy that was intended to undergird it.
St. Laurent’s political philosophy was distinctively realistic — intentionally dedicated to avoiding the errors of the 1930s: the disaster of appeasement and the general obliviousness to the great world that was made possible by our long tutelage under Britain. Above all, realism required readiness to work closely with the United States in military and strategic matters. This essentially pro-American disposition lasted until Vietnam became an issue during the Johnson presidency. Even then, the governments of those years kept their strongest objections to U.S. policy out of public view.
“Realism” was the keynote of most English-language academic teaching and publication on foreign policy in the period 1945 to mid-1960s. The leading spirits were the American political philosophers Hans Morgenthau, Reinhold Niebuhr, Kenneth W. Thompson, George F. Kennan, E. H. Carr and Robert E. Osgood. In the History and Political Science Departments of leading Canadian Universities, the most respected lecturers were, more often than not, men who in the 1930s, had assisted the founding of the CCF. Most of these now recanted their erstwhile pacifism and their pro-Sovietism during the 1930s and (with historian Frank H. Underhill of the University of Toronto in the lead) tore up their CCF membership cards and proclaimed their loyalty to realism, to liberalism and to Liberalism.
Sources of Trudeau’s Political Philosophy.
Pierre Elliot Trudeau had been reared in a very different milieu. Born in 1919 (and thus a generation younger than the cohort to which St. Laurent, Pearson and Diefenbaker belonged), he was educated by Jesuits in elitist French-language colleges at a time when Quebec’s isolationism was being refurbished with inspiration from powerfully xenophobic French philosophers and theologians like Charles Maurras. Towards the end of his life, Trudeau recalled for his biographers the talk around him in his student days: “They said that Pétain was a hero, and de Gaulle was a traitor. They said that Mussolini, Salazar and Franco were admirable corporatist leaders. They said that the democratic leaders were sellouts. That is the atmosphere in which I was brought up.” [ Max and Monique Nemni, Young Trudeau, 1919-1944, pp. 55-58.]
The story of Trudeau’s intellectual nurture and youthful education is rushed over quickly in his memoirs, and described mainly in terms of affectionate generalizations about the good people who were his teachers. But his earliest published writing is modeled on the style and expresses the thinking of the isolationist, anti-European, anti-American, and anti-English Quebec literati – with a distinct and explicit sub-theme of anti-Semitism. When Pierre Trudeau was 21 years old, France fell to Hitler. Trudeau’s enthusiasm for Pétain and Vichy was expressed in print and by his presence at public demonstrations in support of Vichy. Of these years Robert Sibley writes: “Trudeau was no champion of democracy and individual freedoms… He was an ardent Quebec nationalist, who, during the worst of the war years, admired the fascist dictators, regarded reports of Nazi atrocities as British propaganda, plotted treason against the Canadian state and actively promoted a revolution to establish an independent Quebec solely for Catholic French Canadians.” [ Robert Sibley, “Trudeau Deconstructed,” Ottawa Citizen, June 4, 2006.] All trace of this story is air-brushed out of Trudeau’s own memoirs.
At the time of Trudeau’s death in 2000, Stephen Harper (then head of the National Citizens Coalition, but soon to re-enter active politics in order to challenge Stockwell Day for the leadership of the Canadian Alliance) struck a discordant note, when he reminded Canadians that Trudeau had “flailed from one pet policy to another,” and reminded Canadians that, back in the days when Hitler was bearing down on democracy everywhere, Trudeau “took a pass.” While no doubt considered inappropriate by today’s Liberals, Harper’s judgment will be prized by historians for accuracy.
Trudeau’s publicly expressed opposition to Canada’s participation in the Hitler war (1939-1945) and his contempt for the British in their Finest Hour had receded from public memory by the time that Trudeau became an MP and Minister of Justice. More recently, Trudeau had opposed Canada’s participation in the Korean War and spoken of his preference for Canadian neutrality in the Cold War. As recently as 1963, when was still in the CCF/NDP camp, he had attacked Prime Minister Lester Pearson as the “defrocked prince of peace,” mocking Pearson’s continuing commitment to NATO and to NORAD. He favored withdrawal of Canadian forces from Europe, and broad reduction of military expenditures.
Under Prime Minister Trudeau, the Defence budget was frozen, the strength of all forces plummeted, and the “rust-out” (as Jack Granatstein calls it) of Canadian military equipment began. During a visit to Soviet Union in 1971, he proclaimed in a public address that the overwhelming American presence “posed a danger to our national identity from a cultural, economic and perhaps even military point of view.” He hinted at “equivalence” of US and USSR – which, in Granatstein’s judgment, makes him guilty of “awesomely stupid indulgence in anti-American posture.”
In his recent book, Bob Plamandon offers this convenient summary of the foreign policy of these Sunny Years:
Trudeau distanced Canada from our traditional allies and undermined our relations with countries upon whom we relied for trade and national security. At the same time, he cozied up to the enemies of freedom and democracy, thereby lending credibility to brutal regimes that practised oppression, torture and imprisonment for political beliefs….Canada, under Trudeau, would distance itself from its allies to become an increasingly neutral nation.
No one can claim to know to what extent Justin Trudeau’s undoubted fidelity to his father’s legend will actually affect the decisions of himself and his government. We should all pray mightily that it should not do so at all.
J.L. Granatstein, Who Killed the American Military? 2004.
- L. Granatstein and Norman Hillmer, For Better of for Worse: Canada and the United States, to the 1990s, 1991.)
Max and Monique Nemni, Young Trudeau, 1919-1944. Translated by William Johnson, 2006.
Ivan Head and Pierre Trudeau, The Canadian Way: Shaping Canada’s Foreign Policy, 1968-1984 , 1995.
Bruce Thordarson, Trudeau and Foreign Policy: A Study in Decision-Making, 1972.
Bob Flamondon, The Truth About Trudeau (2013.)