The Canadian Way:
Shaping Canada's Foreign Policy, 1968-1984

320 pages,
ISBN: 0771040997

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Trudeau as Absentee Author
by Bob Rae

THE young Pierre Trudeau brought out two splendid books. The first, The Asbestos Strike, contained a brilliant essay by him on the changes under way in Quebec society, changes that were being held back by the oppressive corruption of the Duplessis regime. The second, Federalism and the French Canadians, was a collection of sharp diatribes against the prevailing nationalism of the intellectuals around him.
These two books made Trudeau's reputation as a thinker and a writer before he entered the fray of federal politics. Since his retirement as prime minister, two books have appeared under his name. The first were his memoirs, which while they may have been a commercial success can only be charitably described as a major literary disappointment. Disappointment, because it would appear that in fact Pierre Trudeau never really wrote the book. The result was a turgid and curiously impersonal account of his life and career, together with an embarrassing series of congratulatory statements by similarly retired politicians.
The new effort, The Canadian Way, is regrettably not much better. It reeks of self-importance. The text was clearly written by Ivan Head, the long-time personal adviser to the prime minister on foreign policy. Mr. Trudeau had neither the time nor the interest to give us anything remotely like a really personal memoir of his views of the world scene. The prose can best be described as official and bureaucratic, with very few personal anecdotes or stories to make life seem interesting, and what amounts to a long exposition of various political initiatives of Ivan Head.
The Trudeau administration began with a much overblown review of all of Canada's foreign policy commitments. Overblown, because it ended up delivering far less than promised. It became a restatement of many basic truths about Canada's position in the world, and was surprisingly graceless about the successes that Canadian foreign policy had achieved before Mr. Trudeau's arrival on the scene. It is true that Mr. Trudeau did press for the recognition of the government on mainland China, but this decision had the strong support of the leadership of the foreign service, and would have been carried out by Mr. Pearson in any event.
Other initiatives were much heralded, but far less successful. The so-called "third option", in which Canada would expand dramatically its ties with Europe, came to less than nothing. Head and Trudeau berate Canada's business leaders for failing to follow their political lead, but this only shows their lack of understanding of commercial life. The notion that a purely political initiative could somehow change long-standing patterns of trade sounds almost quaint. Since there was practically no follow-through to the announced political initiative, it is no surprise that it fell flat, just as did John Diefenbaker's short-lived drive to rekindle the British connection a decade before.
The third initiative, and the one that Mr. Head feels most strongly about, was the decision to expand Canada's aid programs. Again, this is something tMr. Pearson had pushed for and indeed had been a critical part of Canada's Commonwealth obligations for many years. It is true that in the early years of the Trudeau administration the policy of increasing foreign aid budgets was continued. But despite many speeches to the contrary, the hard fact is that Canada's foreign aid transfers started falling from the mid-1970s onwards. In a footnote, Ivan Head attributed this to the fact that after a certain period of time he was no longer at the prime minister's side. This just won't do.
This book is missing two things. The first is Mr. Trudeau's personality and presence. Considering that his writing style was marked by such vigour and clarity, it is depressing that he has now lent his name to a book so full of self-justification and rote quotation from his own speeches and policy declarations. There is simply no comparison between this book and Jimmy Carter's memoirs, or Dennis Healey's later writings.
The second problem with the book is that it has no particular economic context. Canada's foreign policy successes of the period after 1945 were a result of an unusual confluence of forces: Europe devastated by the war; the Canadian economy remarkably successful, and a generation of policy-makers who were also embroiled in day-to-day negotiation. We are now beginning to understand, with the benefit of hindsight, how much the world has changed since that time. It is, again, disappointing that the book makes no effort to really understand these changes. Canada's economy, together with many others, began to deteriorate badly after the early 1970s. This has affected every policy initiative, whether or not the policy-makers were aware of it. There is virtually no discussion of these issues in the book. My advice to Pierre Trudeau would be to write his own book. Tell the world what you know and feel. We shall all be the wiser for it.

l Bob Rae was premier of Ontario from 1990 to 1995. He is now with the law firm of Goodman Phillips & Vineberg.


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