Interview

With Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau

January 10 1977
Interview

With Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau

January 10 1977

With Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau

Interview

Beset by political problems and hemmed in by a hectic schedule, Pierre Elliott Trudeau has been hard put of late to find time for the kind of lengthy, in-depth interviews that best reveal the direction of his thinking. He made an exception in November for Jean Paré, editor-in-chief of Maclean’s French-language sister publication L’actualité. During an hour-long session in a suite at Montreal’s Ritz-Carlton Hotel, the Prime Minister ranged over the future of the economy after controls come off, discussed the problem of separatist strains in Canada—in parts of the West as well as in Quebec—and frankly admitted to his own failure in maintaining the Liberal Party’s strength in all regions of the country. The PM was in a friendly, relaxed mood for the interview. But, notes Paré, who has known Trudeau since the 1950s, he was "as always, intellectually very alert, and constantly conscious of his image.”

Maclean’s: You have been Prime Minister for eight years now. But before going to Ottawa, you were never really a party man in politics. Has the experience of being head of the Liberal Party changed your vision of Canada, or of the exercise of democracy? Trudeau: Not my vision of Canada, no, but it has enormously changed my views on the exercise of democracy, on power. It [the party] was a lever that I did not know about before. For me, the electoral machine was almost a mechanical thing. I realize now that a political party is much more complex. It’s made up of men and women, human beings who cannot be programmed. But if, on the one hand, the party is a very powerful lever, it is, at the same time, very fragile. It’s not simply a lever that one pulls on and the electoral machine gets people elected. No, these are people, worried about their future, about what is happening in government and it’s always necessary to explain to them why we adopted this law or that policy. For example, a Liberal in northern British Columbia, as much as he is a Liberal, is probably farther removed from the [federal] bilingualism policy than a Conservative from St. Hyacinthe.

Maclean’s: Do you feel as comfortable in the role of party leader as you do in being Canada’s national leader?

Trudeau: Let me put it this way. I have been less well prepared and less skillful [in party affairs] than many other politicians, but not from lack of interest. On the contrary, I surprise myself sometimes with how easily I can become a fierce partisan

and, even more surprising, a team man. But the reality is that I think I have discovered this, but that others don’t see it in me. Too many Liberals don’t see me as a party man.

Maclean’s: Would you say that that is one of your weak points?

Trudeau: Yes, absolutely. In fact that is one of the reasons why in 1968 they had to twist my arm to get me to try for the leadership of the party. I said: I have only been in this party for three years. I don’t know it. It’s a powerful instrument that I wouldn’t

I’M SURPRISED AT HOW EASILY I CAN BECOME A FIERCE PARTISAN, AND EVEN A TEAM MAN

know how to manipulate.

Maclean’s: You said recently that west of the Manitoba border the Liberals are a third party. There are only 13 western MPs left, most of them in BC. Was this inevitable? Was it due to the cultural structure of the country, or have you failed to keep your party alive because of your inexperience? Trudeau: Well, I would not say that I have failed to keep it alive because it is, or it has been, stronger since I became the Prime Minister. But where I failed is in not being able to give it back the life it had under [Mackenzie] King. Perhaps it is more diffi-

cult because of the reasons you have just mentioned. But I would not like to minimize the lack of direction given by me and my ministers. King, after the explosion [conscription crisis] of 1917, succeeded in rebuilding the party Laurier had started. Me, I didn’t succeed.

Maclean’s: How can you rebuild the Liberal Party in the West, especially since you have said that the future of the Liberal Party is tied to the future of Canada?

Trudeau: One of the things I like to do is travel our West often, to be there physically, and I think I have been there more often than any other Prime Minister since King, perhaps even more than King because travel is easier. What is disappointing is not only that I have failed to convert members of other parties but often I realize that many of our own members are not on the same wavelength as us. They say that they have been dominated for too long by Quebec and Ontario. A very strong accusation is that we have given too much to Quebec and not enough to the West. Everybody has his own perception, but what is unfortunate is that this perception runs very deep and is difficult to change. I have tried to change this and I will continue trying. I am not despairing of finding “doves” in the West. We need strong people who will look at our goals and say, “I believe in that and will fight for it.” I find it quite worrisome that there are so many centripetal forces in the country. The Alberta phenomenon, with its recently discovered riches, is dumbfounding. It’s become a province terrified that the rest of the country will try to get hold of its riches. It’s a rather bizarre response for a province that in the 1930s had to be pulled out of bankruptcy by the central government. Maclean’s: Do you see a relation between the actual demands by the provinces and the weakening of the central government in public opinion polls, as if the weakening of one government team allowed the others to grab for more?

Trudeau: I’m not sure that the weakness of the central government as expressed in the polls does not have corresponding examples among the provincial governments. I can name at least four or five provinces where the party in power is not particularly solid. I don’t think that in reality there has been a weakening of the central government. What the provinces repeat ad nauseum is that we are too strong. Now, with a swing of the pendulum, it is probably true. The more frightened people are, the greater the problems seem, the more the world and Canadian econo-

mies are threatened, the more the values of children change in relation to those of their parents, the more we should try to regroup around the leader of the tribe.

Maclean’s: In the face of this rather menacing picture you have painted, how do you see Canada’s future in the short term? Trudeau: I’m an optimist. I also see a huge potential. It is an extraordinarily strong country. In natural resources, education, in advanced technology, in nuclear energy. I don’t feel any doubt. We must simply find our confidence, our faith in the future which is being so run down by all these factors, including the separatist factor in Quebec, or this other kind of separatism seen in Alberta, this regionalism that we see elsewhere. All this is conditioned by a world that we see as threatening. In other, more compact countries, like Britain, Sweden, or even better, Japan—Japan in particular is an extremely homogeneous countryvalues are less disparate. Japan is homogeneous geographically and from the point of view of population. The crime rate is much lower than here and the centripetal forces much weaker. Consequently the business world is more dynamic. These are advantages we don’t have. We pay the price for being the second largest country in the world in size, with a population that comes from the four comers of the world, and for having two official languages. These are advantages on the one hand, and inconveniences on the other. It is enough to point people toward hopeful factors rather than unhappy ones. That is my role as a politician, to try to do this.

Maclean’s: Isn’t it an advantage for a country to have no resources? It seems that countries without natural resources such as Switzerland, Japan and Singapore get along better than the rest.

Trudeau: It’s because they have to leam to use their heads. We are lazy by comparison. Laziness is perhaps not a big fault, but we lack imagination and that is worse. I have not really discussed the world of business, and perhaps I should not allow myself to criticize it. But I can’t put up with their pessimism. By definition, traditional businessmen don’t see the world changing. They use the context that is in place, the rules that exist, and the less they change, the better it is for them. It’s the same with all institutions, pretty much. In the churches it’s the same.

Maclean’s: When you spoke a year ago about the limitations of the market system and the role of business, were you thinking about the fact that from 50% to 90% of certain key business sectors in Canada are controlled by Americans?

Trudeau: No, I didn’t have that idea in mind. It is a concern of government and we adopted legislative measures in this area but what I had in mind—this is the example I gave—was massive unemployment on the one hand and on the other a number of things that ought to be done that the market economy did not bring together. Who reeducates the unemployed in an industry

where they have become redundant? It’s not private business. Therefore the state has to spend lots of money, increase its budgets to reeducate and recycle these workers or to move them to areas where there is work. Thus, when I see a market economy that has a considerable unemployment rate right next to a society that needs work done, both in the private and public domains, I see that private enterprise is not resolving this problem. So we have to do something.

Maclean’s: In principle, before election time, you have two years left to solve major problem areas such as inflation, unemployment, relations between Quebec and the rest of Canada. What strategies do you have for reestablishing confidence?

Trudeau: Those areas you talk about are

COMPARED WITH SOME OTHER NATIONS, WE’RE LAZY AND EVEN WORSE WE ACK IMAGINATION

different by nature. For example, since industrial societies have existed, we have gone from unemployment to inflation. That is not going to change under me. I don’t think that a free economy as we know it will ever resolve that problem. We prefer liberty to planning and we are probably right. But that means that we cannot regulate the economy to the smallest detail. And with rising expectations, we risk having an even higher degree of inflation accompanied by a higher level of unemployment. That doesn’t mean that we can’t improve things. In the past year we have effectively reduced inflation from almost 1 \% to 6.5%. That’s not bad. But we have done this by putting a few fetters on free economy. We did this by wage and price controls.

Maclean’s: Once controls are relaxed, what is to prevent inflation going up again immediately?

Trudeau: Our plan is to not remove controls until we have some assurance that inflation will not rise again immediately. And that’s why we spoke of a relatively long period of controls, up to a maximum of three years. This will be a period during which we will try to orient Canadians and the economy toward options and directions that will not produce this inflation. That is to say, we will try to channel rising expectations toward other areas besides material well being rather than trying to make them believe that it is going to continue doubling every 20 years. There will have to be other things to go after in life— perhaps greater orientation toward quality of life rather than quantity of things and products. And if in this way we arrive at some sort of self-discipline, I am convinced the economy will improve. But all of that is part of a much larger psychological context and comes back to another area you mentioned earlier: Canadian unity; the question of bilingualism and federalprovincial relations; and that we must rediscover faith in this country, a faith that seems to have been weakened.

Maclean’s: If we exclude periods of war, don’t the anti-inflation controls constitute, at least in recent Canadian history, one of the first institutionalized state interventions in the market economy?

Trudeau: As a relatively massive intervention, yes. That’s not to say that there have not been state interventions. When we created the Department of Regional Economic Expansion in 1969, and when we deliberately told the rich provinces that we would transfer resources to poor provinces, that was a rather major intervention in the economy.

Maclean’s: But this did not have the same element of coercion.

Trudeau: Not on an economic level. But it’s still odd. When we tax an industry or a province so that we can then say to an industry we will give you a million dollars or two if you establish in a region where there is high unemployment, in the Gaspé or in the Maritime provinces, or in the Eastern Townships, that’s an intervention in the economy. It’s an intervention in the microeconomy that is not as generalized as in the case of the controls. I think that’s largely why the business world, or rather financial circles, have been traumatized. They said to themselves: Good grief, it’s true, then, that the state can intervene so massively in our affairs.

Maclean’s: Do you see a hostile reaction to Big Government, to the expansion of the bureaucracy in the past 10 or 15 years? Trudeau: That lies behind the reactions from some sectors that are not favorable to the government. But what is paradoxical is that a liberal government—I use the word in an ideological rather than partisan sense—does not intervene for the sake of intervention. Our position is that we have

enough fish to fry without always intervening in the micro-economy, telling businesses where to go, how to install their machines without polluting. Our preference is that the perception of social reality by the business sector be broad enough so that it can make these decisions itself, so that the state will not be obliged to impose them. We must find a certain discipline if we want to avoid having the state impose one on us, in the name of the common good.

Maclean’s: Could one talk of returning to the roots? A tendency to decentralize? Trudeau: My way of thinking since I started to write has always been toward liberalism—that is, that the state should intervene only to reaffirm the pursuit of certain objectives, rather than to redefine and to rethink on a daily basis the strategies and tactics to be followed by businessmen, institutions, communities, individuals. You will perhaps say to me: “If that was your philosophy, how is it that the state continues to grow and budgets to increase while you are there?” A big part of this growth is due to inflation, but real growth was precipitated by events as unexpected as, say, the oil crisis. We had not predicted in our budgets that we would have to transfer millions of dollars each year to Quebec and the Maritime provinces so that they could buy oil at the same price as in the west. The cost of health and medical insurance has been high. The same goes for post-secondary education, the fact that we have tripled family allowances and greatly increased old age pensions. All that was not done through intervention in the economy in the sense that we told businessmen what they should do with their businesses; they were interventions to improve equality of opportunity for people whether they be young or old, whether they live in the Maritime provinces or in the central provinces, in the prairies or in the mountains. And I call that liberalism—perhaps liberalism of the left, but that is not interventionism. It’s the same thing when we make a decision about pollution and create a Ministry of the Environment and give out subsidies for cleaning up lakes and rivers. What I want to make clear is that these interventions, from a strictly budgetary point of view, are transfers of resources from the rich to the poor, whether they be provinces or individuals. From the secure to the less secure. From those who are capable of working to those who are incapable either from unemployment, handicap, old age or youth. People always say that government expenses have increased tremendously since I became PM. But the truth is that the government expenses for goods and services, that is, for itself, have not increased. The increase is about 8%, which is what it has always been. But all the rest of the expenses have been transfer payments, either toward the provinces in equalization payments—which have been increased twice since we’ve been in office— to give provinces better opportunities, ex-

penses of the Department of Regional Economic Expansion, or transfers to individuals in the form of social benefits. Maclean’s: Do you think that this growth has reached a ceiling? Hasn’t the use of the income tax system been saturated? Hasn’t the percentage of the Gross National Product used up by government also reached a peak?

Trudeau: I think that for the time being we ‘have gone far enough, fast enough, and that is why a large part of my message as a politician is to say: we have to put an end to rising expectations. We have to explain to people that we may even have to put an end to our love for our parents or old people in society, even our desire to give more for education and medical research.

WE HAVE GONE FAR ENOUGH, FAST ENOUGH ... IT’S TIME TO END RISING EXPECTATIONS

Maclean’s: To return to your political strategy for the next two years, do you foresee readjusting your policies toward unemployment or inflation in response to the public opinion polls or the reaction of the business world?

Trudeau: If I were worried about polls, or about the unhappiness in business circles, I would ask them what are the objectives proposed to you by the other parties. My answer would be that, apart from the New Democrats, the Conservative Party is not very different. Every time my policies are criticized, whether by the opposition parties or by the media, it is a question of means rather than goals, of the technique rather than the end. Everybody says, sure we are for bilingualism but not in the way you apply it. Sure, we believe in regional expansion, but not in this way. Well, if we

can adjust the way bilingualism is applied, we will. If we can put to better use the money spent for regional expansion, we will. But we will never, never depart from the Liberal Party obj ective of equal opportunity for all.

Maclean’s: We have just a few minutes left and a few rnore questions.

Trudeau: The most troublesome questions always come at the end.

Maclean’s: Your family does not play a role in the political life of the country in the way that is often the case south of the border, where families of U.S. Presidents are often very involved in public life. r this a personal choice, or a fundamental difference between Canadian and American society?

Trudeau: It’s personal. My own family has never interested itself much in politics, at least not in my generation. We are people who respect the autonomy of others, of brothers and sisters ... As for my married family . ..

Maclean’s: They have been interested in politics.

Trudeau: Yes, but not my wife. On the contrary, perhaps because my father-inlaw was in politics a long time, she has certain defense mechanisms vis-à-vis politics. She knows what politics can do to a family, the children rather distant from the parents, and for that reason she is not particularly overjoyed with the life of the wife of a prime minister. There is also the question of generational differences. Her generation believes much more in the autonomy of roles. If the husband wants to be in politics, that’s fine, but the wife has no reason to feel that she must be the obliging hostess at. every function her husband feels he must attend.

Maclean’s: Sooner or later, you will be quitting this career either by choice or by force. After having been a writer, professor, globe-trotter, journalist and prime minister, what would you like to do?

Trudeau: Í will answer that in general terms. I feel that all of my life is before me. When I leave politics, unless it is years and years from now, I will have other careers ahead of me. I feel in good shape physically and intellectually, my children are still young, and when I turn 60 I have the impression these will be the most important and beautiful years of my life. And no doubt that will be true when I am 70. Maclean’s: You would like the business world to be more dynamic. Does that field of endeavor tempt you?

Trudeau: Not really. What would tempt me is to return to a certain solitude and silence. I don’t think that’s possible in business. That doesn’t interest me now in any case. I’m not even sure that teaching would interest me much. You would have to be loquacious and I’ve already been that as a politician. Probably what I would like, to put it in the words of the 18th century, is to cultivate my roots. In my case, that would mean to reduce the number of trees on my land, to know each leaf. But that is not a . career. That is a state of the soul,