Interview

Interview

PIERRE ELLIOTT TRUDEAU October 20 1975
Interview

Interview

PIERRE ELLIOTT TRUDEAU October 20 1975

Interview

PIERRE ELLIOTT TRUDEAU

As the political management of a faltering economy tests the federal government’s resolve and ingenuity, Pierre Elliott Trudeau finds himself once again at the centre of Canadians’ hopes and concerns. No longer the carefree swinger, not yet the compleat technocrat, but a kind of Buddhist monk in mufti, he faces the current emergency (including resignation of his finance minister) with a curious sense of inner repose. A cool man in a hot world doing his grainy thing, he appears unfazed by the complaints of drift and inaction that swirl about his government. On September 30, Peter C. Newman, editor of Maclean's, interviewed the Prime Minister in his Centre Block office. Throughout their conversation the Prime Minister seemed constantly to be patrolling himself, listening to his answers, adjusting his cadences, placing all the qualifiers in their proper order. Despite the difficult policy decisions he must take during the next few weeks, Trudeau gives the impression of being in charge, ready to test the powers of his newly shuffled cabinet, composed of men not so much hesitant to challenge his views as uncertain of their own. His office is a bare and tidy place. The late afternoon sun streaked through its six shuttered windows. His leather-lined iN-basket was completely empty.

Maclean’s: You said in your ’68 campaign that “we are making no promises that we cannot keep. But one promise we are going to make and are going to keep is that of making sure that we keep the economy sound bv spending no more than we earn as a government. “Is this a politically viable philosophy in the context of an electorate grown dependent on the public sector?

Trudeau: Well, it is, surely—given the contracyclical nature of budgeting. You can never spend more than you have; otherwise you have endless inflation. Since the people are asking for more and more servicesfrom the government,it does mean an increasing percentage of the gross national product in government budgets. I think the people themselves realize that there’s a limit even to government intervention, and that our billion-dollar expenditure cut announced in the last budget indicates we are acting in that direction ourselves. You will recall that in the fiscal year 1970, we brought in the first surplus budget in 13 years: The first.

Maclean’s: A t what point will Canada have reached the stage where mandatory wage and price controls are the only remaining solution? There must be a point when you’ve tried everything else, and this is the only thing that’s left.

Trudeau: Yes, there is such a point. Controls themselves, whether it be a full freeze or control of prices and incomes, do not solve the underlying malaise of people generally trying to get more out of the economy than they put into it. If controls were a proper and effective device to change that psychology, we’d say, “Well, it’s easy. Let’s put on controls and one year down the road we’ll take them off, and there’ll be no more inflation.” But I think every experience I know of—most recently the United States and the British experiences—is to the effect that when you take controls off you begin more or less where you were before.

‘YOU CAN’T HAVE ANARCHY WITHOUT SOMEBODY GETTING A BOOT IN THE ASS’

Maclean’s: The economy just catches up? Trudeau: Exactly. People say, “Okay, we’ve been held down, or we’ve been controlled for a year. Now let’s hurry up and get those wage increases, those salary increases and those price increases that we’ve been prevented from getting by the intervention of the state.”

Maclean’s: What’s the alternative? Trudeau: Well, the alternative is the one we’ve been attempting to promote, which we will, until any further decision is announced, continue to attempt to promote: first of all, it’s to increase productivity as much as we can—for instance, in our various income stabilization schemes for the food production sector, fishermen and farmers. Secondly, it’s been to protect those who are least able to protect themselves against inflation, by indexing old age pensions, family allowances and so on. And thirdly, to get the people to put an end to their inflationary expectations, to make them understand that one sector of the economy can’t continue to grow faster than the economy itself without punishing some other sector. The monopolistic sectors of our economy—big corporations which can pass on their costs, big unions which can get the corporations to pass on the costs— when they are growing much faster and consistently more than the economy is growing—they’re really taking money away from the poor sections in our society. Other means are available, short of full controls, but I repeat: if we knew that full controls would get people to realize that there’d be no hesitation in bringing them in. So it’s not a fear of intervening in the market that...

Maclean’s: It’s no ideological thing? Trudeau: There’s no ideological hang-up, no. In most cases we prefer to let the freedom of choice operate. But there are some cases where we intervene, as in the setting of the prices of oil, energy—we’ve held the prices down ’way below world prices, as you know. So we can and we do intervene. We’ve intervened in the bilingualism thing, to make sure that the country goes along a certain path that we think is necessary to keep the country together. We’ve intervened through the Department of Regional Economic Expansion, telling corporations that they will be subsidized, or the workers that they will be subsidized, if they go to less developed regions of Canada. Maclean’s: You must be frustrated by this dichotomy in people who keep asking for leadership, but don’t want to be told what to do.

Trudeau: I sometimes wish that the observers of government action would realize that that is something of a dilemma. To use an extreme example of intervention, the invocation of the War Measures Act—you know, that was an extreme intervention, extreme example of what you would call leadership. Well, if I’m not mistaken, many of the critics of the government’s non-leadership were also critical of the government’s leadership in that particular instance. What I’m trying to say is that in the philosophy of government as I see it, there are some rare cases where we must use extreme authoritarianism. There are other cases where we must have some form of control. In other cases, the greatest number of cases, is where the people themselves must agree to pull together. Now, price and wage controls, to me, are a form of authoritarianism—where the state tells every individual what is good for him in terms of prices and in terms of wages and so on. And I believe, once again, that people will not be told forever, or for very long, by the state what is good for them. And therefore, unless they can come to understand the nonsensical consequences of inflationary demands upon the economy, either as producers or as consumers, we won’t lick inflation. And by “people” I include institutions, including governments themselves—federal, provincial and municipal. It’s obvious that there has been a period, arising out of the postwar prosperity, a long period of time when governments thought they could give the people pretty well everything they requested. The sky seemed the limit. Now we’ve realized, with extremely slow growth for a period, that you can’t give people everything they’re requesting without printing money indefinitely and having a huge inflation. Maclean’s: You mentioned the War Measures Act—when we knew each other, when you were at the University of Montreal, if you had still been there in 1970 you surely would have been arrested and had your books seized. How would you have felt had you been on the other side?

Trudeau: I don’t think that’s a proper interpretation of where I would have been. Well, let me answer you in theory: I think that if I had been on the side of those who were challenging the authority of the duly elected representatives—then I bloody well would have deserved to be in the risk of being arrested. You can’t have anarchy without somebody getting a boot in the ass at the hands of the duly elected government. So, if I’d been on the side of the anarchists, I hope I would have been mature enough to say, “Well, I personally didn’t deserve it, but I can understand the state not lying down and letting the anarchists take over.” But knowing myself at the University of Montreal and before that, I’d be more likely to have rowed against the established current, and more likely would have been roundly condemning the FLQ for violent methods, and roundly condemning those intellectuals and union leaders and journalists and other branches of the intelligentsia for supporting anarchy, as they did. You’ll recall that long petition that so many of them signed— union leaders, academics, journalists,politicians—that long petition where they said the state should give in and free the “political prisoners.” Well, you know, to me this is the origin of so much of the disorder in Quebec today—the so-called intelligentsia, la trahison des clercs, about which I was writing while even at the University of Montreal. When the chips were down, when the peace, order and good government was challenged by a band of anarchists who, after some 250 bombings and other incidents, had said to the state, “Well, we will tell you who stays in jail and who goes out,” a large part of the intelligentsia said, “You must give in to the anarchists.” Now, is it surprising that we are reaping that harvest today in Quebec, where every union leader, every leader of small groups says, “Well, why should we respect established order?” So I would not necessarily have been arrested; I think then I would have been condemning people who were encouraging the giving in to undemocratic actions. Had I been otherwise, then I would have deserved to be put in there.

‘I KNOW THE PARTY WILL GET ALONG WITHOUT ME, AND SO WILL THE COUNTRY’

Maclean’s: Soon after you became prime minister you said, among other things: “My idea of the Senate is one of basic reform. ” And yet you can hardly be said to have improved the criteria for appointments. Is this because of party pressures, or have you abandoned any hope of reforming it? Trudeau: Well, here again, what did I do? Very shortly after being in office, I tabled a federal-provincial conference on the Constitution—a whole series of proposals for Senate reform. They’re still there for anyone to read. They involved some pretty extreme measures, including getting the provinces, the provincial governments, to appoint senators. So, insofar as my willingness to carry out this reform is concerned, it’s right there on paper for anyone to read. Now why it didn’t go through is the story of the federal-provincial conferences on the Constitution—you know what happened in Victoria. But surely I can’t be faulted for not having tried to bring in reform, and change the Constitution in the ways in which I was writing. Even after then, and in spite of that failure to get federal-provincial agreement, I certainly made an effort to bring in different types of people into the Senate; I named several people from the Opposition in one batch, I named younger people, I brought in more women than before. But what strikes me, and it’s a very small point, but when you name people who are of a reform character you get very little attention for it. When I brought in Ike Smith, a former Conservative premier of Nova Scotia, just a couple of months ago, there wasn’t very much attention paid to it. But a few weeks later I brought in somebody else who happened to be a Liberal and, you know, this really hit the fan. Well, go back to the time when I brought in Manning, a former Social Credit premier,Thérèse Casgrain, former leader of the NDP-CCF in Quebec, Eugene Forsey, a longtime supporter of the NDP-CCF, Lawson, head of the Teamsters—you know, a whole bunch of nonLiberals—there was something of a hohum in the press. But when 1 bring in a few Liberals, there’s a big cry. Even with the most virtuous of politicians—which I am not—you can’t always expect them to respond to reform urges; if the reform never gets them anything positive but always gets them damnation from their own side. I think there may be a lesson for that in the critics of my Senate appointments.

Maclean’s: You once explained to me that the difference between nationalism and patriotism was that you had a gut feeling for Canada. Has this grown or changed during your time in office?

Trudeau: I can’t remember the exact context, but I can see what my feeling was. I wouldn’t like to get into a semantic quarrel between nationalism and patriotism. Maclean’s: Well, let’s just talk about nationalism.

Trudeau: My feelings about nationalism and why I’ve always had prejudices against it lie in the very history and meaning of the word. I never thought the nation should have preponderance over the individual; I never thought the nation, particularly defined in an ethnic or linguistic or a color or a religious sense, should have the last word when it comes to a question of the freedom of citizens. That’s almost obvious—a nation-state in an ethnic or a religious sense is oppressive of its minorities. Therefore I’m against that nationalism. I’m against nationalism even of a broader sense, if it is a rationale for the Establishment or the governing classes or those who have power with it to bring in solutions deleterious to individual freedoms.

Maclean’s: Can there be such a thing as a defensive nationalism, where you defend a culture so it isn’t overwhelmed by another? Trudeau: Well, you can call it that if you want, just as in Alice In Wonderland. But for me, I’m afraid the word “nationalism”—particularly economic nationalism, though it applies to cultural nationalism too—is very often a vehicle of the ruling classes to transfer wealth to themselves. In the case of culture—you put tariffs on culture because you want the people to have culture as defined by you. Now, you can and would come back and say, “You have taken some nationalistic measures.” I’d say that the test is: are they, by and large, good for the mass of people, or are they something which is brought in to protect a small, elite group? And to me, that’s the test, whether it be economic, cultural or any military nationalism. I think the duty of the state is to protect its citizens and to promote a greater exercise of their liberty. In some cases, the liberty as expressed by citizens, the majority or a prominent part of the citizens, is to ask the state to protect them from offensive foreign nationalism. I guess a case in point would be the action our government took on the World Football League.

Maclean’s: Does that apply to magazines? Trudeau: Well, it does to the extent that the government has already announced that it wants to make sure that our institutions—in this case the taxation laws—apply first and foremost for the people who pay taxes: to wit, Canadians. Our attitude has been that those who through some special privilege do not pay taxes, who are exempted from the normal tax, should no longer be exempted unless they’re Canadians. In other words, we are promoting our own culture, as we promote our own sports, our own education, our own health care, and so on—we don’t have to subsidize sports or culture in the United States. That is essentially the rationale for it. How that rationale is applied in this particular case, well, I guess, I wouldn’t want to anticipate what the ministers are going to be saying in front of a parliamentary committee. But the rationale, to me, is good. I would be opposed to a nationalism that prevented access to Canada of foreign ideas, foreign literature and foreign publications. This, to me, is putting tariffs on culture, assuming that governments know better than the Canadian people what they should be reading, and so on. But that’s what has been so misunderstood in this, and you know better than anyone else. We’re not going to prevent Canadians from reading foreign magazines—they can read as many as they want. All we’re saying is that we will not use Canadians’ taxes to subsidize foreign publications. Now, how you define foreign publications is the nub •of the question, and that’s the one on which the whole present debate resides. Maclean’s: But presumably you would approve of the existence of an indigenous newsmagazine?

Trudeau: Well, I surely don’t have to approve or disapprove. If the Canadian people want one, it will continue to exist. It’s the same in football—if people cease being interested in a particular Canadian kind of football, or whatever the other activity is, magazines, cinema, then they will find themselves hard-pressed to survive. The state, I think, should avoid giving advantage to foreign competitors—it should at least be neutral, and in some cases (as we have been with the Canadian content rules of radio and television) be biased in favor of Canadian culture; and indeed we are biased in favor of Canadian magazines with the taxation laws I’ve just alluded to, and from which we intend removing exceptions.

Maclean’s: How do you feel about some of the very prominent ministers you have lost, including John Turner?

Trudeau: Oh, a feeling of loss, no doubt. Talking of the more recent ones, Pelletier s departure, and Marchand’s slowing down for health reasons, and Turner’s retiring for family reasons, to me are very serious losses to the party. But the party is a living organism, it grows, and people leave at one end and come in at the other. I hope that when I leave, the party won’t feel that I’m irreplaceable; I know they won’t. So I don’t feel that any minister’s irreplaceable.

'NATIONALISM IS VERY OFTEN A VEHICLE OF THE RULING CLASSES’

I just tell any minister who comes to me with that kind of suggestion, I think the individual’s conception of his destiny is more right than my vision of it, because I will look at it from the institutional point of view—the government needs you, the country needs you, and so on. But if the individual in his heart feels that he has served as much and as well as he can, and he wants to go on to something else, I think that’s a better test than my own preferences. Sure, I would have preferred to keep Marchand in good health, and Pelletier and Turner around, and I told them so. Maclean’s: Have you changed your mind about the mandate of the prime ministership? Is there as much power in the office as you expected, or is its incumbent tied down like some Gulliver by the various tendrils of social, regional and economic strands that make up Canadian society?

Trudeau: If anything, there’s perhaps a bit more power than I expected. I got into politics mainly to have a platform for some ideas, some views on the country, on society, and in a sense I knew that the Prime Minister had a higher platform, one from which he could speak more loudly. But I still see the job as one in which no government can do anything that people can’t be led to accept, can’t be instructed or be educated to accept. The penalty for doing things people can’t accept is either revolt or, more likely in a democracy, being thrown out of office. So I always realize that restriction on power, of being able to go in one direction, providing you can bring the people with you. I guess basically that’s why I’m a Liberal—because I think the role of a leader in a democratic society is to show the way to the people, but not to be out of touch with them, not to have theoretical ideaS'Which the people are not able to accept at this particular time.

Maclean’s: Since we don’t have a pope or a king, there’s some moral content in the prime ministership. People expect a great deal of you and they’re talking now about the drift in Ottawa, that there’s a kind of dynamic inactivity here. How do you balance the callfor action against keeping up to democratic ideals?

Trudeau: People want to be led, but they don’t want to be pushed. The distinction is vital. They have to be convinced that you are right in order to follow you willingly, and they have to remain convinced that you are consistently right. A great part of my job is getting people to accept that the goals as you see them are right. I suppose 99% of people’s actions are determined by their individual choices, freely exercised. There’s only the marginal cases where they feel that the government is really leaning on them, really pushing them in one direction, and I think that margin must be relatively slim, and that therefore a government must choose the areas where it wants to intervene and exercise its powers in an authoritarian way. That’s a liberal approach, it’s less authoritarian, I suppose, than a socialist approach, which, theoretically at least, thinks that the state can decide better than the people. And it’s better than the conservative approach—and I’m talking in a philosophical sense, I’m not referring to a big-C Conservative or a big-S Socialist.The conservatives are at the other extreme, complete laisser-faire, believing the private sector is always right. Maclean’s: What about your perception of your own destiny? Do you feel there’s still a lot of things you want to do?

Trudeau: I do now, yes. I have a lot more things that I want to do and I feel that I have a proper team, both in and out of cabinet, to do them. But I’m sure that won’t last forever, I’m sure at some point that I will feel I’ve done what I could, and I will find the appeal of private life irresistible. Then I know the party will go on without me—and so will the country. Cfi