When the cooks decide to share their philosophy of the kitchen with those who have sat in the restaurant, it is always a worthwhile endeavour. This is an especially valuable effort, because the cooks offer us no respite from the rightness of each recipe, each dish, each menu.
"Doing it my way" is very much what this book's credo appears to be. If Frank Sinatra read books about foreign policy, and if on the off chance he were to read one on Canadian foreign policy, he would love this narrative of Mr. Trudeau's watch.
There are, to be sure, some endearing glimpses of humanity here, especially when the entire narrative has the authors refer to themselves in the third person.
Nary an "I think" or a "We believed" to be found. Trudeau and Head (and I suspect the author was Head with some casual editing and commentary, by his holiness, Mr. Trudeau) appear in that institutionally dignified grammatical form, in fulfilment of the long-held foreign policy practice among Liberals of inflating their own importance notwithstanding the evidence.
But the evidence in this self-proclaiming tome is compelling for other reasons. It is a marvellous rendition of how Canadian foreign policy was shepherded by Trudeau from its postwar strength and its Pearsonic innovation to a kind of self-possessed referee aspirant affair. It was that irascible Tory wet Sir Edward Heath who summed up Trudeau's NATO policy as offering "all aid, short of help." This book explains just how Trudeau's intellectual pretensions facilitated the decline.
The ability, moreover, to address foreign policy questions with a sense of intimate pre-knowledge and higher calling infuses this analysis with some almost comic pauses.
"More by good luck than good management, Trudeau and Head had much earlier prepared themselves for the forthcoming trials-one between the forces of populism and reason, the other between the U.S. navy and the will of the Canadian government. Over the years, Trudeau had travelled extensively north of the Arctic Circle and had canoed on its many stretches of white water river."
"Head had chosen the legal status of the Canadian Arctic as the subject of his graduate research dissertation while studying at the Harvard Law School.."
Thank God for Trudeau's vacations as a young dilettante. Thank God again for Mr. Head's law school thesis. Thank God for Head and Trudeau even if they say so themselves!
As legends in their own minds, this journal is a how-to for arrogance in power.
But it is revealing.
They kept pushing the civil service, in the early months of the Trudeau government, to review our core foreign policy views. As each review tended to underline postwar priorities, it is fascinating to see how they grappled with the old hands who clearly did not want to knuckle under to the isolationist, abdication bias Trudeau brought to European military affairs. Head merely gathered together people from other departments to write his own review. No wonder Mitchell Sharp, the external affairs minister at the time, considered resigning.
What Head and Trudeau fail to realize is that their rendition of the supposed need to take foreign policy out of the hands of the experts is an indication of how Mr. Trudeau ran his entire government: centralizing power in the Privy Council Office, marginalizing ministers and departments, spending excessively, over-regulating, and quietly alienating Canadians along the way. Their redirection of our European presence, their unification of the armed forces, their merciless disengagement from broad alliance priorities is all part of why westerners, moderate nationalists in Quebec, and middle-class Ontarians drifted slowly away from a government so in love with itself that external realities mattered little.
On Biafra, the two Canadians who brought the issue of the massacre of the Ibos to the House of Commons, Andrew Brewin and David McDonald, are not even mentioned by name.
As for Mr. Trudeau's down-your-nose approach to Ronald Reagan-and specifically to the invasion of Grenada-the most damning of reviews is written in Trudeau's and Head's own hands:
"President Reagan had assumed that one of the factors that stimulated the U.S. invasion had been the alleged presence in Grenada of Cuban military construction crews, who were building a runway capable of accommodating Soviet combat aircraft..This particular allegation.bemused the government of Canada, which was funding the construction of a modern airport terminal at the end of that runway as a stimulus to the potential tourist industry of this beautiful little island. For reasons known only to themselves, the Cuban runway workers proved to have access to small calibre weapons and displayed some skill in using them against the attacking American forces.."
Amongst all this intellectual pretension and cascading naivety, there are moments of clarity and value. On the humanitarian aspects of North-South dialoguing and on the issues of Third World economic aspirations, there are valuable and compelling insights. Trudeau fans will love this book. They are able to suspend disbelief towards rose-coloured appraisals from those who have made adulation of Mr. Trudeau their life work. That ability will not be challenged by this book.
Trudeau-haters will sniff the arrogance and pretence, and realize just how intense the dislike for him was-sort of a grudge nostalgia-fest.
More balanced observers will relish the seamless web that tied moderate anti-Americanism, rampant internationalism, and a kind of naive disconnect from wide-ranging geopolitical economic forces, into a coherent foreign policy posture that did set Canada apart. When this is added to pirouettes down staircases and Viva Cuba T-shirts on Margaret Trudeau, it is not hard to understand why we became unreliable within the North Atlantic alliance, particularly in the eyes of our American allies. It speaks volumes about what happens when foreign policy is too divorced from popular domestic interest and sentiment. When Canadians looked at our foreign policy, and did not see a reflection of themselves, it simply broadened the alienation.
This book is important because it is a testament by the principals as to how this disconnnect took place. Without knowing it, Head and the former prime minister lay bare the prejudices and policy indulgences that oversaw the withdrawal (in practical terms) from alliances, the destabilization of trade relations with our nominal allies, and the marginalization of Canada in world affairs. That it does so while seeking to perpetuate the "they knew best" myth gives a bad name to elitism-which I support in foreign policy. For scholars and historians, here is the smoking gun; there was a plan; it was intentional; this was no accident. I recommend the book to all those who worry that politicians and their advisers can frequently, in matters of foreign policy, confuse their own personalities, prejudices, and interests-however intellectually consistent-with the public interest.
The Canadian Way is a 361-page affidavit to that effect.
Hugh Segal is a resident fellow at the School of Policy Studies at Queen's University, and the author of No Surrender: Reflections of a Happy Warrior in the Tory Crusade (HarperCollins). He is a former senior adviser to Conservative governments at the federal and provincial levels.
This review was meant to form a pair with Bob Rae's account of the same book, in our September issue. Because of some confusion about time, we feared that this one wasn't on its way. It was.