David Frum participated in a forum yesterday at the Royal Ontario Museum where he debated on the topic: “Pierre Trudeau was a disaster for Canada.” As Frum implies in his introduction, all too often people only remember the former Liberal Prime Minister’s singular role in the implementation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Well, in spite of the selective memory of some Liberals, the rest of Trudeau’s legacy was disastrous, particularly as it related to Canada’s deficits and accumulated debt, with the former all too often blamed on former PM Brian Mulroney.
Frum starts here:
“Under the strict rules of debate, my opponent Professor English can win if he proves that Trudeau was something less than a disaster for Canada: a disappointment or even a misfortune perhaps. I hope you will hold him – and Trudeau – and Canada to a higher standard. I hope you will require him to prove that Pierre Trudeau was affirmatively a good thing for Canada, a successful prime minister.
A few years ago, I took my children to visit battlefields of the First World War. All bloomed peaceful and benign in the summer sunshine. You’d never know that a century before, human beings had crouched in terror in these trenches, that here bullets had shattered human heads, doctors had amputated human limbs, bomb blasts had buried human beings alive, and that rats had feasted on human bodies.
When we look back on the past from a distance, everything fades and blurs. It was all so long ago. The dead would be dead by now anyway. Wasn’t the situation really very complicated? We are here and warm and comfortable. No point wasting time in futile regrets. Off we wander to view the next sight.
But if we are to understand history, we have to understand it as it was lived.
Canada today is a very successful country. It has suffered less from the global economic crisis than any other major economy.
So Canadians may be tempted to be philosophical about disasters in their own past. Hasn’t all come out right in the end? Of course you could say the same about the invasions of Ghengis Khan.
I don’t draw any personal comparison between Pierre Trudeau and Ghengis Khan, obviously. But I want to stress: Canada’s achievement overcoming Trudeau’s disastrous legacy should not inure Canadians to how disastrous that legacy was.
Three subsequent important prime ministers – Brian Mulroney, Jean Chretien and Stephen Harper – invested their energies cleaning up the wreckage left by Pierre Trudeau. The work has taken almost 30 years. Finally and at long last, nobody speculates any more about Canada defaulting on its debt, or splitting apart, or being isolated from all its major allies.
Yet through most of the adult lives of most people in this room, people in Canada and outside Canada did worry about those things.
And as you enjoy the peace, stability and comparative prosperity of Canada in the 2010s just consider – this is how Canadians felt in the middle 1960s. Now imagine a political leader coming along and out of ignorance and arrogance despoiling all this success. Not because the leader faced some overwhelming crisis where it was hard to see the right answer. But utterly unnecessarily. Out of a clear blue sky. Like a malicious child on the beach stomping on the sand castle somebody else had worked all morning to build.
That was the political record of Pierre Trudeau.”
H/T Jack’s Newswatch.