After Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party defeated Stephen Harper’s Conservatives, a giddy New York Times assured Canadians, “Your long national nightmare is over.” The Times scribe felt “like a broken human after almost 10 years of Harper rule.” Oh, the suffering! Mr. Trudeau is different, she cheered herself up. “He is a better match [than Harper] for Canadians’ vision of themselves: peaceable, educated, emotionally stable, multicultural.”
For the North American political class, George W. Bush circa 2008 has become Harper in 2015. Indeed, Trudeau is being welcomed as fulsomely as Obama was. “Canadians simply ask that Mr. Trudeau… not be like his predecessor” said the New York Times writer. “Behold, we are already pleased!” One has to wonder: Is Trudeau’s Nobel Peace Prize being readied?
A “Trudeau era” will resume, say the Times and others nostalgic for Pierre Trudeau, father of Justin, in office as prime minister from 1968 virtually until 1984. The policies of the new prime minister do sound like-father like-son: "Reopen Canada's doors" to immigrants. Make "taxes more fair." End combat missions in Iraq. Revive Canada’s international peacekeeping. More gun control measures. You get the idea. Meanwhile, Mrs. Trudeau will focus on eating disorders, mental health, and women’s issues. Skeptics, not only in Canada, will await the results of these noble plans.
"We beat fear with hope,” Trudeau said after his victory. Americans heard the same from Obama in 2008, but fear has grown and hope has shriveled. Of course Trudeau is not bound to replicate Obama; he is only 43 and may be malleable. But his father’s record is a salutary warning. Trudeau was a charming leader with weird ideas.
The New Yorker last week recalled “the great Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau.” Canadian writer David Frum sharply differs: “He nearly blew apart the country – and his own party.” At the beginning of the Trudeau years, separatism was a fringe movement in Quebec. A decade later, it was a major cloud. In 1968, Trudeau’s Liberals won 25 seats west of Ontario. In 1980, they won two.
The New Yorker omits much in calling Harper’s politics a tale
of division, nastiness, and fear. For much of its history, Canadian liberalism and its Liberals were instruments of a ceaseless search for intelligent accommodation, splitting differences instead of splitting heads. In the hands of Trudeau, Sr…. it still largely sought the bright side of the street, where people of different backgrounds and languages stroll along in reasonable harmony. It would be nice if we could walk that walk in the snows again.
Especially on the Cold War and China we should beware a resumption of the Trudeau era. “There’s a level of admiration I actually have for China,” Justin Trudeau recently said. Firmly in the Thomas Friedman camp he declared: “Their basic dictatorship is actually allowing them to turn their economy around on a dime.”
In Mao’s time there appeared a coterie of progressive Western politicians viewing China with wide-eyed wonder. One was Pierre Trudeau, who wrote (with a colleague) the aptly named Innocents in Red China.
Visiting China in 1961, Trudeau saw only language as a barrier to his knowledge of Beijing’s “experiment,” overlooking Leninist controls that hid much. Blaming missionaries for any negative views of China in the West, Trudeau saw the Cold War as a lazy transference by the West from "Yellow peril" to a peril flying “the Red Flag of Bolshevism."
Utterly ignorant of Chinese history, Trudeau said Mao's government was "leading its people out of several millennia of misery." Unaware of the troubled story of African students in China in the 1950s, he said that in the People’s Republic "Africans were welcomed as brothers . . . What impresses Africans is the dazzling progress China has made . . . So you don't have to have a white skin to build blast-furnaces?" This nonsense was written two years after the nightmare of the Great Leap Forward.