Editorial

Trudeau marooned on Parliament Hill: reason over passion won’t heal a nation

Peter C. Newman October 30 1978
Editorial

Trudeau marooned on Parliament Hill: reason over passion won’t heal a nation

Peter C. Newman October 30 1978

Trudeau marooned on Parliament Hill: reason over passion won’t heal a nation

Editorial

Peter C. Newman

Many issues divided the nearly million ballots cast on Oct. 16, and the results will be interpreted a million ways. But in the harsh campaign that preceded the vote, and in the results themselves, one strain seemed clear: Pierre Trudeau’s time has come. His string has run out. Rightly or wrongly, the voters perceived that there no longer exists any vital centre to the Liberal government which has been in charge of the nation’s affairs since April of 1968.

Politics in Canada has always been the art of making the necessary possible. This process depends for its success on a prime minister’s ability to mix a genuine gift to inspire with brilliant negotiating skills and a creative urge to heal. Instead, Pierre Trudeau has tainted the political process with personal impertinence, a feeling that he cares more for what he is than for who he represents.

A decade ago, when he was first catapulted into political prominence, Trudeau appeared to be what Professor Paul Fox, the political scientist, called “a consensual man”—there was something in him for everybody. We followed with happy spirit to see where his ideas might lead. His governing principle of not imposing views on others, but allowing people to find their own way to his beliefs, seemed ideal for the ’60s.

But gradually, he became less interested in social change than in continuity, more committed to the legal niceties of constitutional reform than to any adventurous attempts to fashion a new brand of nationhood.

Feeling threatened by the angry voices of disorder bellowing their demands outside the safe confines of their inner circle, the Prime Minister and his aides closed ranks. Trudeau cut himself off from reality, mistaking the chatter of his court for the voice of the people. The initiatives of governing were increasingly assumed by bureaucratic functionaries who believed that social problems could be resolved through efficient management; whose notion of hunger was being exposed to bad service in one of Ottawa’s many declining French restaurants. They went on their way treating Outer Canada (which includes that part of the country beyond the 10 blocks surrounding Parliament Hill) as a scattering of unruly colonial outposts, acting as if they were afraid that a group of more daring citizens might dump a load of tea into Halifax Harbour. Deaf to the urgencies of the moment, they have brought us as a nation to the verge of the 1980s bereft of imagination, or much faith in a collective future.

The results of the 15 byelections have allowed the Liberal government to suffer defeat without losing office. But at the very least, the polls should have demonstrated to Pierre Trudeau that he can no longer keep creating his private vision of reality by imposing cool logic on the irrationality of events. There are moments in every public career—and this is one of them—when intellect is no longer enough, when a true sense of compassion and the genuine will to lead must claim a politician’s full priorities. If Pierre Trudeau can no longer respond adequately to the crisis in leadership that is our most pressing national issue, he should resign.