Column

‘Unwittingly, this scandalous lady has epitomized the election issue’

Allan Fotheringham April 30 1979
Column

‘Unwittingly, this scandalous lady has epitomized the election issue’

Allan Fotheringham April 30 1979

‘Unwittingly, this scandalous lady has epitomized the election issue’

Column

Allan Fotheringham

One of the strangest aspects of this very strange election is that no one dares mention the subject everyone is thinking about: Margaret. It is partially a measure of the grey, tentative Canadian nature and partially a measure of the supine Canadian press which, slavering, runs those truncated, jazzed-up, pre-shrunk hunks from her book but then refrains from discussing the larger issue. The issue, if you must know, is that Margaret’s book reveals more about the prime minister of Canada than it does about Margaret. As such, it is legitimate matter for discussion, when we are about to defeat or re-elect that same private, protective gentleman.

A large myth has been allowed to accumulate that Pierre Trudeau has been harassed and harried about his private life by the vulgar Canadian press. In fact, the opposite is true. No other recent political leader—considerg ing the provocation — has £ been so ignored, i.e. pro-£ tected. The Australian > public—still without suf-§ ficient answers as to how the late prime minister Harold Holt died (apparently) while swimming alone—would not put up with the way our press allows Trudeau to disappear to distant corners of the world while following his orders not to follow. The Americans would rebel. In truth, we have become intimidated by Trudeau. His threats and warnings and appeals about his personal life had, over the years, cowed those of us in the pressemployers and employees alike.

The Margaret book by accident gives us a rare insight into the man we will encounter in the polling booth. Quite surprisingly, what emerges is a Pierre Trudeau far from the decisive autocrat who has banished all the strong personalities from his cabinet. Here is a tentative Trudeau, worrying before marriage (wisely, as it turned out) whether Margaret would remain faithful to him, saying “almost sadly, T know you’ll leave me one day.’ ” We learn, as a semantic footnote to history, it was because a “nervous and jittery” PM was so jumpy

about the upcoming secret ceremony that he blurted out the supposed “fuddle duddle” in the Commons.

There is, in a way, a more compassionate Trudeau who cries openly with Margaret during his marriage indecision, who cries shatteringly on getting the news of Pierre Laporte’s murder, who so obviously loves his three sons and—slyly detecting which trees have rotting trunks—proves to his adoring tads that he can fell a tree with a single kick. But, always, there is that solitary soul that existed alone for 50 years and

exists again alone. Concluded Margaret before marriage: “He was destined for eternal solitude.” The millionaire who “inherited his mother’s puritanism and frugality” insisted at 24 Sussex Drive on drying himself “with the smallest and meanest towel he could lay hands on.” This superb athlete “won’t play a single competitive game.” He pits himself only against the elements. Does he dream in French or English? “He said, patiently as to a child: T don’t think in words, Margaret, I think in the abstract.’ ”

There is, chillingly, the discussion on the FLQ crisis with the PM supposedly explaining to his young wife that if ever she or any baby of hers was kidnapped there would be no deal, no amnesty. Would that mean he would allow her and the children to be killed? If we are to believe Margaret, the stern answer was, “Yes. Yes, I would.” There was the shock of the pitifully innocent (not in the biblical sense, thank you) bride of finding that the cerebral Trudeaus

didn’t exchange presents at Christmas.

There is the husband who arrived home “punctually” at 6:45 every night, swam “44 laps, never more,never less,” and 17 minutes later was ready for his sons and then dinner “precisely at eight, ” followed by 45 minutes during which he would do nothing requiring deep thought while he “as he puts it, digests.” Then: “I was absolutely forbidden to interrupt him as he worked. Time with Wifey was over.” It sounds like downtown Etobicoke.

There is through the eyes of this politically naïve, incredibly vain young girl turning into a woman the poignant tracings of the marriage that her mother and all of us thought would never work. The flower child who doesn’t want to grow up and still at 30 found solace in drugs (her generation’s drugs, not Joan Kennedy’s alcohol), found on becoming Mrs. Trudeau that “a glass panel was gently lowered into place around me, like a patient in a mental hospital who is no longer considered able to make decisions and who cannot be exposed to a harsh light.” She never stops extolling her husband as a shy, gentle, loving man, but recalls what he told her solemnly when they were first married: “One of the best things about Mother was that she never disturbed me.”

Margaret Trudeau—again, unlike the myth—is a very intelligent woman. Her insights (on Kosygin who cried on leaving her, on Brezhnev, on Ivan Head — “that pompous and somewhat self-important man,” on Ottawa, on Chou Enlai, Nixon) are shrewd. She will have to answer to herself and her children for her silliness and destructive vanity. But it all gets down to Pierre Trudeau’s motto: “Reason before passion.” Unwittingly, this scandalous lady has epitomized the election issue. She left the marriage convinced that “Pierre’s solution to subjugate everything to reason and will was wrong.” A useful book, yet another small clue to the unfathomable puzzle that is one of the men you will find on your ballot.