Pierre Trudeau & Canadian Foreign Policy

by J. L. Granatstein, Robert Bothwell,
524 pages,
ISBN: 0802057802

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Canada On Stage
by I. M. Owen

THE INDUSTRIOUS HISTORIAN Robert Bothwell and the extraordinarily industrious historian J. L. Granatstein have produced in Pirouette what is billed, regrettably, as the concluding volume in the Canada in World Affairs series of the Canadian Institute of International Affairs. It covers the Trudeau years (including the Clark interlude), 1968 to 1984. The book is comprehensive and amazingly thorough in its detail. To write it must have been an immense labour; to read it is itself a fairly laborious undertaking. Not that it`s boringly written -far from it. But theres just SO much Of it -- SO many facts, so many interesting judgemerits -- that if you have to lay it down to eat or sleep or go out, it`s hard when you come back to gather all the threads into your fingers again. In recommending it highly, as I do, I suggest reading Chapter 1, Trudeau Takes Over, and then the Conclusion. After that, go back and read chapters selected according to the topics that you`ve found particularly interesting -- relations with the United States, with China, or with the Third World, for example. When Canada first stepped on the international stage as a signatory to the Treaty of Versailles and a member of the League of Nations, the question of its foreign policy at once arose. To quote a review in Saturday Night in 1980: In 1924, when the Canadian spokesman at the League of Nations said, "We live in a fireproof house, far from inflammable materials," the statement was smug, ignoble in its implication that we should pay lower premiums than others -- and perfectly accurate. Over the next twenty years, as our independence took on substance, it became a necessity that we should have a foreign policy like any other grown-Lip nation. But given our unthreatened state, given also Our lack of either the will or the ability to dominate anyone else, what was our foreign policy to be about` I couldn`t have put it better myself. (In fact, I did put it myself) From 1943 a recognizable foreign policy took shape: the "functionalism" adopted by Mackenzie King, whereby Canada could play a major role in those international organizations in whose purposes we had a special interest. "Canada`s post-war planners," John Holmes wrote, "...at the drop of a gavel ... would conceive a new international organism." NATO didn`t exactly fit this pattern, since it was supposed to be an alliance of western European nations with the United States; but it was Canada that conceived and pushed the idea, and our membership in NATO became a major element in our foreign policy, along with the role of "helpful fixer" adopted by Lester Pearson. Early in his first term Trudeau called for another look at this policy. Granatstein and Bothwell are able to give us a detailed account of the discussions, especially on the question of NATO. Trudeau`s own opinions on this fluctuated. At one point he said he was "scandalize`` that Donald Macdonald had proposed total military withdrawal; at other times he seemed to be leaning that way himself Eventually our NATO force was cut in half A comprehensive re-examination of foreign policy resulted in 1970 in Foreign Policy for Canadians, a set of six booklets, 185 pages in all, that covered our relations with all parts of the world -- except the United States. It explicitly rejected the helpfulfixer role in favour of something called "the national interest." The booklets were soon forgotten. But it`s interesting to remember them when we look at the end of Trudeau`s career and his last venture into foreign policy, the "peace initiative" -- in which he donned the mantle of the helpful fixer after all, but without the careful preliminary diplomatic groundwork that Pearson would have provided. The effort seemed at the time noble, but ineffectual and almost pathetic. Yet the authors conclude that it did have an effect. It`s easy to forget now that EastWest relations were at their worst in 1983. And things did begin to change in 1984: Leaders like Kohl in Germany and Craxi in Italy began to press their allies towards accommodation, Thatcher in Britain `eased off on her hard line, and Reagan became less interested in painting the Soviet Union as an "evil empire" than in beginning to talk to it. Trudeau had taken the risks, and he deserves part of the credit. In summing up, the authors say: When the whole Trudeau record is examined, the inescapable and overwhelming reaction is wonderment at the on-and-off nature of his interest, the lack of followthrough, the peripatetic nature of his concerns. If one word is required to characterize his interest in foreign affairs, sporadic is the one that leaps to mind. But their final word is this: Trudeau was an adventurer in foreign policy cis in other Areas, but he did have that one unshakeable belief that everyone in the Third World, just as much As in the First, had the right to develop in peace and freedom. That was no ignoble creed, and if his overall policy lacked consistency and some times commitment, his belief in this principle does much to redeem his failures elsewhere .... At the Outset of his long career, he attracted the world`s notice because of his pirouettes, not his policies. But as he learned how to play the few chips he had with increasing confidence, Trudeau began to attract attention for his ideas. They were good ideas, too, the right ideas in a world menaced by nuclear war, the fossilized Cold War, and the increasing disparities between rich and poor. Discussions of many topics in the history of Canadian foreign policy inevitably lead back to domestic history. Thus, when I want to refresh my memory about the details of the disintegration of the Diefenbaker government in 1963, 1 go back to the moment -by -moment account in Peyton Lyon`s volume in the Canada in World Affairs series. In the present volume, the chapter on relations with France is of course a significant contribution to the history of the Quebec question, especially if read with the corresponding passages in another Granatstein collaboration of this season (this time with David Stafford), Spy Wars. Energy policy, defence policy, and the patriation of the Constitution are similarly illuminated here. Even the most careful historians, as Granatstein and Bothwell are, can sometimes express themselves in a way thats inadvertently misleading on minor points. The chapter on China begins: After a trip to China in 1960, Pierre Trudeau and his friend Jacques Hebert published a little book in Quebec. Within a few months of his becoming prime minister, Trudeau brought out the volume in English under the title Two Innocents in China. [Red China, actually; the copy-editing in this book isn`t up to the publishers` usual standard.] "Trudeau brought out" clearly implies that the publication was on Trudeau`s intiative, taken deliberately to prepare the public for his future China policy. Not so: I was the publisher as well as the translator; the initiative was entirely mine, taken at the suggestion of my 14-year-old son; and it proved impossible to get the prime minis, ter to take the slighest interest in it.

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