Towards a Just Society:|
Governing Canada: 1968-1984
by Pierre Trudeau, Thomas Axworthy,
Post Your Opinion
|Lost In The Translation
by I. M. Owen
It remains a puzzle why successive governments -- Trudeau, Clark,
Mulroney -- have failed to get across the truth, that official bilingualism is the exact opposite of
what its enemies say it is
I`M NOSTALGIC for the Trudeau years. They were sometimes exhilarating, sometimes infuriating, never less than interesting. What a pity that this attempt by a group of Trudeau ministers and apparatchiks to survey and sum up those 16 years should turn out to be for the most part a deadly bore.
The editors` plan wasn`t had: they thought of the book as a participants` seminar," with accounts of the various aspects of policy by people who were decision-makers or advisers at various levels -- plus Jacques Hebert in his capacity as the prime minister`s close friend who remained outside government. Then these reports were to be capped by two "views from the outside" written by the historians Fernand Ouellet and Ramsay Cook, and a final summing up by the Boss himself.
The trouble seems to he that after making the plan and selecting the contributors they let nature take its course and accepted all the essays uncritically. Take those two "views from the outside." Cook`s, as always, is a penetrating and stimulating essay; but, far from being a conspectus of the whole subject of the Trudeau years, it`s a Study of the Trudeau-Levesque constitutional
dispute. Ouellet`s, astonishingly, is on the demographics of Quebec society from 1850 to 1960. Like everything he writes, it`s a valuable storehouse of hard facts, and the next time You need to know the pay scales and geographical distribution of Catholic teachers in Quebec in the academic year 1882-3 you`ll be able to find the information clearly set forth in Table 9; but if I hadn`t told you, would you have thought of looking for it in a book professing to be about federal politics in the years 1968-84?
Thomas Axworthy`s essay -- one of the more readable ones
is good on the concepts that lay behind Trudeau`s foreign policy, which I agree were fine; but he fails to face the sad lack of results. I`m not qualified to criticize the contributions of Marc Lalonde on energy, Joel Bell on industrial policy, or Ian Stewart on economic policy, so that it probably doesn`t matter that I literally couldn`t stay awake while reading them. Stewarts essay has one distinction, though: as far as I can discover, it`s the only one in which the word "deficit" occurs -- in the phrase "continued pursuit of deficit control." Hah! Surely any reasonable apologia for the Liberal government -- and this is an apologia though the editors say it isn`t -- should grapple with the enormous growth in the deficit that started with the Turner budget of 1974. But these writers are as silent on the subject as Mulroney and Wilson were in the 1988 election campaign.
A phrase that appears nowhere in the book is "War Measures Act:` not even in the essay on civil rights by Jacques Hebert. This lively writer and hero of civil libertarianism, whose activities in 1970 did Much to mitigate the effects of the War Measures Act, confines himself to a colourless and uncritical report on women`s rights, aboriginal rights, bilingualism and multiculturalism, youth, the elderly, the handicapped, and refugees. John Roberts on the environment provides a similarly useful catalogue of measures taken, and James Courts on social policy is livelier than most of the contributors, and actually acknowledges that there were failures as well as successes.
Gerard Pelletier is incapable of writing a dull essay, and his
1968: Language Policy and the Mood in Quebec" is one of the few glories of the book. On the Official Languages Act, he says: "Of all the legislation passed under the Trudeau government, this has without a doubt aroused more asinine commentary than all the rest put together." The next idiot I hear complaining of having French shoved down his throat will have this essay shoved down it. It remains a puzzle why successive governments -- Trudeau, Clark, Mulroney -- have failed to get across the truth, that official bilingualism is the exact opposite of what its enemies say it is.
Another lively writer is Jean Chretien, and I refuse to believe that he wrote the essay on the constitutional negotiations attributed to him. Luckily, we already have his account in his memoirs, and can safely ignore this plodding, careful, bureaucratic report. Typically, it says that in the 1980 referendum campaign 11 the daily fight for the federalist forces was led by the Quebec Liberal leader, Claude Ryan, whom I assisted as the federal lieutenant delegated by Mr. Trudeau." As we know from Chretien`s book and from Graham Fraser`s, `Ryan refused to have anything to do with him.
Trudeau`s concluding essay is mainly devoted to going over
the constitutional ground yet again. But both this and the Axworthy-Trudeau introduction carry stings in their tails, where they go outside the book`s terms of reference to say what they think of the present government. The introduction draws attention to "the differences between our recent past and our dithering present." And at the end of the book Trudeau makes yet another spirited attack on Meech Lake -- and, in passing, on the free-trade agreement -and concludes on a despairing note: "Alas, by now it is clear that, barring a sharp and unlikely change of course, our Great Helmsman is indeed steering Canada toward peace and reconciliation -- the kind to be found in the graveyards (if the deep." Yes, perhaps. But I don`t think the retired helmsman is helping at all with his sporadic kicks at the wheel. I fully agree with the writer in the Idler who called Meech Lake "harmless fakery." If the legislatures of Manitoba and New Brunswick had ratified it before the changes of government in those two provinces life would now he going on much as before.
There was once a great nationalist called Bourassa -- Henri, that is. He wasn`t a Quebec nationalist but a French- Canadian nationalist; for him the two nations of Canada were inextricably intertwined, and should learn to glory in it. That may yet happen, but hope dims as the little nationalist Bourassa prepares to ditch the French Canadians outside his province. Can`t somebody persuade the Old Helmsman to shut Lip, while somebody else persuades the three parties in Manitoba and the one party in New Brunswick to let Bebe Bourassa have his "distinct society" toy before he has a really destructive tantrum?