COLUMN

The boot for the enfant terrible

Barbara Amiel August 30 1982
COLUMN

The boot for the enfant terrible

Barbara Amiel August 30 1982

The boot for the enfant terrible

Barbara Amiel

COLUMN

Like a fine piece of silk stretched too taut, the social fabric of this country is beginning to rend. In Alberta a lady by the name of Iris Youngren gathers 60,000 names on a petition to oust the prime minister. In Ontario a separate group calling itself GON (Get Out Now) aims for a million signatures. Edmonton realtor John Trueman collects $10 cheques to build up a $5-million fund, hoping to entice the prime minister into retirement. The silk stretches, runs, and the emperor darns his robes.

The silk is pulled even tighter. As the private train coach of Gov. Gen. Ed Schreyer pulls into Rogers Pass high in the Rockies, the Canadian coat of arms gleaming on its side and the prime minister and his children holidaying inside, tomatoes pelt the train cars. Later, a small group of protesters stands at the side of the tracks with placards: TRUDEAU RESIGN. The face of the prime minister, half hidden behind the blinds of the luxurious train, glances stonily out at the crowd. His middle finger goes up in a vulgar gesture. It is a head of government behaving like a fish-market Robespierre.

These events bring nothing but despair, even to those of us who have long abhorred everything for which Pierre Elliott Trudeau stands. Cold comfort to see the desperation spread. Small pleasure to be gained in watching the people of a Western democracy devise ways to get around their Parliament. And yet, there is a moment here, as our country falters, that is waiting to be seized. Grandeur may be found in the meanest of times. There is, as Shakespeare pointed out, a tide in the affairs of men which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.

The founding fathers of Canada numbered 34. It would take only seven federal Liberals to rediscover and proclaim the liberalism that is both their heritage and the essence of this country. The price tag is high. Essentially, the country requires seven men who will desert the prime minister and bring his government down in a vote of nonconfidence.

This is a request that cannot be asked lightly. Party unity is the cornerstone of any democratic system. If members of a political party broke ranks at every whim or disagreement with their leadership, the result would be anarchy. However, a time comes when the provo-

cation is so immense, so outrageous that breaking ranks is not only justified but laudatory. That time has come. For it is not dissenting Liberals who would be deserting the party, but rather their party’s leadership that has utterly deserted the principles of liberalism.

A Liberal government does not govern through secret orders-in-council. In 1981 alone Trudeau’s government passed 3,697 orders-in-council without parliamentary debate or even the pretence of approval—indeed, often without parliamentary knowledge. Such orders-in-council have been used by Trudeau to effect such basic changes as the abolition of imperial weights and measures and the Emergency Planning Act with its extraordinary mechanisms for state control of every aspect of our lives.

It is through orders-in-council that the corner grocery store owner may find

The country requires seven men who will desert the prime minister and bring his government down

himself jailed for having the temerity to sell tomatoes by the pound rather than the kilo. It is through orders-incouncil that civilians may find themselves processed in camps during whatever the government designates as a state of “emergency” under its vaguely worded bill. It is through orders-incouncil that confidential salaries are set for the thousands in cabinet-appointed posts. It was an order-in-council that forbade public discussion of the secret international uranium cartel in which our government was involved—an order that forbade public discussion, incidentally, under threat of imprisonment.

It was an order-in-council that arbitrarily cut back passenger rail service in Canada by about 20 per cent. These are matters that deserve the scrutiny and light of Parliament. Otherwise we may as well give up all pretence of representative democracy and resign ourselves to the return of feudalism or the “benign despotism” for which Trudeau has stated his enthusiasm.

A Liberal comes from an honorable tradition of free, open and accountable government. He does not believe in pa-

tronage that dismisses tenders for government contracts in favor of arbitrary rulings by cabinet. A Liberal believes in the vitality of free enterprise. Indeed, it is the great tradition of liberalism that it uses the wealth generated by free enterprise to mould a humane society. But Trudeau’s liberalism has turned into an alliance between government and big business to eliminate the independence of private enterprise.

It was the special genius of Trudeau that he managed to mount a lethal attack against free enterprise that went unnoticed for many years. Certain things proceeded from the immense pressure that had been building up for the previous 15 or 20 years. Trudeau recognized the potential in the nationalism given respectability by such men as Walter Gordon. Though an internationalist by inclination, Trudeau saw nationalism’s fabulous potential as the thin end of the wedge for nationalization. Under the rubric of Canadian nationalism he could drive out foreign investment and replace it—not with private Canadian ownership but with state ownership. Thus came Petro-Canada. Thus comes Canagrex. Thus we have the complex of government-owned pharmaceutical firms.

Nobody asked Walter Gordon or his fellow nationalists the fundamental question: if you drive out foreign capital, what will take its place? Government money printed by the tonne? As nationalists fired up their rhetoric about the possibility of branch plants laying off 10,000 Canadian workers, no one stopped to consider that to do this in the first place they would have had to employ 10,000 workers. And if they laid them off or were evicted by FIRA or an unfriendly investment atmosphere, who would employ those 10,000? No one really thought it through but Trudeau.

He thought it through and saw in it the perfect way to implement his oftstated preference for socialism rather than liberal democracy. That it was not the aim of the Liberal party or liberalism was a side issue. Government ownership would replace foreign ownership. The economy would be brought to ruin, and massive statism would be welcomed by a desperate people.

So here we are. And where are you, the seven true Liberals who can find honor in this moment when the country is so torn asunder? Seize your moment. Posterity will remember you. Your children will revere you. And, by God, the voters will never forget.