The Life of Pierre E. Trudeau
by Vastel, Bauch,
Post Your Opinion
|A Less Than Full Life
by I. M. Owen
THIS IS THE BOOK that was a best seller in Quebec last fall under the title Trudeau le Quebecois. The English title, The Outsider, seems to say the exact opposite, but it expresses directly the basic theme of the book, which the French title expresses sardonically: Michel Vastel interprets Trudeau`s career as a lifelong Oedipal struggle against his Quebec heritage. The subtitle of the English edition, The Life of Pierre Elliott Trudeau, is simply false labelling. Apart from more detail about his early years than other writers have unearthed his student writings were less numerous and perhaps less brilliant than his contemporaries remember, and he had a had case of acne in his early 20s -- this is not a biography. Its an extended essay on certain aspects of a life as interpreted from a special point of view.
Vastel is a Frenchman who settled in this country (if I may still call it that) when he was 30, in the fateful year 1970. He is vague about events earlier than that unless, like Trudeau`s acne or the Asbestos strike of 1949, they are directly part of his story. For instance, the CBC producers` strike of 1958-9 (which started the politicization of Rene Levesque) is described as being against "the English management of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, which had jurisdiction over the Frenchlanguage branch." The president of the CBC at the time was Alphonse Ouimet:
but his office was in Ottawa, and that for Vastel makes the management "English." Like all good Frenchmen -- like Charles de Gaulle himself -- Vastel thinks that French Canadians are French and English Canadians are English. One of the most revealing of his many non sequiturs is this fatuous remark:
Most English Canadians ... were not unduly offended by Trudeau`s occasional vulgarity... After all, wasn`t he of the same race as General Cambronne, who had said "merde" to their ancestors at Waterloo!
Vastel`s main argument is that soon after Trudeau arrived in Ottawa as one of the "three doves" (as the French-language press called Jean Marchand, Gerard Pelletier, and Trudeau) he formed a new alliance of "three hawks," the other two being Marc Lalonde and Michael Pitfield, and from then on waged relentless war against his homeland of Quebec. Vastel constantly equates Quebec with its provincial politicians, ignoring the massive expansion of francophone power in Ottawa and the massive support Quebec voters consistently gave to Trudeau`s government and its actions, including the proclamation of the War Measures Act in 1970.
Like too many French-language Quebec journalists, Vastel is totally uninterested in any aspect of Canadian politics that is not directly related to the question of Quebec`s future. Thus, as a "Life" of the man who governed the whole of Canada for 15 out of 16 years, this book is not to be recommended. For that, go to George Radwanski`s 1978 biography, often contemptuously cited by Vastel as the "official" biography, which it isn`t. (I wish Radwanski would detach himself from the Chretien team and settle down to the serious work of bringing it up to date.) And -- probably -- go also to Stephen Clarkson and Christina McCall`s Tnideau and Our Times, Volume I of which is forthcoming as I write.
But this book is to be recommended, for all its superficiality, as a reflection of the state of mind of many Quebec nationalists in their present mood.
In my column in the August-September issue I discussed Hubert Bauch`s translation, and said that "as far as accuracy goes...it`s mostly a good translation." Since then I`ve noticed one inexcusable and very misleading howler. Andre Laurendeau is quoted as saying of Trudeau`s early strictures on Quebec universities "I sense in Trudeau the signs of a bitter deception." Laurendeau in fact said diception, and that means "disappointment." But who am I to talk? In the same column, a slip of the typewriter made me translate pourtant as ,`moreover." It means "however," of course. My typewriter apologizes. It`s getting old and absent-minded.