With this issue, Maclean’s launches a department of lively comment on national affairs. Tory Dalton Camp, Liberal Keith Davey and New Democrat Laurier LaPierre clash in debate about Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s first year in office. In future issues they’ll take turns presenting their uninhibited opinions on what’s happening to the country
Senator Keith Davey: I think Mr. Trudeau’s first year as Prime Minister has been a satisfactory year for Canada and a satisfactory year for the Liberal Party. All things considered, a good year.
Dalton Camp: I think it’s interesting that Senator Davey would avoid speaking to the essential question. It may be that the first year has been instructive to the Prime Minister, probably instructive to us, but I would say it has been a disaster of intent and policy insofar as you could measure these things, prior to, during and after an election. I think you could document an enormous case . . .
Davey: Dalton, I would concede it's been instructive to the Prime Minister. After all, he’s a new prime minister, a new party leader. But how you can suggest that it’s been a disaster of any
kind — except for the other political parties — is more than I can conceive . . .
Laurier LaPierre: I wouldn’t use the word disaster, but I think it has been a disappointment. Traveling across the country one senses it, particularly among the young people who flocked to the banner last year. There’s a great feeling of disappointment. It hasn’t yet turned into hitter disappointment, but they are asking whether their new enthusiasm was not really misplaced. And even though they concede there have been good points to Trudeau, the overall feeling one gets is that it’s too bad it turned out the way it has. I don't think the great expectations he created were impossible to realize. I think that Canadians, who have been accustomed to immense dullness in politics, felt
themselves quite revitalized by Mr. Trudeau’s leadership and electoral campaign. And to a very large degree it created a kind of sentiment that perhaps Canada might have discovered its “Kennedy.” But then the disillusionment came. A student at a meeting recently in Powell River, British Columbia, said, “You know, I remember Kennedy’s inaugural address, but I can’t remember a single wretched word that Mr. Trudeau has ever uttered.”
Davey: You know. Laurier and Dalton, I remember Mr. Pearson’s Sixty Days. I was intimately involved in it and sometimes criticized. And I think the expectations that were developed in Mr. Trudeau’s campaign — primarily by the press and, I might say, by the academic community — were totally unrealistic. And the first person to point this out was the Prime Minister.
LaPierre: The first person to capitalize on it and to encourage it and to give credence to the great expectation was Mr. Trudeau.
Camp: I find myself agreeing with Keith here; the expectation was totally unrealistic. It was an assumption that politics could be some kind of mindless celebration, which is what the campaign was. It was really a triumph of style over the realities. I think the problem was, in part, that many Canadians had come to believe in the possibility of a kind of messiah, a leader who can solve all the very complex and diverse problems that any government faces. I think this was true especially among a substantial number of comfortable Canadian citizens. Maybe they just wanted
somebody to take the whole thing off their backs.
LaPierre: I think the messiah idea has some validity for a certain age bracket. But with the younger elements of the society it was more a feeling that politics would now be something different. Now politics would be an instrument of social change. I think this is what the disappointment with Trudeau is all about; too many people sense that the social change and the attacks against social ills of various kinds have not really begun.
Camp: I found that many of the people who supported him in the election campaign didn’t want social change.
Davey: You know, the interesting thing is that you two fellows wallow in your own apparent disappointment in the Trudeau administration. The
simple fact is that the government has accomplished a great deal, so let’s not dwell entirely on the disappointment or the discontent or what you term “the disaster.” All I’m saying is that there were unrealistic expectations. Any realistic expectations have been more than met.
Camp: I think it would be fair to have a résumé of those achievements. Davey: Well, I think they are numerous. The rules of parliament have been streamlined and there has been a rather remarkable flow of legislation — 22 public bills have been passed. I agree that these, mostly, have been housekeeping; they’ve been relatively unspectacular, they have been . . .
LaPierre: The last Pearson government had a better performance record over a similar period and they didn’t
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even have a majority.
Davey: That may be true. However, this administration may last a lot longer because of its particular approach. But, you know, I really have only begun my list of achievements. I listed two and you changed the subject . . .
Camp: 1 think it must be said that in the matter of national unity, after about a year of the Trudeau administration, we are in as sorry a state as . . .
LaPierre: Oh my God, yes . . .
Camp: ... as I can remember. There is an element of truculence and pessimism and recalcitrance in this country such as I can’t remember in my lifetime.
LaPierre: I think that what Mr. Trudeau has done since last June 25 on this matter of national unity has been largely irrelevant. I think he has contributed nothing to the use of parliament as an instrument of national unity; nothing to the spontaneity of interrelationships across the country; nothing to the need of making the federal government in Ottawa the kind of polar attraction that could contribute so much to the cause of the One Canada he talks about.
Camp: I just think that there has been, there is in the country a growing mood of recalcitrance and of immoderation on the issues. We’ve fallen far behind where we were, let’s say a year and a half ago. The federal-provincial conference was really — so far as the federal government was concerned — a tactical retreat, but the whole thing was camouflaged by these committees they kept appointing in the process. The fact is, the conference was called to discuss the constitution and some of the provinces were damned if they were going to discuss it . . .
Davey: Dalton, in conceding this . . . Camp: . . . And I think they did what they did quite properly, because they were representing their constituents, or the mood of their constituents. Davey: I’d like Dalton to address himself to this: Conceding the reality of the issue — and I think we have to — don't you think it’s going a long way to put all these problems of national unity, and the fact that they’re more acute today, at the doorstep of the federal government? It’s a combination of influences, and thank God we have a federal government that realizes the nature of the problem, that understands what it’s trying to cope with. To simply say, "They’re wrong and this is the problem’’ — I just don’t think that’s enough.
Camp: No, I don’t put it all at the door of the federal government, Keith,
I put it at the door of the Liberal Party and Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Marchand.
Davey: You know, Dalton — if I may be forgiven for making a comment that may be personal — a lot of people, and I think particularly you, have a preoccupation with the Liberal Party, and I think this has obstructed your own political career.
Camp: How can I help but be preoccupied with them? They now represent the government of the country and I have some sense of alarm, or concern growing to positive alarm. Davey: One criticism 1 cannot make of you, but 1 think I can make of your party, is that the Conservative Party certainly hasn't been clear on its position in this whole nationalunity situation.
LaPierre: That's a cliché, Keith. Camp: The great tragedy is that we were clear on it and you chose to . . . LaPierre: The people who are not really clear on a national-unity policy have been those in the Liberal Party, because "One Canada” is a stupid slogan which is really meaningless. And everybody got carried away by it because it was uttered by a French Canadian. And there’s no one in the Liberal Party to clarify what it is, and they don't know what it means, and Trudeau never chose to say. I think it was encouraged by the press because the press likes little slogans. Davey: On that, I couldn't agree more. LaPierre: I think that, looking back to June 25 — and I’m not talking now as a politician — June 25 could have been the re-establishment of the federal government as the pole of attraction, but the federal-provincial conference in February has demonstrated exactly the opposite. There’s been a kind of deference to the provincial leaders, and I think this is becoming one of the problems of national unity. Davey: 1 haven't been traveling across the country as both of you have, but I certainly don't think that applies in Ontario.
Camp: To make it simple: there was an opportunity in the last federal election for strengthening all the results of the commission, the B and B commission. And the subject needn’t have been susceptible to demagoguery and to rhetorical cleverness. You don’t have to go showboating around the country; everybody knows there’s.., a problem that must be honestly dealt with. But your party, the present Prime Minister, chose to kick it away because you were suffering your usual paranoia where you feel your interests are threatened in Quebec.
Davey: Well, the voters didn’t kick it away. Mr. Trudeau was able to form a majority government . . .
Camp: That’s all that counts?
Davey: ... to form a majority government and to enact legislation, which is what he’s doing. By the way, we still haven’t dwelt on these achievements which you asked me to list. LaPierre: Just a minute . . .
Davey: The paramount issue is, I think, who the particular prime minister is.
LaPierre: National unity is constantly understood in the terms of what they call the French and the English, or Quebec and the rest of the country, but I'm beginning to be much more worried about another dimension of national unity that has to do, not so much with Quebec, but above all with the rest of the country. There is, I think a kind of nonsense that suggests that Quebec is the source of all our ills and all our weaknesses, and I think that this creates a backlash and a handicap to progress. So we should perhaps begin to put the emphasis elsewhere when we speak of national unity — “elsewhere” being the poorer people of the country, the regional disparity, the lack of affluence. Davey: It’s been suggested that I comment on the Prime Minister’s relationship with the press. Well, they unquestionably aren’t quite as loving as in the beginning and I think that’s a natural thing. But, all in all, I’m not too worried. I think the Prime Minister still gets an enormous amount of press. I think he may have been unhappy about the coverage at the Commonwealth Conference, unhappy with the very personal nature of some of the press comment in London. LaPierre: He’s responsible for most of it.
Davey: Laurier, you’ve been in politics long enough to know that this can be awfully difficult to live with sometimes.
LaPierre: Well, it is awfully difficult to live with but it’s been a benefit for him and he has to live with it. There was nobody insisting that the Prime Minister issue comments about his dates and rush out and kiss all the girls. He created an image and he’s got to live with it.
Camp: I must say I don’t really care about the press and the Prime Minister’s problems with it except as they reveal the tendency to an authoritarian streak in the Prime Minister which manifested itself in this socalled virtue that you listed, Keith; namely, parliamentary reform. Thank God there was an Opposition to make it sensible. Then there is this other business going on, the business of trying to organize government propaganda. The whole thing concerns me. It seemed to me that the minute the new regime took office, they gave the continued on page 70
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highest priority to such things as a task force on government information. Davey: Aren’t you being pretty cynical, Dalton? I think this Prime Minister is far less concerned about press relations . . .
LaPierre: But Dalton has a point. Information for what? Surely to allow participatory democracy. Yet where is that participatory democracy? The PM gets all the press, not the government as an institution, as an instrument of the Canadian people.
Camp: I’d like to think of something positive to say by way of a summation but I'll have to leave that to others. To me, Mr. Trudeau’s campaign was a triumph of style, as it is now a failure of content. He might have made a good king but he hasn't yet shown he will make a good prime minister. There is a question as to his capacity to endure, to persevere; whether he has. the staying power for the course. There is, in the job he has, a demand for discipline and a good deal of essential routine, and we're considering a man who has had very little experience in either. And he’s 50 — I wonder if he has the patience to learn. He suggests to me someone who wanted the authority and the ceremonial perquisites but not the enervating responsibilities that go with the office — a suggestion I found overwhelming when I watched him perform during the Commonwealth Conference. Let’s face it, nothing has been achieved in this first year that would
not have been accomplished by Lester Pearson or anyone else, and perhaps less, given a majority government. We're more divided than before, disparity is more disparate, and we are no more aware than we were as to what we're about as a people and a nation, and where we are going. However. Trudeau did produce a majority government, and for those who feel that is a virtue, we can finish by saying that achievement still stands. As the fellow said, I don't care what you call it, 1 say it’s spinach and I say the hell with it.
LaPierre: Let me summarize. Mr. Trudeau. it seems to me, has been able to change the style of Canadian politics to the degree that Canadians now think their political life is exciting, mysterious, sophisticated, with a touch of sexual exuberance. Secondly, he has revitalized the Liberal Party to such a degree that he has left his opponents far behind — they’re now engaged in a useless and unprofitable struggle to minimize the importance of personality in political leadership. Thirdly, he has introduced the possibility of change in many areas of our national life and given us. at the same time, the impression that every Canadian is involved in this process of change. And he has begun to catch up on his predecessor's amazing list of leftovers. However, at the same time, it must be admitted that Mr. Trudeau has failed to be challenging at all. In fact, he has become quite dull. His policy reviews have proven unsuccessful, noninvolving and self-
repetitive. This is generally due to his natural contempt for nonexpert advice and points of view. Mr. Trudeau doesn't appear to know the difference between the Right and the Left in politics; his functional politics is nothing but a réintroduction of Mackenzie King’s obsession with the middle of the road. His deference to the demands and the negative insular approach of most provincial premiers has caused a crisis in the process of national unity. Nor has he been able to change the content and the structure of Canadian politics; “participatory democracy” is just another slogan. Finally, it is sad to admit that Mr. Trudeau’s government has not been able to go beyond the sure, the tried, the easy, the obvious, and the mediocre. He is quite a disappointment.
Davey: You’re both wrong. The first year of the Trudeau administration has been a year of thoughtful planning, a year in which a new prime minister has sorted out his and our priorities. It’s been a year of solid, if unspectacular, achievement. Naturally, those who expected a continuing series of political pyrotechnics have been disappointed. A rational leader can never be impulsive, but he can be dynamic. Pierre Elliott Trudeau catches the exciting mood of Canada, but he knows the difference between excitement and direction. He knows the difference between political style and government action. He is a master of both. Happily for us as Canadians, it’s only the beginning. □