Central to Pierre Trudeau’s philosophy is the idea that the basis of political society is the individual human being, possessing “inalienable rights, over and above capital, the nation, tradition, the Church, and even the State.”
The goals of government, Trudeau once told a parliamentary dinner in Australia that was expecting him to talk about the Commonwealth or trade, should be to realize “maximum human dignity, maximum human welfare, maximum environmental quality, and minimum violence in human relationships.”
For someone whose belief in the rights of the individual is so ardent that he once spent two hours in a Montreal jail for refusing to identify himself to a policeman who stopped him in front of his own home, Trudeau’s decision to suspend basic individual liberties with the imposition of the War Measures Act in 1970 could not have been an easy one. Whether or not the “specific circumstances” of the October kidnapping crisis did in fact warrant such harsh measures is a question that is still being
debated in Canada. The measures indicated to some that the Prime Minister was hypocritical and anti-liberal, though the majority of Canadians appear to have agreed with Trudeau that the “October crisis” was a serious challenge that required a strong response.
Another theme that emerges from an examination of Trudeau’s thought is his abhorrence of nationalism.
“My position in the Soviet Union or in Canada,” he told reporters questioning him on
his attitude to the persecution of Ukrainians by the Soviet government, “is that anyone who breaks the law in order to assert his nationalism doesn’t get much sympathy from me.” Trudeau’s most articulate attack on nationalism was in 1964 in his essay, Federalism, Nationalism, And Reason, in which he wrote: “Nationalism, as an emotional stimulus directed at an entire community, can indeed let loose unforeseen powers. History is full of this, called variously chauvinism, racism, jingoism, and all manner of crusades, where right reasoning and thought are reduced to rudimentary proportions.”
His writings suggest that he objects not to the sovereign state but rather to the use of emotionalism to provide the cohesive force that is required to hold a country together.
Trudeau detests the “nationalist state.” His passionate opposition to this concept dominated his writings throughout the 1950s and early 1960s. In 1962, he wrote: “The tiny portion of history marked by the emergence of the nation-states is also the scene of the most devastating wars, the worst atrocities and the most degrading collective hatred the world has ever seen . . . There will be no end to wars between nations until . . . the nation ceases to be the basis of the state.”
However, in Canada’s new foreign policy philosophy, enunciated in 1970 and greatly influenced by Trudeau, Can-
THE OPERATIONAL CODE OF PIERRE ELLIOTT TRUDEAU
ada was henceforth to think in terms of achieving well-defined national objectives, and not to view contributing to the security of the world as the primary goal of its foreign policy.
There is a real difference in emphasis between what might be called “Pearsonian internationalism” and “Trudeauvian nationalism.” The former is typified by Prime Minister St. Laurent’s attitude during the 1956 Suez crisis, when he told his Secretary of State for External Affairs to do what he thought best. Pearson proposed the establishment of a UN peace-keeping force as the most effective means of ensuring peace, an action that aroused the ire of British sympathizers in Canada and may have contributed to the electoral defeat of the Liberal Party in 1957. Trudeau, on the other hand, resembles Mackenzie King in the way in which he sees foreign policy as a means of promoting his most important national interests. National unity was King’s major concern, and many of his foreign policy decisions were based on how they would affect this overriding consideration.
The question that arises at this point is: Why does Trudeau consider Canada to be a desirable nation-state? If he were truly an anti-nationalist in all respects, he would logically look beyond Canada and favor the creation of a larger federalist state of which Canada would be only one part. However, Trudeau has never advocated the kind of internationalism, based on opposition to national sovereignty, that was the trademark of Lester Pearson. On the contrary, the continued existence of the Canadian nation-state is central to his whole political thought. In the first place a strong and united Canada must be maintained because it is the only
available territorial area in which Trudeau’s dreams of a society based on cultural dualism and ethnic pluralism can be attained. If Canada became part of the United States in a new federal state, the American “melting pot” would almost certainly destroy the Canadian traits to which Trudeau attaches the greatest importance. “If I don’t think we can create some form of a bilingual country,” he announced bluntly in 1969, “I am no longer interested in working in Ottawa.”
There are three basic components of Trudeau’s approach to decision-making, whether on the personal or governmental level. The first is his emphasis on realism as opposed to idealism. The first law of politics, he says, is to start from given facts, to forget “historical might-have-beens” and “impossible dreams” and to accentuate the feasible. Just as in his personal life he says he does not try to apply “overriding theories to all problems,” so he told the Commonwealth prime ministers in 1969 that they were not philosophers committed unswervingly to the ideal but politicians whose art was that of the possible.
Although a 19th-century liberal in his attitudes toward the rights of the individual, Trudeau believes it is the duty of governments to intervene vigorously in a wide variety of areas. Political parties, he emphasized in explaining his decision to enter political life in 1965, are not ends but means of attaining important national objectives. “The function of a state,” he wrote, “is to ensure the establishment and maintenance of a legal order that will safeguard the development of its citizens,” whether in the economic, social, or cultural sphere. He sees government intervention in the economy to be particularly necessary, given that free enterprise has given rise to severe social problems.
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Ottawa continued J Nowhere did Trudeau describe the general philosophy of the government so clearly as at the Liberal Party’s Harrison Hot Springs conference in 1969, where he said: “We are like the pilots of a supersonic airplane. By the time an airport comes into the pilot’s field of vision, it is too late to begin the landing procedure. Such planes must be navigated by radar. A political party, in formulating policy, can act as society’s radar ... As members of a political party we should be thinking not only of the type of goals we wish to achieve in our society but of their relative importance, and of the best means of achieving them within a reasonable time.”
If there was one concept that dominated the thinking of the Trudeau administration in its first year, it was the setting of priorities. When Trudeau assumed office he became conscious of the extent to which Canada’s financial resources, especially scarce as a result of the country’s economic problems, had been committed by the actions of past governments. One of the most significant documents to cross his desk was a long-term projection of the costs of existing programs. It was clear that new programs could not be launched unless revenues were diverted from existing ones. The result was that, throughout the first three years of his administration, the cabinet frequently spoke about making “new money” available for programs of top priority by reducing expenditures on programs of less importance. This belief in the need to establish priorities if financial resources were to be used effectively explains many of Trudeau’s election comments. “The future of the country might just escape us,” he said in Regina, “if we don’t control change and stay a little ahead of it, if we don’t decide wisely about our priorities.”
In an attempt to improve his government’s ability to plan its future actions, Prime Minister Trudeau surrounded himself with intelligent young men trained in the latest techniques of decision - making.
Jim Davey, his program secretary, has been largely responsible for introducing flow charts and systems analysis into the process of policy formulation. Trudeau’s chief adviser, Marc Lalonde, explained that the administration was trying to “apply reason to broad social and economic problems” by bringing a technocratic approach to government. Whether such techniques have in fact improved the quality of policy is debatable, but they indicate that the government attaches great importance to careful planning.
In reply to critics who charged that he did not have enough political experience to be prime minister, Trudeau replied that in a rapidly changing world “experience isn’t always very useful,” and that he felt no qualms about his ability to make important decisions. One of the cabinet ministers has said that Trudeau is willing to listen at cabinet meetings and to give everyone a chance to speak — he is a good chairman — but that final decisions are usually based on his own summary of the discussion, for “he’s very much in charge.” “There’s nobody to tell me how the country should be run,” Trudeau exclaimed in 1968. “I tell them.”
The noticeable expansion in the size and duties of the Prime Minister’s Office and the Privy Council Office has been cited as evidence by critics who accuse Trudeau of wielding “increasing and arbitrary power” at the expense of cabinet, parliament, and the civil service.
Prime Minister Trudeau has also altered the way in which cabinet ministers participate in the formulation of policy.
"There's nobody to tell me how the country should be run. I te I them."
According to a senior civil servant, the administration has created a “consensual” system of cabinet decision-making in which every interested minister is given the opportunity to voice his opinion even when the issue under discussion does not come under his ministry. The system means that ministers act “less on their own” than in the past. The extent to which a prime minister allows members of his cabinet to determine foreign policy is largely a matter of individual temperament and style. It is Trudeau’s style to invite the participation of as many ministers as are interested. His temperament, however, does not allow him to be influenced on issues of major importance by any but a few key ministers — most importantly Jean Marchand, Gérard Pelletier and Donald Macdonald.
Another result of Trudeau’s skeptical attitude toward the civil service has been an alteration in the way policy recommendations are made to cabinet. In the past, departments tended to suggest to ministers the approach they favored, while under Trudeau they present not recommendations but a list of all the available policy options relating to the matter under consideration. If the department has a strong preference for one point of view, this can be made obvious in its presentation. It must still, however, inform the cabinet of the alternative courses available and provide an analysis of the pros and cons of each. Failure to do so lessens the department’s credibility within cabinet. This approach is consistent with the Trudeau administration’s desire to relieve the civil service, to a greater degree than in previous administrations, of responsibility for policy formulation. If cabinet is to have a greater role in this area it must be aware of all the policy alternatives. When these options are received from the department, they are examined by the cabinet secretariat and then by cabinet committees in the light of information obtained from a variety of sources — other departments and their ministers, parliamentary committees, public opinion, and. of course, the PMO and PCO.
Pierre Trudeau’s concept of participatory democracy seems to be based on a desire to interest and educate Canadians rather than to let their opinions determine the policy of the federal government. The whole tone of his writing and speeches is directed more toward the first goal than toward the latter.
There appear to be two general occasions on which Trudeau will often defer to public opinion that runs contrary to government policies. The first arises when he is not very interested in the issue at hand; the second when a policy is not one of his “core” interests and its continued advocacy might endanger the reelection of his government. Eric Kierans has revealed that cabinet discussions on economic matters frequently centred on the question, “How will this look in June 1972?” the date most frequently mentioned then for the next federal election. In the tradition of Mackenzie King the Trudeau government has defended this preoccupation on grounds that the Liberals had to retain power at all costs, since they could do more than the other parties to maintain national unity, Trudeau’s dominant concern. ■
This column is an excerpt from Trudeau And Foreign Policy: A Study In Decision-Making by Bruce Thordarson (Oxford University Press, $2.95), being published this month. Thordarson, 23, holds an MA from Carleton University.
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