REFLECTIONS ON A FALL FROM GRACE
King’s gambit declined
PETER C. NEWMAN
I can remember a July evening in 1968, sitting around a polished pine table in a refurbished farmhouse near Ottawa with a little knot of people from the capital — a couple of journalists, a civil servant, a television producer and a scientist of vaguely radical leanings — eating curry, drinking sangria and talking politics. To talk politics that summer meant you talked about Pierre Trudeau and, as the conversation buzzed excitedly on, somebody mentioned a French book he’d just been reading called The Morning Of The Magicians and then put forward, not entirely tentatively, the theory that Trudeau was a kind of magician. We were all pretty deep into the Spanish red and the clover-laden nightfall, but all the same we weren’t that far gone and what seems astonishing now is that nobody hooted with derision, nobody laughed the man out of the room. In fact, his suggestion was considered with respect and one or two people even resolved to buy the book next day and try to fit Trudeau ’s perfections into its tortured theory about the kind of political sorcerer needed to transcend the complexities of the 20th century.
I haven’t thought about that scene for years — it seems in a way to belong to another lifetime — but flying home from the west on the morning after this fall’s extraordinary election it kept flashing into my mind. And in its wake came a number of questions that must have been troubling a lot of Canadians that day: “What happened to the magic? Or more important, what happened to the man? Did he ever possess the qualities we endowed him with? Had he been altered by power? Why didn’t he turn into the leader we had been yearning for and so many of us were sure he really was?”
These questions were answered during the post-election confusion in a variety of ways. The sour naysayers and hindsight seers were quick to point out that they had never been so foolish as to be taken in by Trudeau in the first place and he delivered what they expected, which wasn’t much. The blind loyalists maintained either that the election results indicated an ugly bigotry against French power in Ottawa or that the
failure had been not Trudeau’s at all but a simpler one of communication lag; his achievements hadn’t been put across to the dingbats in the heartland.
But to those who didn’t belong to either camp, myself among them, who were simply trying to figure out what had really happened, it was plain that the campaign had been a referendum on Pierre Trudeau. A referendum that he lost.
The more that loss was discussed by Trudeau’s friends, opponents, intimates and critics, the more apparent it became that the election result was due to one central fact: Trudeau had committed the cardinal sin for a politician, he had lost touch with his constituency. He functioned during his first 54 months in office as the head of a government and not the leader of a nation. He didn’t understand Canadians and their concerns. And what was worse, he didn’t appear to care.
His fall from grace is all the sadder — and all the more demeaning to him and the people who believed in him — because he once seemed to possess in ample measure the attributes necessary for greatness. He had the intellect, the nationwide mandate for his crusade to unite the country, the charisma to attract the best minds to his cause, the wit to leaven the burdens of office. But as prime minister he displayed one fatal flaw. He was guilty of what the ancient Greeks called hubris or overweening pride. It was a flaw that rendered him incapable of responding to any sensibility but his own. He wouldn’t listen to his critics in the Commons. He paid no heed to the MPs in his own caucus. He stifled the dissenters in his cabinet. He scorned the professionals in his party. He ignored the spoken and written pleas of citizens who sought to focus his attention on their concerns. So that in the end he could only be forced to listen by the voice that really counts in a democracy: the verdict of the ballot box.
When you look back, his four-and-a-half years in office unfold like a drama with Trudeau as the willful hero trapped in a vacuum of his own making. As the circles of isolation
grew around him it was almost as though he was alienated even from himself and from the very purpose that had catapulted him into power. He moved through his first term in office like a Sun King in a latter-day Versailles, surrounded by courtiers whose chatter he mistook for the sound of reality.
The minority situation Trudeau found himself in at the end of October, 1972, had its origins in a theory of government he formulated nearly seven years before. When he was a freshman MP from Mount Royal during the last blundering phase of the Pearson government, a group of men would meet in his office every Thursday for what might have been called a bull session if the company had been less rarefied. They were all intellectuals like himself, the “new guys with new ideas” he spoke of so admiringly when he sought the Liberal leadership later. Most of them had observed the machinations of power from the sidelines for years as assistant deputies or young lawyers working on constitutional reform or executive assistants covering up ministerial mistakes. They were convinced Pearson’s embarrassments proved that the old politics was dead, that the bureaucratic mandarins were obsolete and that a government should be run with the modern administrative techniques originated by the Harvard Business School. Nobody had yet labeled them technocrats but the essence of their approach was emotional cool, implacable momentum and dedication to abstract principle. They saw public service as the reduction of issues to manageable proportions and unconsciously modeled themselves on McGeorge Bundy, a White House adviser, who once explained that “man’s real motivating force is the simple, natural, almost unexaminable human desire to do something really well.”
When Trudeau swept into office in the spring of 1968, he kept these highly theoretical conversations in mind and determined that he was going to replace all the inept, old-fashioned, fumbling, politicking human beings who traditionally surrounded the seat of power with a new breed of perfectionist — and replace them he did, in many cases with members of the old Thursday Club. In doing so, he set up what his critics soon started to call a parallel government in the East Block. (By 1972, he employed on his personal staff and in the Privy Council Office 415 people for an annual budget of $11 million, three times as much as Pearson spent on his advisers and 15 times as much as Diefenbaker.) Trudeau got himself so entangled in the process of government that he spent 50 hours a week at meetings of one kind or another. In trying to bypass one bureaucracy, he created another and unwittingly became its victim.
It’s important to assess the group of people who surrounded him in terms of those it excluded as well as those it included. “Within six months of coming to office,” said an old friend later, “Trudeau had truncated all of his outside sources of intelligence. There wasn’t one guy in his entourage you could call an agitator, nobody who really had political moxie or was willing to remind Trudeau that he was human and therefore fallible. It was a court without a jester.”
Two of the men who were quickly excluded from the prime ministerial presence happened to have the shrewdest political minds he’d been in contact with; both of them were open, funny, responsive and sufficiently realistic to understand that listening to other people’s opinions didn’t mean that you had abandoned your own. They were Eddie Rubin, Trudeau’s 27-year-old former special assistant in the justice department and a key strategist in his leadership drive, and Senator John Nichol, president of the Liberal Federation of Canada and organizer of the victorious 1968 election. It was Rubin who put down $1,000 of his own money as rent on Trudeau’s leadership campaign office, and it was Rubin that Trudeau turned to and hugged in that first emotional moment at the Liberal convention after John Nichol announced his victory. Rubin and Nichol were frozen out by the PM’s indifference before the end of his first summer in office, and by the beginning of 1969 he had cut off a score of other friends, in essence anyone
who still felt close enough to him to commit the transgression of probing his infallibility.
Most of the men who did fit the Trudeau style of technocratic government were alike. They were highly educated, nearly all of them at great universities abroad. (There were six Oxford men in Trudeau’s closest circle, three of them Rhodes Scholars.) Most belonged to the moneyed strata of the urban east, several had spent their working lives outside the country in embassies or international agencies, and, with rare exceptions, they were all bent on ridding themselves of any taint of provincialism. “They treated people who existed outside the Ottawa-Montreal axis as though they belonged in colonial outposts and were always afraid somebody was going to dump the tea into Vancouver harbor,” says one of the few powerful people in Ottawa with a genuine feel for the country.
Trudeau’s chief of staff was Marc Lalonde, an Oxford graduate and former law professor at the University of Montreal. Lalonde stood out in the entourage as a man who fully subscribed to the PM’s technocratic principles but who managed at the same time to keep himself rooted to certain basic realities. His family had farmed land on Ile Perrot off the southern tip of Montreal Island for 300 years and Lalonde never lost his peasant shrewdness. (“I’m a Norman farmer,” he was heard to say more than once. “It’s like being from Missouri.”) Lalonde was tough, undazzled by social fripperies or intellectual pyrotechnics, and he had an understanding of Quebec politics that was visceral as well as cerebral. But he never pretended to know what made the rest of Canada tick and it was to Trudeau’s great disadvantage that his staff didn’t include an English equivalent of Lalonde.
Next to Lalonde, probably the most influential men in the PMO were Jim Davey and Ivan Head. An Oxford graduate in physics, Davey is an introvert, pale, compulsively hardworking, given to talking about such things as “reality consciousness” and to believing there are few human needs that
can’t be reduced to one of his colored graphs or “critr al path flows.” Davey’s charts were locked in a war room to which only people whose names were inscribed on a secret list were admitted. Both he and Ivan Head wrote speeches for Trudeau that were, as one disgruntled Liberal complained, “not speeches at all but monographs for papers to be published in Foreign Affairs.” Head is a Harvard graduate and former law professor, who became a kind of non-swinging sub-Arctic Henry Kissinger, flying the world on behalf of the Prime Minister, and bypassing apoplectic officials in the Department of External Affairs while he was at it.
Other key staff members were L. D. Hudon, a Quebec City economist, who functioned as deputy secretary (operations) of cabinet and had spent most of the previous 20 years on various economic assignments at Canadian embassies abroad and with the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development in Washington; Gordon Gibson, a millionaire’s son from Vancouver whose imaginative policy ideas were muted by the sound of louder voices and who finally decided he’d be more influential as a member of the House of Commons; and Tim Porteous, a graduate of the University of Paris and member of a distinguished old family from English Montreal. Porteous worked as a writer of policy papers and speeches and once inspired a journalist to say, after interviewing him, “My God, JCMM is running the country.” (JCMM is the Junior Committee of the Museum of Montreal, a group of social devotees of art and dowdy chic who give an annual fund-raising party called Strawberries & Champagne that turns Westmount pink with pleasure.)
The regime’s most influential public servants were Gordon Robertson, the clerk of the Privy Council, and Michael Pitfield, deputy secretary (plans) of the cabinet. Robertson arrived in Ottawa from Montreal in 1941, served as Mackenzie King’s secretary, and became the Lord High Mandarin in 1963. Although he epitomized the passion-drained competence of the old bureaucracy, Robertson was sufficiently adaptable, compatible (he too was an Oxford man) and knowledgeable to become part of the magic circle. (“The thing I like best about Robertson,” Trudeau told a friend, “is that when I come in first thing in the morning he presents me with a series of answers to questions I didn’t even know had been raised.”) Pitfield, the son of a Montreal financier, was a different matter. Young, rich, brilliant (he was probably Trudeau’s only intellectual peer in the whole operation), he had a social conscience that sat oddly on his elegant frame. He went on holidays with Trudeau to Spain, Mexico and Yugoslavia and because of this, and his disdain for people he felt weren’t “gentlemen,” he was thought in Ottawa to have a Machiavellian influence with the PM which he himself disclaimed.
Every morning at 9.30 the Prime Minister conferred with Robertson, Lalonde, Hudon and Peter Roberts, his press secretary. Roberts was also a Rhodes Scholar who came to Trudeau’s office after 15 years abroad as an officer with External Affairs, years that had wiped out all trace of his Alberta origins. Apparently chosen because of his compatibility with the PM rather than with the press, he treated all but the most sycophantic reporters as “a crummy lot” (as Trudeau publicly described them) and made enemies for his boss with effortless grace. Roberts’ predecessor, Roméo LeBlanc, now a Liberal MP from New Brunswick, was better at the job but he was hampered too by the PM’s disdain for the press. LeBlanc once confessed to a friend, “I go in there every morning shaking and if I try in any way to put forward a reporter’s point of view, Trudeau cuts me down. I sometimes feel as though I ought to walk in bowing and back out in deference as soon as I’m dismissed.” The only person in the Trudeau press operation with a genuine sympathy for reporters was Vic Chapman, a former pass receiver and kicker with the BC Lions and Edmonton Eskimos, a man with a husky voice, a boxer’s face and a warm heart. Relegated to functioning as a kind of baggagemaster and cattle prodder on the PM’s press tours, Chap-
man was sealed off from real influence with the Trudeau inner circle. Flying back from the official tour of Russia in 1971, he answered a reporter’s complaint about Trudeau’s inaccessibility with the feeling remark, “Listen, I can’t do a damn thing about it. Those guys don’t have any respect for my intellect. They think I’m a bull.”
Inside Trudeau’s Ottawa knowledge was power, and most of his aides acted as though the very time of day were a state secret to be entrusted only to certain high-minded and certifiably serious officials. The East Block bought a heavy-duty paper shredder which could handle up to a ton an hour of what was called “classified waste.” The blanket of secrecy even smothered departmental studies that had always been in the public domain, such as the background papers for Edgar Benson’s white paper on taxation and J. J. Greene’s studies on Canadian oil reserves. “Goddamit, my tax money paid for those studies,” a Toronto businessman wrote in a fury to the PM’s office, “and I’d like to know by what divine right you can keep them from being published.”
Fortified by De Gaulle’s famous dictum that “nothing enhances authority more than silence,” Trudeau’s men saw themselves as belonging to an elite with little obligation to spend time on or with lesser people. Most of them weren’t exactly born snobs, but once they got into power they were overwhelmed by what is known in India as darshan — a blessing Hindus believe is bestowed on them through being near a great person, a kind of drugless high that comes only in the presence of an exalted maharaja or guru. To them, Trudeau was both.
The source of their own power was access. Access not only to the most inaccessible of prime ministers but, equally important, to control over which policy proposals would or would not be presented to full cabinet. Each minister’s legislative ideas had to be submitted to the East Block contingent who would then decide which cabinet / continued on page 64
TRUDEAU from page 23 committee to send it to and when to bring it forward for cabinet consideration. Since all the cabinet committees were staffed by the East Block managers, they could easily pigeonhole some legislation (for example, many of John Turner’s initiatives in Justice; Trudeau’s people didn’t want him to top their man’s record in the portfolio) and push the issues they thought really mattered to the PM. That usually meant policies on federal-provincial relations or some bill dealing with the process of government. “Process,” Trudeau’s friend and mentor Marshall McLuhan observed, “is Trudeau’s forte. He is corporate. He refuses to reveal a point of view but fascinates everyone with process.”
Theoretically, the cabinet should have been a counterweight to all this introspection. Most ministers were as much under the spell of Trudeau’s assumption of superiority as his advisers since they owed their presence around the Privy Council table to his popularity. In any case, they were what A. R. M. Lower, the Queen’s University historian, once described when he was writing about another Liberal cabinet, “Whigs: people who in general were on the side of righteousness, took a benevolent attitude towards it but felt no urge to advance interests other than their own or those with which they identified themselves.” Cabinet undertook to run the affairs of the nation as inevitably and unquestionably as though it were their ordained role and natural task.
Trudeau allowed his ministers a fairly free hand in the running of their departments, but cabinet authority was dispersed into so many committees that only the PM and his immediaté entourage could exercise any real influence on overall government policy. He conducted cabinet meetings like a Jesuit seminar, encouraging ministers to criticize each others’ proposals, not imposing his views on others but allowing them instead to find their own way to his convictions.
These mental gymnastics muffled the effectiveness of progressive politicians in the room, notably Bryce Mackasey and Eric Kierans, and rendered totally silent other ministers unsure of their dialectical ability. “You were always listened to with great respect, but nothing would ever happen,” Kierans complained after he resigned in the spring of 1971. “You know, when the Pope gets down off the altar at St. Peter’s and walks down the aisle, the one thing you’re sure of is that he’s going to get to the other end. You can argue and argue, and the procession always goes on its way.”
The only ministers who were part of Trudeau’s inner circle were Otto Lang, yet another Rhodes Scholar and former Dean of Law at the University of Saskatchewan, and Charles Mills “Bud”
Drury. A man with a stiff code of ethics and an Ottawa background dating back to World War II, when he was the youngest brigadier in the Canadian army, Drury’s politics were so rigidly conservative that he considered anyone to the left of Pope John a dangerous radical. It was Drury who kept rationalizing away the country’s spiraling unemployment statistics, telling anyone who would listen that the numbers didn’t mean what they used to mean because they merely reflected the decline of the work ethic. According to Drury, anybody who wanted employment could find a job.
Even stranger than his treatment of cabinet was Trudeau’s response to his caucus of Liberal MPs. Normally, even the most self-assured of prime ministers realizes that his loyal troops in the Commons are a source of personal support and of hard information. Trudeau didn’t seem to want either from his backbenchers. He imposed new regulations on the weekly caucus that effectively cut off the free interchange of ideas. MPs were limited to discussing items on a prearranged agenda and even then they couldn’t talk for more than three min-
A CLUTCH OF OBNOXIOUS PREFECTS FROM THE UPPER FORMS OF SOME RICH SCHOOL
utes and only if they had their names on the caucus chairman’s list. At one point, when there was a severe economic crisis in the country, the topic under discussion was recognition of the Vatican and nobody had the nerve to suggest that this nicety be put aside for a calmer time. “The average MP is as useless as tits on a bull,” said Phil Givens, a former mayor of Toronto, when he became one of six Liberal MPs who quit the federal party in disgust.
Trudeau believed he could bypass the unaesthetic ramblings of the caucus and get at the heart of the country by setting up regional desks in the East Block. He seemed blissfully unaware that people don’t talk to “desks.” After the original organizer Pierre Levasseur left in 1969, the scheme turned into a feed-out of praise and rationalization for the PM’s programs; little hard data came in.
What was more damaging than any of this to the Prime Minister’s public image was his open arrogance in the Commons. Whenever Robert Stanfield got up to ask a question, they would sit there, row upon row of Liberal ministers, hooting with derisive laughter, looking not like sober men conducting the nation’s business but like a clutch of obnoxious prefects from the upper forms of some expensive private school, sneering at a drudge. And in their midst sat their leader, the existential hero, clad
in a dark suit from London, a yellow rose from the Governor General’s greenhouse and an air of elegant boredom, turning his attackers off with quips, non sequiturs and historical allusions. He complained about “the whiny demands of the opposition” and put everybody down, making fun of their pretension in questioning his wisdom. He acted as if he really believed (as he said in the Commons on July 24, 1969) that opposition MPs were “nobodies,” a fairly risky assumption since even after the 1968 election the opposition side of the House represented 54% of Canadian voters. Trudeau was just as rude to MPs outside the House. After his son was born on Christmas Day, 1971, one of the most popular MPs in the House, a Conservative from the Maritimes, decided to send the Trudeaus a congratulatory wire. He went down to his local telegraph office only to find that the operator, a staunch Tory, was prepared to give him a hot fight about transmitting the message. The MP finally persuaded her to send it anyway and filed the episode away in his mind as a wrily amusing if apt reflection of his riding’s political style. A few weeks later, back in Ottawa, he saw Trudeau at a cocktail party, and thinking the PM might be amused as well he went over to tell him what happened. Trudeau stared back at him, bored beyond endurance, and said offhandedly, “Oh, I never saw any of the wires. There were so many hundreds, we decided not to be bothered.”
Still, none of this would have mattered very much if Trudeau hadn’t allowed himself the most dangerous alienation of all — that from his own party apparatus. His 1968 victory, which he more or less won on his own, confirmed his long-standing suspicion that party organization played a vastly overrated role in the political life of the country. Because he had never experienced the chastening apprenticeship of a period in opposition, he couldn’t understand that a party’s organizational apparatus is an essential part of the fabric of any prime minister’s power. From June 1968 to early 1972 he deliberately ignored the party regulars, refused to attend most party functions and failed to recognize the need for powerful proconsuls of the breed that had kept Mackenzie King in office for such a long time by bringing back to Ottawa word of what was really happening in their domains of influence. There was no one in his orbit like Jimmy Gardiner, Jack Pickersgill, James Ilsley or Chubby Power except perhaps Paul Martin and he was consulted only rarely. (In the midTwenties Chubby Power used to spend his weekends touring the taverns of the poor sections of Quebec City, drinking five-cent glasses of beer and listening to people’s beefs. When King once obcontinued on page 66
TRUDEAU continued jected that cabinet ministers shouldn’t be seen in taverns, Power replied, “Listen, if you want my resignation, I’ll write it. But I won’t give up the taverns and I bet I’ll win my seat in the next election and you won’t win yours.” Which is exactly what happened.) In brief, Trudeau didn’t have, either in his office, his cabinet or out in the country, a single political crony other than those from Quebec who functioned on their own. In English Canada, he was left with a party structure that had only one indispensable man. Himself.
At the beginning of 1972, when he realized that it was soon going to be constitutionally necessary to hold an election to settle what he described as “all the little piddling questions,” he assumed that the party machine could be kicked into high gear by the simple act of offering himself for reelection. What he didn’t know was that the machine was rusty from neglect.
For four years he had nurtured a basic misapprehension of the Canadian party system. The two old-line parties especially are loose aggregations of likeminded people who commit themselves to working in a campaign with little reward except the promise of some fun and the vicarious thrill of being close to power. These people are held together, ready to commit their all, by what John Nichol once called “psychic patronage”: they know a guy who knows a guy who can talk to the PM.
When Nichol was running the Liberal Party in the mid-Sixties, he would continually take soundings across the country, listening to constituency complaints before they were magnified into rebellious indifference. He was endlessly willing to sympathize with the self-important bores who infest any political organization and like his predecessor, Keith Davey, he made politics fun. Nichol and Davey both had a network of workers across the country they would call for daily or weekly gossip sessions, dropping Ottawa rumors here and there, making everyone feel he was an insider and getting back a fairly accurate accounting of just what was going on in the country. This is what a party machine is in a democracy: a network of guys who talk to each other. And this is what Trudeau destroyed with his notion that politics ought to be intellectually satisfying or morally important at all times. He and his staff considered talking to all those cats out there meowing their little songs of complaint as a boring waste of time.
Liberal loyalty (i.e., appetite for power) being what it is, the party regulars rallied to the first soundings of the election horn last spring, but they rallied halfheartedly and functioned throughout the campaign as one of them said, “at about 40% capacity.” Whatever en-
thusiasm they could mount was dampened by the PM’s indifference. At one Campaign Communications Committee meeting held in Ottawa on April 25, several party regulars gave voice to their misapprehensions about Trudeau’s methods. The consensus of the gathering, chaired by Toronto advertising executive George Elliott, was that Trudeau had to dispel the notion that his government constituted a “smug majority,” that he was not really very interested in the country’s problems or his job. One suggestion made was that on the day the election writ was issued, a telegram be sent out under Trudeau’s name to the party’s 50,000 key workers, simply saying: “i NEED YOU.” (The idea, which was too emotional to appeal to Trudeau, was never followed up.) The committee’s most important recommendation was that the party fashion a dozen specific “hard-edged” policy pronouncements that would clearly set out the directions of the Liberal government during the next four years. This was to become a kind of electoral version of a Speech from the Throne, stressing the importance of a national debate on the bread-and-butter issues.
. . EVERY DAY, PEOPLE WAIT FOR HOURS JUST TO WATCH ME GET INTO MY CAR"
But when Trudeau finally called the election, on September 1, he ignored their advice entirely. During one of his first forays outside Ottawa, to address Ontario party workers, he described the campaign as not a fight with the opposition but “a dialogue between ourselves and the people.” He seemed to see himself both as the chief actor and stage manager of a campaign in which he could impose on the public consciousness his own scenario of the event. He forgot that a democratic election is not a royal procession or a teach-in, but a struggle for power, a clash of ideas, personalities and perceptions of the future. He projected no notion of where his ideas might lead. Instead of taking the public into his confidence and discussing the many real issues facing the country, he acted like some bored sophisticate distractedly telling the masses that everything was fine because he was in charge and they could all go back to sleep again.
Trudeau went into the campaign believing that his popularity was undiminished. (Months before when an old friend suggested to him that there were signs of discontent in the electorate, he strode over to his office window and pointed to the autograph seekers waiting at the East Block door and said, “See that? It happens every day, people wait for hours just to watch me get into my
car.”) He was sustained in this illusion by the polls (which couldn’t show how many of the “undecided” were really undeclared anti-Trudeau voters), as well as the crowds of cheering children and party workers who were turned out everywhere he went.
As the Liberal campaign unfolded in September and October, it soon became apparent that it lacked both strategy and content. In most previous elections, the party had taken positions on issues that set it off from its rivals. Out of this basic strategy flowed all tactics, policies, itineraries and advertising. Trudeau decided simply to ask the voters to trust him. During a preelection dinner at 24 Sussex Drive, which the PM was persuaded to hold for his provincial campaign chairmen, most of whom he hadn’t seen for four years, Senator George van Roggen of British Columbia was particularly adamant in urging him to prepare some answers to the unemployment issue and to establish a prices and incomes policy. But Trudeau put him down with a stern lecture on the kind of high-minded campaign he intended to run.
Instead of strategy and issues, the Liberals had a slogan, THE LAND IS STRONG, coined by George Elliott. It reflected perfectly the lulling effect Trudeau’s campaign was intended to have. Probably no Canadian party has ever fought an election on a less meaningful slogan — though that might have been the case if Elliott’s first version, A DIRECTION FOR CANADA, had been adopted. When he presented that gem to the campaign committee one of its right-wing members passed a scribbled note to a friend suggesting an alternative: FROM THOSE WONDERFUL FOLKS WHO GAVE YOU BENSON, BASFORD AND MACKASEY. Although few Liberals took The Land Is Strong theme seriously (Alberta campaign chairman Blair Williams even refused to use it in his advertising campaigns), only John Turner had the courage to question it in public. “I’ve used it once in the whole campaign,” he told a group of students at the University of Winnipeg on October 20, “and that was to see if I could get it out without breaking up.” The only cabinet minister who effectively dealt with the bread-and-butter issues on the hustings was Bryce Mackasey.
It was Trudeau’s program secretary, Jim Davey, who thought up the complementary “national integrity” approach, though the wispy references to it in Trudeau’s speeches were written by Ivan Head. “When Davey and Head concoct a speech,” said one Liberal organizer, “they aren’t thinking about an audience in an arena, they’re thinking about a seminar full of their peers. The fact that there aren’t, thank God, any more than a couple of thousand such people across
the whole country has never occurred to them.” At times, the Davey-Head sense of audience verged on the bizarre. When local Liberals mounted a rally in Edmonton and broke their backs trucking in busloads of people from local old-age homes, the ancients sat in their wheelchairs with uncomprehending stares as the PM launched into a discourse about the importance of physical fitness. In Hamilton, Trudeau delivered a lecture on the social implications of the decline in the work ethic before a lunchpail audience of steelworkers.
And everywhere that Trudeau went, he would add to his lengthening list of insults, so that by the end of the campaign the semaphore of his smile transmitted not reassurance but the assumption of superiority. In Winnipeg, when a heckler, fed up with Trudeau’s easy dismissal of unemployment, shouted: “Don’t insult our intelligence!” Trudeau replied: “I’ll speak at a lower level, perhaps you’ll understand me then.” When he was on an open-line radio show at Wingham, Ontario, and made a donnish joke about his relations with God (“I can talk to Him in a familiar tone and He hasn’t objected so far”) it was uncomfortably reminiscent of another comment Trudeau had made as far back as the spring of 1968. A reporter asked him when he intended to call an election, and he had replied: “In God’s good time, whenever I feel it is best.”
Probably the most cynical phase of the Liberal campaign was the series of announcements that Trudeau himself referred to as “election goodies,” including the $30 million plan to develop the Toronto waterfront and the five-milliondollar scheme to establish a wood products industry at Cabano, Quebec. This was the very kind of electoral opportunism, practised crudely in the Fifties by Maurice Duplessis in Quebec, that Trudeau was supposed to have gone into politics to reform.
But the single factor that hurt Trudeau’s campaign the most was his failure to comprehend how much the high level of prices and unemployment was really hurting voters. In his proud tower he had psyched himself into believing that the economic state of the country was nothing to worry about. Trudeau’s advisers had been relying all along on the old “trade-off” approach which holds that there is a direct relationship between unemployment and inflation. According to this theory, if government fiscal and monetary policies create enough unemployment eventually this will take the pressure off wage demands (because of the availability of alternate labor) and this in turn will reduce the overall demand for goods so that businesses will hold down their price increases and break the inflation psychology. Despite some solid advice
to the contrary from the Economic Council of Canada (which repeatedly documented that unemployment and inflation are not necessarily at opposite ends of a seesaw) and the warnings of such independent economists as Senator Maurice Lamontagne and Dr. O. J. Firestone, the government persisted in deliberately fostering a shortage of jobs to hold down rising prices. On June 28, 1970, when Trudeau was questioned about his policy on the CTV program W-5, he replied: “I’m not really trying to govern in order to be reelected ... if the Canadian people don’t like it, you know, they can lump it.”
Despite this tough attitude and the staggering loss of jobs and industrial output that resulted from it, inflation was, in fact, never conquered. Between September 1971 and September 1972 food prices, for example, increased by 9.7%. At the same time, the unemployment rate continued to hover over 6% and midway through the campaign it reached 7.1%. This meant that the number of Canadians reporting themselves either out of work or in manpower retraining programs totaled about 627,640 — an army of jobless that nearly equaled the full-strength complement of men and women enrolled in Canada’s World War II active-service forces. Still, Trudeau went on believing that economic conditions didn’t constitute an important issue; his advisers kept at bay anyone who tried to tell him otherwise.
During the four-day break from campaigning Trudeau took in early October, Jim Davey met in Ottawa with a subcommittee of the Liberal Party’s campaign organization for a progress report. He was astounded to find himself the target of a barrage of discontent about the lack of substance in the PM’s speeches, about his offhand insults, and the fact that no new policies to deal with unemployment had emerged from the campaign. Davey cut off the complaints with a 20-minute harangue. “I don’t want to hear any more of this negative talk,” a Liberal strategist remembers him saying. “We’re not going to allow
the Prime Minister to descend to the grubby level of discussing unemployment. He’s having a dialogue with the people about the Canadian identity.” Marie Gibeault, president of the Women’s Liberal Federation of Canada, was on the verge of tears after Davey’s lecture. “Who do you think you are?” she asked. “We’re all loyal Liberals. Why do you question our motives?”
After the meeting broke up, Bob Andras, the Thunder Bay cabinet minister who was cochairman of the campaign, went to the PM and complained about the inept advice Trudeau had been getting from those around him. Trudeau became intensely angry and said, “Stop attacking my staff.” From that moment on there was a definite split between the mood of the party regulars and the attitude of the PM’s entourage. The old hands figured the game was over, though they went doggedly on with their tasks, all the while making weak jokes about this being the only non-campaign in history that had peaked too soon. (David Greenspan, a former vice-president of the Ontario Liberal Party, came astonishingly close in his predictions of the outcome, while John Nichol and Mel Hurtig in Alberta were deeply uneasy about their regions and felt in their bones what would happen and why.)
But the PM’s men marched happily forward. Jim Davey was betting his colleagues that Trudeau would win 172 seats and Dave Thomson, head of the western regional desk in the East Block, sat in an Edmonton living room 10 days before the election and forecast a majority of 170 seats, including five from Alberta. They continued to act as though Trudeau were some kind of prince; they cosseted him, encouraging him to take time out from the campaign for afternoon sleeps (which were called “government” business on his official itinerary). They protected him from all the rude intruders with their unpalatable messages, continuing to believe that his mystic bond with the voters would hold.
What they didn’t know was that the morning of the magicians was over. ■