Volume 94, Issue 22
Friday, October, 6, 2000
Earning respect for Trudeau
The loss of a human being we know whether a relative, friend, or even an ex-prime minister, commands us to examine our relationship with that person.
Accordingly, many Canadians seem to have closely scrutinized their relationship with Pierre Trudeau in the past week. Politicians who fought with him and against him have remembered the man in eloquent terms.
Journalists who covered his career have written carefully conceived analyses of his politics and his person. Countless average Canadians have also tried to give voice to their grief through public displays of affection.
Understandably, the media coverage has been intense. The nation's daily newspapers have devoted vast amounts of space to reports of the speeches, ceremonies and funerals and they've also printed gallons of ink in commentary and analysis. Monday's funeral at the Notre Dame Basilica, of course, was televised to a riveted Canadian audience.
One would need a heart of stone to find Trudeau's death as publicized in newspapers, radio and television anything but compelling. However, the right way to remember a man with the razor-sharp intellect of Trudeau, is to resist the impulse to bury him in automatic, uncritical tributes.
It is remarkably easy to get caught up in the moment, to be seduced by the images, the voice-overs and the op-ed columns, into believing that you, too, have a strong connection to and deep understanding of Pierre Trudeau when, in fact, you don't.
We can all admire what we see as Trudeau's personal charisma. He was perceived as youthful, vigorous, sexy and decisive, all of which are characteristics well worthy of adulation. However, knowing that Trudeau drove sports cars and did high-dives for the photographers is not enough to justify a love for him.
Any Canadian who wants to claim Trudeau as his or her own, must first find out exactly what Trudeau was all about. Do we agree with his invocation of the War Measures Act? Was he right to patriate the Constitution despite his inability to bring Quebec on board? Was his vision of Canadian federalism inspired or misguided? What about the massive debt Canada accumulated during his time in office?
Most university students, I hazard to think, are like me. We know Trudeau casually, through a few pages in a high school textbook and some sound bytes we've seen on TV. But if we really want to place Trudeau in our private pantheons of Canadian heroes, we have to move beyond the stirring speeches and rushes of colour on TV and commit ourselves to really learn who the man was, what he stood for and what he did as Canada's prime minister.
It is tempting to celebrate Trudeau's memory, because he has been on the cover of newspapers, magazines and generally seems well-liked. In the same way, it is tempting to say "I am Canadian" with a certain pride in your voice, simply because beer ads have suggested that such an attitude is somehow cool.
Those who knew Trudeau's life and times intimately are entitled to love or hate him. For those of us who don't, we must earn our respect of Trudeau, just as he seems to have earned the respect of most Canadians.
Copyright © The Gazette 2000