Books

The Rt. Hon. Stranger

ROBERT LEWIS April 17 1978
Books

The Rt. Hon. Stranger

ROBERT LEWIS April 17 1978

The Rt. Hon. Stranger

TRUDEAU

by George Radwanski (Macmillan. $14.95)

With the opening of a new political hunting season, Pierre Trudeau has changed his spots again. In yet another metamorphosis the vulnerable single parent, given easily to tears and set adrift in a world of wolves, struggles to defend his record and save an ungrateful nation. In an unusual eight

hours of taped interviews with George Radwanski. which are both the strength and a weakness in the plot, Trudeau reveals himself as a truly remarkable individual. And remarkably strange at times.

At six the frail youth does 5BX exercises on an outdoor balcony in winter “so that (my) lungs would grow strong.” At Brébeuf the schoolboy launches into a wideeyed pursuit of Cézanne, Le Corbusier and Debussy in a world, as one tutor puts it, “a bit cut off from the atmosphere of daily life.” As a teen-ager there dawns the realization of excessive dependence on peergroup plaudits, with an attendant vow to cut himself off from the crowd. The result, in Trudeau’s words, is “a very obdurate” and “inner-directed guy”-a man, Radwanski concludes sympathetically, who is a “flawed leader” and an “unfulfilled” prime minister, not a failed one.

Radwanski, 31, the Ottawa editor for the Financial Times, effectively weaves the new personal reflections from Trudeau with the frayed, existing career tapestry to fill in large gaps around Trudeau’s actions. There is Trudeau’s frank admission that he erred in not massaging John Turner enough to keep him in the cabinet in 1976 and Trudeau’s defense that he operates under “a different code of behavior” in which simply being kept on the team is “the proof that you’re doing a good job.” There isa hintof Machiavelli inTrudeau’s decision in 1976 to confront rumblings about his leadership in the party by laying out a formal mechanism in which his two most trusted cabinet colleagues, Marc Lalonde and Donald Macdonald, would serve as conduits for any consensus that he should resign. There is also the astute perception of Trudeau’s “reward-for-effort" style: periods of intense work followed by holidays or plain inactivity.

Radwanski has paid a price for his extraordinary access to the PM. however. In a chapter on political theory and the PM’S defense of the crackdown on civil liberties during the October Crisis in 1970. Trudeau’s unchallenged rationalizations are unconvincing and displace more critical assessments. Curiously, the Trudeaus’ separation, which ranks as one ot the major events of the PM’S decade in office, is

hardly touched at all. Trudeau’s disavowal, again uncontested by Radwanski, of the promise of a waterfront park for Toronto in the 1972 campaign—“it certainly wasn’t part of my campaign”—rivals Houdini in his finest hour.

It’s a well researched portrait, nonetheless, and an indispensible tool in the fascinating task of unearthing the mysteries of our fifteenth Prime Minister. Even when Trudeau is allowed to ramble unchallenged there are striking glimpses at the foibles of the man—in much the same manner that the Leader of the Opposition is exposed in Joe Clark by his friend Dave Humphreys (Maclean’s, April 3). Radwanski concludes that Trudeau “has diagnosed where society should be going, but he has never mustered sufficient boldness to try to deliver it there.” Now, with an election upon him, Trudeau is running out of time. The result of the vote, as Radwanski observes, will determine Trudeau’s place in history. ROBERT LEWIS