It was vintage political vitriol, dispensed from the pen of a master. In words as biting as any that he uttered during 16 often-heat-
ed years as prime minister, Pierre Elliott Trudeau used the concluding chapter of a forthcoming book to savage the records of two men who have succeeded him. Excerpts from Towards a Just Society. The Trudeau Years, a collection of essays by various authors to be published on March 20, appeared in several Canadian newspapers last week. Trudeau’s principal target was Brian Mulroney—“a prime minister,” in his caustic view, who is “ready to trade Canada’s soul for an electoral victory.” But Trudeau lashed out at Liberals as well, aiming darts at Quebec Premier Robert Bourassa and others in his party, including his successor as federal leader and prime minister, John Turner, who support the Meech Lake constitutional accord. As for the accord itself, Trudeau described it with biting contempt as a blueprint for “dismantling Canada.”
Harsh: Seldom in Canadian history has a leader of one generation offered such a harsh verdict on those who followed him. But it was not the first time that Trudeau, 70, has emerged from retirement to attack Mulroney and the Meech Lake initiative. And poll results show that, although Trudeau remains admired by most Canadians, his ability to influence the current constitutional debate is doubtful. In Quebec, his comments attracted little attention last week. In the rest of the country, many observers agreed with Linda Dyer, president of Baseline Research, a Fredericton-based polling company, who remarked, “I don’t think Mr. Trudeau is that relevant.” In Ottawa, meanwhile, some senior Tories gloated privately in anticipation that the former prime minister’s attack on Meech Lake would sow discord among candidates for the Liberal leadership, who are divided over whether to endorse the accord.
Trudeau showed no partisan favoritism in his selection of targets. He accused Mulroney of resorting to an alliance with the separatist Parti Québécois, whose strong campaign organization helped the Tories win ridings in Quebec during the 1984 general election. Later, Trudeau wrote, Mulroney repaid that debt bynaming Quebec nationalists to senior federal posts and by using Meech Lake to grant new-
powers to Quebec—an act that Trudeau condemned as one of “consummate irresponsibility.” Mulroney’s Free Trade Agreement with the United States, Trudeau added, amounted to “a monstrous swindle,” in which Canada
ceded important elements of its sovereignty “in return for advantages we already had or were going to obtain in a few years anyway.”
Attack: Trudeau was hardly any kinder in his assessment of Liberals who support Meech Lake, including Turner and leadership candidates Sheila Copps and Paul Martin. In a stinging attack, he accused “the small fry on opposition benches” of helping the Tories “despoil” Canada. And he castigated Bourassa for “having trampled one of the country’s fundamental freedoms,” by restricting English-language rights in Quebec.
In substance, Trudeau wrote little that was new. Indeed, even before Mulroney and all 10 provincial premiers of the day signed the Meech accord in June, 1987, Trudeau had made plain his distaste for the document. On May 27, 1987, in articles written for newspapers in Toronto and Montreal, Trudeau called Mulroney a “weakling” for devising a constitutional plan in which Canada undertook “its own balkanization.”
Then, in August of that year, speaking to a special joint committee of the Senate and the House of Commons that was examining the accord, Trudeau catalogued the ways in which, he said, it transferred crucial federal powers to the provinces. “These amendments,” he said, “erode the very essence of the Canadian state.” Finally, last October, Trudeau took advantage of the launch of an earlier book of his own essays, Meech Lake: Trudeau Speaks, to accuse those who threaten a resurgence of Quebec separatism if the accord is not signed, of committing “a hoax.”
Tart: But Trudeau’s latest comments seemed likely to have little further impact on the constitutional debate than his earlier broadsides. “Trudeau is out of synch with the Quebec of the 1990s,” said Lawrence Cannon, a Liberal member of the Quebec national assembly who was attending a weekend forum of the party’s leadership candidates in Vancouver. The excerpts received little play in the Quebec media, and Montreal’s Le Devoir attacked the book as a “marketing exercise.” In a debate that has grown increasingly rancorous, Trudeau’s tongue remained tart, but it was plainly no longer persuasive.
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