In his Ottawa Citizen column, Brian Lee Crowley writes that whatever you thought of his policies, there was no denying former prime minister Pierre Trudeau’s leadership qualities. He could be “single-minded, authoritarian and downright steely in the pursuit of what he thought was good for Canada,” writes Crowley. His son, Liberal Party Leader Justin Trudeau, on the other hand, rarely ventures into the policy debate, preferring to consult and delay than to take a stand. Crowley writes, “Trudeau père would, in my estimation, have scorned such an approach and the differences between the two tell us much about their respective styles of leadership and how the country might be run under Trudeau fils.”
The difference between Justin and Pierre
BY BRIAN LEE CROWLEY, OTTAWA CITIZEN
Born in the Baby Boom, I came of age in the Trudeau era — that’s Pierre, not Justin.
I was thinking about the difference between the two recently as I contemplated Justin’s reluctance to be drawn out on his policy ideas. In what seemed to me an echo of Kim Campbell’s “elections are no time to discuss policy,” Trudeau the younger has said that these early days are no time for him to talk about his beliefs, but rather a time for him to consult and get guidance from the party faithful and Canadians generally about what they want.
Trudeau père would, in my estimation, have scorned such an approach and the differences between the two tell us much about their respective styles of leadership and how the country might be run under Trudeau fils.
It cannot be said, of course, that Pierre never consulted, dodged an issue or laid the blame for the policies he pursued on others.
On the other hand, he only did so on issues he didn’t feel strongly about. Since he didn’t care, and was happy to be guided by others more knowledgeable than himself, on those issues he may well have sounded rather Justinesque.
But on key issues on which he felt strongly, he never held back. On the contrary he could be single-minded, authoritarian and downright steely in the pursuit of what he thought was good for Canada.
Nor did he wait to become prime minister to reveal those feelings. In his youth, he expressed the greatest contempt for the Duplessis regime and its approach to civil rights and labour unions. He helped to found a journal, Cité Libre, to excoriate the Quebec élites he believed had been instrumental in holding back Quebecers. What drew him to federal politics was largely a belief that being part of Canada brought out the best in Quebec, required its citizens to rise above petty nationalism and to embrace a larger more generous political vocation.
When he was minister of justice under Lester Pearson, he savaged the narrow nationalism of Quebec Premier Daniel Johnson to his face at a televised first ministers’ conference.
On a host of other decisive issues of the day during his premiership, whether the FLQ crisis, the Victoria Charter, price and wage controls, the National Energy Policy or Patriation and the Charter, there was not much doubt in the minds of Canadians where he stood.
Yes, he changed his mind on things, like price and wage controls, and so it is fair to say that you knew where he stood today but not necessarily where he would stand on the same issue tomorrow.
But that was one of those issues on which he didn’t have strong feelings. Economics were not his long suit, as Liberal economist Eric Kierans, Western Canadians and others discovered to their horror and disillusionment.
On the things that really mattered to him, though, Trudeau senior was acknowledged to be obdurate, emotional and opinionated. He needed no consultations to know where he stood.
And many Canadians loved him for it.
Why? Because strong feelings on issues reveal something about the character of the person who has them. We learn something important about who they are, what matters to them, what they’ll make personal sacrifices to achieve.
Watching Pierre was a master class in the art of political leadership. It is irrelevant whether you think he took the country in a positive or a negative direction. What matters is how he led and why we followed.
What I learned from watching Pierre was that people didn’t need to agree with him to want to follow him. Frequently people voted for him in spite of their policy convictions because he had a compelling vision. Here is a man, many felt, who has thought deeply and who cares as much as I do about the fate of our country and he will stand up for it against all comers. It was for that that so many embraced him. Even those who ultimately rejected him did so with the fury of the jilted lover, not the apathy of the insufficiently consulted.
What do we know so far about Justin’s deep feelings as revealed in the policies he is willing to risk all on? Mostly that he won’t know what they are until he hears from people what they want. And that the state has no place in the dope rooms of the nation.
If he wants to lead as his father led, this isn’t the way. On the things that mattered to him, Pierre didn’t ask what we thought. He told us what he thought and asked us to follow him. And many of us did — not because we always agreed with the policies, but because we believed in the man who defended them.
Brian Lee Crowley (twitter.com/brianleecrowley) is the Managing Director of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, an independent non-partisan public policy think tank in Ottawa: www.macdonaldlaurier.ca.
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