||Among My Souvenirs
by George Galt
IS IT A book? Is it a paean? Nope, it`sthe transcribed -- and much massaged -
tapes of Super-Pierre, theastonishing pol who spent 16 years governing Canada without once making amistake. If you have any doubts about the flawlessness of his tenure in Ottawa,he explains precisely why he was right and his critics were wrong in everynotable instance, much as he did in all those testy year-end interviewswith Barbara Frum.
There`s a large amount of television inthis "book." It`s derived from the CBC-TV series on PierreElliott Trudeau`s life that began airing early in the New Year. The videotapedsessions were sifted and kneaded and rolled into galleys by a team of editors,then fussed over with a pen by Trudeau. The final concoction is short on freshhistory but honest to Trudeau`s voice and personality. Since polls rate him asthe most popular former prime minister of the last 30 years, perhaps it`s notsurprising though a bit disgusting -- that this miIdly interesting volume has been fawnedover by the national media as if we were receiving a sequel to the Dead SeaScrolls.
The arrogant, self-congratulatory publicpersona that left many Of us wanting to throw rocks at our TV screens for adecade and a half weighs on these pages, but they are also leavened in placesby the softer, more personable presence of the bright, erudite private man Imet once over lunch. I asked him then, about four years ago, whether he`d bewriting his memoirs. "No," he replied. "It`s too muchwork." Apparently he feels that way still. This book hasn`t been writtenso much as produced, and the writer that Trudeau once was is scarcely inevidence. There are no compelling, original metaphors nor any especiallymemorable personality sketches. But maybe all this literary judgement should besuspended, since this really is an unbook. It should be committed back to tapeand sold as a one-way conversation, like the cassettes the CNIB producesfor the blind.
And blind many of us are in Trudeau`sestimation. If you didn`t see it his way, you didn`t see it at all. Yet readinghim is an improvement over the back-and-forth of a press interview,because you don`t have to listen to the snapping putdowns and the disdainfulcorrections that always had the glaring subtext: "Merde avous tous, you ignorant bums. Iknow you`re unable to think, but can`t you get your facts straight?" Weare at least spared that nasty hauteur. And, because he`s never challenged inthis chatty autotext, and isn`t always shadow-boxing his critics,he"s less jesuitically argumentative here -- less sly and moreopen -- than he ever was in any televised political contest.
The most remarkable feature of thesetranscribed memories is the way they demonstrate Trudeau`s elite naivety. It`sa peculiar trait that, at some very unnerving moments in retrospect, seems toleave his obsessive rationality severed from the messy, unpredictable realitiesof everyday life. In my own phraseology I think of his elite naivety as"hautism." I don`t mean by it the sort of insensitivity to the massesthat upper-class twits in public life, Such as George Bush, exhibit.Trudeau has some of that overprivileged obtuseness and impatience in him, sure,but lie`s much too clever and knowing to be dismissed as a twit. Hautism --pun intended -- may be distantly related to twitism; the privilegedbackground is certainly of the essence in this case. But Trudeau`s hautism alsosterns from his intellectual brilliance and his chosen role as a loner, both ofwhich allowed him, even in the intensely social milieu of politics, topirouette solo in his own private universe.
Take this sentence, which he quotes fromhis own memo sent to the RCMP before the 1970 October Crisis. He instructedthem to gather information on the ...separatist influence within thegovernment of Quebec, the public service, political parties, universities,unions and professions, and on the political troubles in Quebec.
Now, unless you believe Trudeau was apolitical gangster -- and I don`t -- you have to takehim at his word, as I do, that "there was no question of encouraging thepolice to make inquiries into legitimate democratic opposition parties assuch." But then look at the wording of the memo. Anyone who thinks thatsort of sweeping authorization will be strictly limited to the investigation OfSuspected criminals is crediting the police with the same degree of sophisticationand learning, as someone like, well, Pierre Trudeau. It`s an example ofhautistic behaviour that is, to say the least, unsettling. The illegal RCMPactivities in Quebec during Subsequent years make it more troubling still. Manyother instances suggest a man travelling in his own cerebral orbit and onlydistantly tethered to the electorate`s -- or even the cabinet`s --common ground. Announcing emergency across-the-board budget cuts in1978 without consulting even his finance minister, for example, was hardly theact of a consensus-taking prime minister. Yet he could muster superbpolitical skills when he had to. His impact on our national life was enormous --incalculable, really. Who can say what the Charter of Rights or the OfficialLanguages Act will mean to LIS in 25 or 50 years? Some of the impact, though,he disavows. The deficit, run Lip to the highest levels since the 1940s under hisstewardship, Trudcau dismisses in two paragraphs. He concludes, "It`suseful to note that it was much lower in our time than at the beginning of ourlongest period of prosperity, right after the Second World War." There`sthat peculiar hautism again. How is the comparison useful?
He ought to be shamed by it. Naturallythe deficit was higher after a global armed conflict that lasted five years.And all the pent-up productive energy and deferred consumer demand of thewar years quickly solved the problem. Trudeau`s deficit was exactly theopposite phenomenon. He excited material expectations and drove them everhigher without paying much attention to the creation of wealth. That,evidently, was someone else`s problem.
This volume won`t be useful tohistorians, who will be more interested in the unedited videotapes. Manyreaders may feel an urge to slam it on the floor, for all the old reasons. Butthere`s no denying that these pages are authentic Trudeau. The photographs,with his own coy captions, complete the effect. Memoirs isn`tso much a book of insightful recollections as a lavishly produced souvenir.