GROWING UP PRIVATE
TRUDEAU UNVEILED —
with Mama, the Jesuits and the conscience of the rich
Unlike any other politician that Canada has ever known, Pierre Elliott Trudeau has been invested with the image of a man in tune with his times, unconventional and contemporary in a way that made other men his age seem like dinosaurs discarded in the eager rush of evolution. He was presented to the public as a man of tomorrow, the one person who could unite this country by bridging both the cultural gap and the generation gap.
This image is, or was, so widely accepted that it makes the idea of Trudeau as heir to the Victorian tradition seem ludicrous. Yet, the particular world that Pierre Trudeau was born into, and grew up in, was in many ways more a continuation of Victorian era than a prelude to the modern age he was believed to personify.
Anyone who tries, as I did recently, to rediscover the world of Trudeau’s youth becomes quickly aware of two themes: Pierre Trudeau’s childhood and adolescence were lived in an atmosphere reminiscent of the best tradition of the 19th-century pulp novels, where the characters were intended to be “morally uplifting” to the general mass of readers. And growing up as he did, in circumstances conditioned by class and by his family’s unique characteristics, Trudeau has always been separated by a gulf of experience from the needs and feelings of ordinary people living ordinary lives.
From the beginning the Trudeaus were a family unique in their own milieu. Trudeau’s father, Charles-Emile Trudeau, a farmer’s son, started adult life in circumstances much like those of a large portion of the new French-Canadian middle class. In 1919, as s the postwar boom began, he was a lawyer, one of a group of new professionals of modest origin struggling to support their growing families.
By the time of his early death in 1935, at age 48, he managed to leave his family with a sizable fortune that put them well into the millionaire class. His achievement is particularly impressive when one remembers that
he consolidated his wealth during the Depression at a time when other men considered themselves fortunate if their families had enough to eat.
His origins were modest enough. His father Joseph, the Prime Minister’s grandfather, was unable to read or write until well into adulthood, and then only enough to sign his name. The family lived near the small village of St. Michel de Napierville, south of Montreal, where, like most of their neighbors, they earned their living through farming. The life was harsh, primitive and frugal. Even then, the Trudeaus were different. The family had the highest ambitions for their children, a characteristic quite uncommon in their milieu. While all the farmers’ children in St. Michel got their education at the local village school, Charles-Emile and his brothers were sent, at some sacrifice, to study at the best Jesuit schools in the province. From that time on, the family’s upward mobility was quick and remarkable. Joseph Trudeau, who had toiled on his land and traveled all night, once a week, to sell his produce at the Bonsecours market in Montreal, lived to see the birth of his grandson, Pierre, in 1919. This grandson was to grow up in an atmosphere of ease and refinement, to attend the best schools, where he often arrived in a chauffeur-driven family limousine, and then, one day, to become the fifteenth prime minister of Canada.
The link between these two, in more than just the biological sense, was Charles-Emile, Pierre’s father. Through him the young boy remained tied to, and reminded of, his French-Canadian peasant origins. But the father died when Pierre was 16 and the link was abruptly severed. From then on another family, largely Anglo-Saxon, subdued, cultivated and turned in on itself — his mother’s very different world — claimed him as its own.
Until his death, Charles-Emile Trudeau was the kind of person who must have dominated the household and set its tone, at least during those hours when he was at home. A successful, wealthy, self-made man, he was not a person to be ignored or to go unnoticed. His interests were narrow but intense. He was deeply involved in the world of business. The Automobile Owners’ Association (AOA), which he had built up practically single handed and sold in 1932 to Imperial Oil, for $1,110,000, continued to employ him as its manager. There were also other investments, in mines, real estate and amusement parks, which multiplied his fortune. In sports he found the perfect antidote to his work. He traveled often to attend hockey or boxing matches and baseball games, and eventually ended up as part owner of the Montreal Royals baseball team and of Delorimier Stadium.
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GROWING UP from page 26
In a radio interview on his childhood, done for the CBC in 1968, Trudeau recalled that in the summers, when his father arrived at some country place to spend the weekend with the family, he was usually accompanied by several friends, “a rowdy group made up of businessmen and celebrated sports figures of the time.”
At home he was the typically Victorian male authoritarian, devoted to his family, but one who took his pleasures and his recreations apart from them. Much of his free time was spent with his many male friends, often at the Club St. Denis, a private club for well-to-do Frenchmen. Trudeau remembers him as “a rather formidable and rather authoritarian man.”
Trudeau’s mother, Grace Elliott Trudeau, seemed to incarnate all the qualities that were at the opposite end of the spectrum from those possessed by her husband. The atmosphere around her was very English, very civilized and very distant. “It was a house where everyone spoke in an undertone,” recalls Pierre Vadeboncoeur, one of Trudeau’s closest friends in the years when they were both growing up in the wealthy suburb of Outremont.
Grace Elliott was descended from a pioneering, United Empire Loyalist family, who fled New England during the American Revolution to settle in Quebec. Her mother died when she was nine, and her father, a successful saloon keeper turned wealthy gentleman of leisure, left her upbringing to relatives, maids and boarding schools. Grace possessed qualities that were quite exceptional in her time and place: a passionate love for music and books, and a ladylike manner that suggested centuries of money and breeding. At that time her knowledge of French was very limited, of the
kind that still passes for bilingualism in English circles. She was the only Catholic child in a Protestant family (her two brothers were raised as Protestants like her father, while she was educated in her mother’s church).
The Prime Minister's parents were indeed “the proverbial opposites who attract.” It seems likely that as a child he must have experienced some conflict in following the example of such different and powerful personalities. After the death of his father, the balance was tipped; the household became-a reflection of his mother’s interests. Those of his school friends who were invited to the house then, and they were few indeed, all empha-
ln comparison with all his peasant cousins who excelled at hockey, Trudeau considered himself weak
size the fact that the Trudeaus usually spoke English and their interest in the arts was quite extraordinary, even for a family of their class.
In the CBC radio program on his childhood, Trudeau himself took the two opposing influences of his early life one generation back.
He remembered his maternal grandfather as “an old Scotsman who never came without bringing sweets for the children. He was a man who knew everything — a universal man — who had traveled, who spoke many languages. For me he incarnated universal wisdom.” In contrast to this impressive figure, he remembered his Québécois paternal grandmother as “always dressed in black, very religious, very strict, an old woman who taught me my prayers and who corrected my French. Because of her I identified the French language with a peasant force, while my Scottish
grandfather personified bilingualism.”
His childhood was spent in a regular to-and-fro movement between those special spheres of influence personified in the differences between his parents. So easily did he move between the two traditions that formed him, that it was difficult for him, even as a child, to feel any particular identification with one or the other. He remembers, for example, the usual schoolboy conflicts, at the Académie Querbes in Montreal, as something that he handled with equal ease from either end. “When I started school, first in English, I fought with the French, and when I transferred, around the fourth grade into a French program, I fought the English boys.”
During school holidays and summer vacations, these two influences continued to surround him. At first, summers were spent at Mont Tremblant in the Laurentians, “an idyllic time passed in the discovery of nature and its creatures.” His walks in the countryside were usually shared with his younger brother, Charles, who went to the same schools. (His older sister, Suzette, was a boarder at the convent of the Sacred Heart in Montreal.) Nearby there was a logging camp, where French-Canadian lumberjacks lived, fought and cursed to the fascination of the visiting city children. Although Trudeau’s father’s conversations were filled with profanities, it was decided that these rough neighbors were a bad influence on the children. From then on the family went south in the summers, to the ocean in Maine.
Shorter holidays would often be spent with the Trudeau relatives who still farmed in the Richelieu Valley. Trudeau remembers that in comparison with these peasant cousins, who were strong and excelled in hockey, he considered himself weak and puny, a typical city child. These cousins were also fond of dancing and singing, and growing up as they did they seemed to have much more practical knowledge about life. Trudeau recalled later how they extended his contacts with people by introducing him to the classic village characters: the idiot, the drunkard, and so on.
By the time Trudeau went for his secondary education to the Collège Brébeuf at age 12, he was emerging from the familial background as an individual separate and distinct from it. The testimony of his classmates and teachers seems to be in agreement that even then he was already very much the kind of person he was to become as an adult.
The Jesuit Collège Jean-de-Brébeuf in Montreal, which the Prime Minister attended until he was 20, remains an impressive and privileged environment. An imposing structure, set well back from the Chemin Côte Ste. Catherine, its interior is a combination of neoclassical grandeur and institutional drabness. There have been some changes since Trudeau’s time: there are girls now in the corridors of the school, music pours out of the loudspeakers at noon, the teachers, many of whom are still recruited from the clergy, dress in ordinary lay clothes. But in many essentials, the school remains very much as it was in Trudeau’s time, devoted to excellence and self-control. In this setting Trudeau became a follower of the Jesuit mystique of wanting to have the best mind, be the best athlete, develop the greatest willpower and the strongest character. The Jesuits were in the business of preparing the sons of the elite for future command; Trudeau was one of their prize pupils. The tough discipline characteristic of a Jesuit education “fitted him like a glove,” according to Pierre Vadeboncoeur, a friend from the period.
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Trudeau appears to have very fond feelings for his old school. The following incident was repeated several times to me with great pride by classmates and teachers: it seems that when Trudeau did not respond to an invitation, sent to his prime ministerial office, to speak at the college, another letter was sent to him repeating the request. It turned out that he had never been told of the first letter. He is said to have reacted angrily to this oversight and to have instructed his secretary to inform him promptly of all requests that same from the school.
Trudeau has stated on several occasions that the person who most influenced him in his early years was Father Robert Bernier, a Jesuit priest who taught him at Brébeuf. In an interview he granted early in his stewardship to Edith Iglauer, an American writer, he said: “Father Bernier was the most highly cultivated man I had met, and he confirms what I am always saying, that you can be a damned good French Canadian outside of Quebec.” (Father Bernier had been raised in Manitoba.)
Father Bernier now lives in Quebec City, at the Villa Manrèse, a Jesuit retreat house. In recent months ill health has forced him into almost total seclusion and he preferred to answer my questions by letter rather than in a face-to-face conversation or by telephone. He wrote as follows:
“My relations with Pierre were strictly on the level of teaching, studies and conversations that can
only be called ‘serious.’ When I was his professor I was 25 and he, I believe, 16. At that age already he was a young man of remarkable maturity with whom I conversed as one adult to another. With other teachers he was perhaps somewhat turbulent and ready to play tricks, or make jokes, as are all intelligent boys, but I must say that in my class he was very noticeable by his seriousness and an exceptional application to his studies.”
Father Bernier’s letter goes on in this vein to create a picture of the kind of ideal student teachers dream of but seldom meet. There is a description of the breadth of his pupil's reading interest, the range of his ideas, the openness of his mind to new concepts, his remarkable politeness, his courage, both physical and moral, and his ability, which so impressed Father Bernier, “to command, even at that age, the total attention of his colleagues, without raising his voice.”
Father Bernier concludes his eulogy as follows: “Briefly, it was already evident that he was destined to become a man out of the ordinary. In what field? This for my part I didn’t know, but I must add that certain key ideas were already beginning to mature in him, as, for example those of justice and liberty.”
If this picture of the student seems somehow unreal, the atmosphere of the school at that time strikes one as even more removed from the real world. Father Bernier has recalled it as follows:
“We lived in a little world by ourselves . . . and the social conditioning of the families kept the boys from being much interested in political change. It was an atmosphere of elation, where everything was beautiful . . . All this was a bit cut off from the atmosphere of daily life, but these were the sons of bourgeois and they didn’t have money troubles, so they could throw themselves into art and beauty.”
Father Bernier’s letter and my conversations with the other teachers created in my mind a picture of a fantasy world where all the ugly realities of life were kept in darkness. In this setting — which existed, remember, in the Thirties, a decade of upheaval and strife almost everywhere — what meaning did the concepts of “liberty” and “justice” have to someone like the young Trudeau, who had never experienced any injustice or any restriction of freedom?
In all my conversations with Trudeau’s former teachers there was an undercurrent of awe, a distressing similarity of flattering recollection, which often made me feel as if I were listening to a rehearsed official statement. In view of the innocuousness of these reminiscences I was surprised by the frequent requests for anonymity.
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There was another curious element in these interviews. Almost everyone I spoke to was certain that someone else had known Trudeau better. It was my repeated experience to bedold by one person “I did not know him very well but so-and-so did” only to discover that the next person, in turn, would apologize for his lack of information and send me on to still another supposedly more “intimate friend.”
Among his teachers there is a general agreement about his withdrawal from intimate contact and almost fanatical sense of privacy. As a result, they and his classmates, with few exceptions, seem to have known very little about Trudeau’s feelings, thoughts, his ideas on nonacademic subjects, or about his life as it was lived outside the classroom. Trudeau had already been a pupil at Brébeuf for four years at the time of his father’s death, yet no one I spoke to could recall that he had any significant reaction at that time. For an adolescent, his need for privacy and his ability to mask his inner feelings from those with whom he spent six days out of the week were indeed remarkable.
To most Canadians Trudeau seemed to come out of nowhere to become prime minister, but to some of his old teachers his political career was no surprise. One of them remembers how he discovered Trudeau’s secret political ambitions: “One day I asked him to do something after school and he replied that he couldn’t. He was very reluctant to tell me his reasons, but when I pressed him he admitted to me that he was taking singing and diction lessons to improve his oratorial style. He didn’t want other students to know because he was afraid that they would laugh at him.”
It is also recalled by his teachers that until the conscription crisis of World War II he manifested few of the nationalist feelings that even then were popular with students. “Trudeau always had his own mind about things,” one of his history teachers recalls, “always different from the others. When they were nationalists, he was an internationalist.”
Trudeau himself recalled, just after he won the Liberal leadership, a revealing incident meant to illustrate his independent attitude. His fellow students, he remembered, always cheered when professors told of past FrenchCanadian triumphs. “That rather amused and annoyed me, and when
we got the result of the battle of the Plains of Abraham I remember I broke into applause myself, and I was alone.” None of the people I spoke to remembered this specific incident, but they considered it perfectly in keeping with Trudeau’s attitude at the time.
In his last year at the college, Trudeau was chosen editor of the school paper, Le Brébeuf. The articles that he wrote for the paper reflect a similar preference to stand alone, apart from the pack, as well as an evident sense of pride in that position.
An exchange between the young Gérard Pelletier, now Secretary of State then editor of an intercollegiate paper, the JEC (Jeunesse Etudiants
For an adolescent, Trudeau’s ability to mask his inner feelings was remarkable
Catholiques), and the editor of Brébeuf illustrates the point. To a challenge of Pelletier’s, that all student newspapers define their engagement, Trudeau replied: “This paper has a well-defined attitude: it consists of having no well-defined attitude.” In another article for the student paper he wrote: “This is what I think, and I think I’m right, signed Pierre Elliott Trudeau, philosophe.”
Some of Trudeau's former classmates permitted themselves in conversations with me to remember a few “human” details not present in the teachers' portrait of the perfect young man.
Jean de Grandpré, a former friend and classmate, is now executive vicepresident of Bell Canada. I was told that he had often been Trudeau’s closest rival at school, winning out over him to become president of the student body. When we met in his luxu-
rious office, high in the Place Victoria tower, it struck me that there were indeed similarities between the two men. Jean de Grandpré is as perfectly bilingual as his friend, he has the same self-assured manner, and his appearance compares well with Trudeau’s fabled “youthfulness.”
He smiled when I reminded him of the old rivalry and denied that there was anything special about it. “It’s true that Pierre was a hard worker and very competitive in everything that he did, but he was not by any means unique. Outstanding as his accomplishments were, there were other students in the class who equaled him and challenged his abilities. You see, the students in our year were really a very special group. Most of us, when we left Brébeuf and went on to other schools, led our classes wherever we went. In such a group Trudeau did not appear as extraordinary as he might have elsewhere. Nobody really envied him.”
We came to the subject of Trudeau’s friends. “Yes, he was well liked at school, but I can’t say that anybody knew him well. Perhaps one or two people. For all that I was his friend, I was never invited to his house, and our relationship centred on school matters. He always kept his distance from others. It was really a temperamental preference, and perhaps also a certain arrogance, which even then led him to ridicule people who were not too bright. He was also very intolerant. Then, as we got older, the emotional distance between him and the other students increased. My family, although not poor, was certainly not as wealthy as Trudeau’s, and I had to plan to earn a living one day. So did the others. But not Trudeau. It’s not that he was a playboy, as the newspapers later said. I always found the idea of Pierre as a playboy ridiculous considering what a tightwad I knew him to be. But he did have a privileged outlook on life and the means with which to sustain it. This set him apart. In a sense I suppose he was a spoiled brat all his life.
“I’m very surprised that he became involved in politics. Not because he succeeded. Once he decides what he wants, he always gets it. But I’m amazed that he ever chose this field. Well, first of all I suppose because he has always been a dilettante and an intellectual snob. But most of all because he was such a lone wolf. It’s hard to imagine him being comfortable in a crowd. In school, for example, although he was an excellent athlete, he participated very little in team sports. It’s always been difficult for me to think of him working in a team or taking the advice of others.
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"But I don’t want you to think that he was always serious or withdrawn. On the contrary, he had an acid sense of humor, and he often enjoyed embarrassing the professors. I remember once in a physics lab, we all gathered around a table with excitement to view an experiment. I think it was the vibration of quartz under electric impulse. But nothing happened. It turned out that Pierre had secretly pulled the plug out.”
Jean de Grandpré sent me off with the suggestion that I get in touch with Father Guy P. J. Marcotte, another classmate, who easily matched Trudeau’s brilliance in class.
Father Marcotte is now a teacher at Brébeuf. When we met I was surprised to find him very different from the teachers who taught his generation. In his appearance and manner there is much more of the man than the priest. His small office is filled with books, papers and magazines, none of them, as far as I could see, of a religious nature. He spoke easily, without constraint, giving the impression of open frankness.
He started off by telling me something of his own background, which was quite unusual at Brébeuf. “I came here later than the others, around the fifth year, from a school in the east end. My parents were poor, working class, and I would have never dreamed of coming to a place like Brébeuf. But I was chosen by the priests, and sent to Brébeuf under the auspices of a bourse de vocation. (This is a scholarship of faith, which destined the recipient for the priesthood. Until the last decade, these scholarships were practically the only way that a boy from a poor family could acquire a higher education in Quebec. As a result, many bright boys had to play the farce of piety and subject themselves to constant humiliation in order to continue their educations. Pierre Vallières, in his book White Niggers Of Anterica, describes with great bitterness this kind of experience.) Marcotte continued: “At first, I was very nervous about going to a snob school, but when I arrived everyone seemed very simple and very kind to me. My relationship with Pierre was purely intellectual. I was never invited to his house, nor did I share in his social life outside of school. Our conversations took place only during the recreation period. Still he made a deep impression on me. I remember once Pierre and I were sent as delegates to a provincial students’ meeting. It was a big event in my life then and I dressed for it with great care. Pierre arrived in his oldest,
shabbiest clothes. I was touched by his simplicity. I never resented his wealth because he seemed to put it to such good use. He used it to develop himself as fully as possible. I knew that he was destined for a great political future.
“What did we talk about? Well, Trudeau was very interested at the time in the rise of the National Socialist movement in Germany. We often discussed nationalism in general, not in a Quebec context, and even then he was hostile to all forms of nationalism. I think the case of Germany had a great influence on him.”
(It did not prevent Trudeau, a few years later, however, from being
"Pierre built himself consciously and with great effort into the kind of person he wanted to be”
strongly against conscription. Another former friend, Gaétan Robert, a lawyer who has defended FLQ members, remembers that Trudeau’s feelings at the University of Montreal led him to participate in manifestations against conscription which often became violent and ended in acts of civic sabotage. According to Robert, “We were so much against conscription that we would try to break up rallies in support of the Allies. Trudeau and I and some other friends would come prepared, with bits of metal inside our hats in case the police hit us. Once we tried to smash the windows at the Gazette building.”)
Father Marcotte continued to speak of Trudeau with admiration. Still, perhaps because of the class differences between them, he seemed aware of a possible limitation in Trudeau’s political outlook, particularly in terms of Quebec: “Trudeau cannot under-
stand the separatists. After all, he has never experienced the kind of prejudice and discrimination that have turned so many people to separatism. His position in Quebec was always unique. There is no common base of experience and, as a result, there can be no identification between Trudeau and the nationalists.”
The same theme recurred with greater emphasis in my conversation with Pierre Vadeboncoeur. Our meeting took place in a small office in the Confederation of National Trade Unions building where Vadeboncoeur works as a technical adviser to the CSN (Confédération des Syndicats Nationaux).
If anyone was ever “close” to Trudeau in the years when he was growing up, it was probably Vadeboncoeur. Trudeau himself, in his childhood reminiscences for the CBC, spoke of the importance of this friendship, and Vadeboncoeur is the only friend he mentioned by name during the whole program.
Yet now, for all intents and purposes, they are bitter opponents. Vadeboncoeur’s last book, La Dernière Heure Et La Première, is dedicated to René Lévesque. It is a brilliant and moving exposition of the historical and psychological forces that have caused so many French Canadians to support the struggle for Quebec independence. The book is also a detailed critique of Trudeau’s position on Quebec. Their last meeting, Vadeboncoeur recalls, took place in Ottawa, when he accompanied the Lapalme postal workers to their audience with Trudeau. “It was a very strange meeting. Throughout the whole time Trudeau never looked at me. There was no sign that he was aware of my presence. It was as if for him I no longer exist.”
Yet for all the ideological distance that now separates the two men, Vadeboncoeur retains a residue of admiration and affection for his former friend.
At first he was reluctant to speak about Trudeau at all, and when he did he often seemed like a man who would rather be doing anything else but this. Never did he show any sense of satisfaction at being able to get back at a powerful enemy.
Once the interview was underway, however, he treated it with a sense of responsibility; there were no off-thecuff remarks, no gossip, no malicious anecdotes. His ideas were carefully thought out and he took great pains to make sure that I understood them and got them down correctly.
The biographical parts corroborated the reminiscences I had already heard, yet there was the kind of insight that comes from looking beneath the obvious.
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“Pierre was always a bit different. Even as a boy he was more determined and more settled than the others. He was very clever and he worked hard. Once he decided that something was worth doing he applied himself totally. You see, I believe that Pierre built himself consciously, and with great effort, into the kind of person he wanted to be. I remember when we were kids, he got sick and tired of having his face smashed in by others and he became a formidable boxer. It’s true that he had a penchant for practical jokes, but he was never a rebel, or even very critical of his milieu. There were others who were much more so. Pierre was more ambitious, not for gain but simply because he had to excel in whatever he did. I think it was for that reason I told him, one day as we were walking along Côte Ste. Catherine, that he would become prime minister one day. On another occasion I gave him some advice that I deeply regret now. I think he was at Harvard then, and he wrote to me saying that he was thinking of getting rid of his fortune. I wrote back saying that he mustn’t do it, that he would need his money for his political work.”
When Vadeboncoeur speaks of Trudeau as an adult, the note of nostalgia is gone from his voice. “I see Pierre now as a person lacking in depth. This is a characteristic that has flitted through his personal life and through his ideas. Somehow he grew up without ever really becoming involved in events or people. I can’t remember Pierre ever being swept up by feelings in a visceral sense. He has always resisted involvement.
“Brilliant as he is, he has had difficulty in relating to ideas that require other than intellectual perception. His own ideas, those that he supports, have developed through cold reasoning. They are never based in experience but in books. Sentiment or irrationality do not exist for Pierre. Once he is convinced of a certain set of ideas, that’s it — they become fixed into an inflexible system. Take the nationalist issue, for example. In 1952 he made up his mind about Quebec nationalism by looking at Nationalism with a capital N. He never allowed himself to consider that an idea may evolve in time, or that there are possible variations between particular cases.
“He has always had great trouble in identifying with ordinary people. How could he? All his life he has voluntarily chosen not to have the kind
of experiences that make up other people’s lives. He has always flirted with causes, but when he was invited to join any of them he invariably refused. He preferred to remain aloof.
“As for his political thinking, for me it is rooted in the 19th century. As a result, he has no comprehension of popular movements such as the present-day trend toward nationalism and decentralization. In this context, what does his emphasis on the democratic values of the 19th century mean to the majority of Quebeckers? What does it have to do with their needs and aspirations? Take his stand on federalism. He approaches it in a blunt, fanatical fashion. For me this makes him the most dangerous politician in Canada. He considers federalism to be a value in itself, regardless of the time and place in which it is to work.
“Yes, I do feel he is dangerous. You see, in terms of Quebec, what with another politician might be a negotiable proposition may with Trudeau become a cause of civil war. Then, too, there is the fact that he has had almost no personal experience with defeat. I remember that at 28 he confided to me one day that he had just experienced his first failure. Be-' cause of this he is unable to cope with the idea of losing or compromising. For him all opposition is a challenge that propels him to further and more extreme efforts. This is the root of his extreme reaction to the October crisis in 1970.”
In conclusion, and not without hesitation. Vadeboncoeur suggested a profound irony in Trudeau’s life: “Do you realize that in certain circles in Quebec today he is more hated than Duplessis was in his day?”
Vadeboncoeur and I sat for a minute in the still of his office silently contemplating this idea, and suddenly, perhaps for the first time since I began to research this piece several weeks before, I experienced a feeling of sympathy for this man, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, prime minister of his country, and yet effectively exiled from his own people.
Later, when I began to write this article, I was less certain about my feelings. Many people in Quebec would now angrily reject the idea that Trudeau was ever, in an emotional sense, a part of them, just as they dispute his right to determine their future as a people. Many people in the rest of Canada would argue that he does represent Quebec, since the province gave him a firm mandate in 1968. What matters for those outside the quarrel is that its implications are so extensive they could engulf us all. ■