At the millennium funeral of the redoubtable Pierre Elliott Trudeau, his eldest son, Justin, delivered a eulogy that defined the differences between Trudeau the Elder and Trudeau the Younger. In an effort seemingly to underscore the drama and solemnity of the moment, the Younger employed the opening line of Shakespeare’s funeral oration for Julius Caesar by Mark Antony and concluded by kissing the Elder’s casket. In stark contrast, on May 7 1977, the photographer Doug Ball caught the image of the Elder making a pirouette at Buckingham Palace behind Queen Elizabeth during a G7 conference. Ball’s commentary on his photograph says it all: “The picture expresses his maverick anti-conformism, his democratic disdain for aristocratic pomp.”
Following up a work in a similar vein on Jean Chrétien in 2004 (Jean Chretien: A Legacy of Scandal), Paul Tuns cheekily entitles his political biography of Justin Trudeau The Dauphin. Tuns does so in order to lead with the contention that were Justin not Trudeau the Younger, it seems doubtful that he would ever be considered a “contender” (as another Justin biographer described him) for Leader of Canada’s so-called natural governing party, let alone for leader of the Government of Canada. As Tuns leads with a bio-in-brief of PET, he serves to draw a stark contrast between the Elder and Younger Trudeaus.
Both were raised as sons of wealth and privilege. Both were educated at the elite, Jesuit-founded, private secondary school, Collège Jean-de-Brébeuf. But there the similarities come to an abrupt end.
The Elder was raised in and was initially heavily influenced by a pre-Quiet Revolution Quebec that looked to Franco’s Spain and Salazar’s Portugal as desirable models for what Duplessis later called the last bastion of Christian France. It was only when he left Quebec that the Elder was introduced to Maritain’s Catholic defence of constitutional, representative democracy and, later, Laski’s socialist liberalism. The Younger was raised in a post-Quiet Revolution, post-separatist Quebec that drank deeply from the shallow wells of the 18th-century French Enlightenment philosophes and whose cultural opinion leaders in the island of Montreal had turned their backs on the Catholic moral universe. Unlike his father, Trudeau didn’t leave Canada to pursue advanced study abroad. His travel was about seeing the sights and experiencing local club scenes.
The Elder launched a legal and constitutional revolution beginning with reform to the criminal and family law in 1969 culminating in his upending of Canada’s constitutional framework with the Canada Act and the Charter brought into force and effect beginning in 1983. But throughout, Trudeau remained first, last and always an assiduously devout Catholic who was known to attend mass at Nôtre Dame Basilica every day he was present in Ottawa. The Elder has been described as holding a Jesuitical intellectualism. He once described himself as “a lay Dominican,” and he practiced a Benedictine private devotion. Could this level of devotion be said of the Younger?
The Elder Trudeau may well have been a Julius Caesar bent on undermining the old Canadian dominion of parliamentary democracy and its BNA Act modus vivendi in favour of a constitutional mish-mash of Laskian socialism and Rawlsian political liberalism. Whether or not intentional, Trudeau the Elder’s legacy is a court with powers of judicial review bent on enforcing radical equality rights coloured by identity politics to the detriment of the religious freedom and conscience rights of adherents of the tradition that educated him in the first place.
What will Trudeau the Younger’s legacy be?
Since winning the leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada, Trudeau the Younger and his McGill debating partner, Gerald Butts, have left a trail of alienation among the Grit establishment and network of activists, volunteers, donors, fundraisers, organizers, and key party and political advisers. Liberal and pro-Life? You need not even try to seek a Liberal candidacy. Pro-life and a Member of Parliament? You must commit to only voting for abortion on demand. Otherwise socially conservative? You must throw that over in order to be truly Canadian.
But the Trudeau-Butts campaign of ressentiment doesn’t end there. Over 40? We don’t need you – presumably excluding the Leader who was born in 1971. Liberal senators learned only after the fact that they were no longer welcome in the Liberal National Caucus.
“What’s he smokin’?” Trudeau the Younger has made clear that he has not only smoked dope as a rite of passage, but as recently as 2010 at a dinner party in his family home, thus disqualifying his entry into the United States without benefit of waiver.
Tuns very helpfully aggregates the Younger Trudeau’s record on the middle class, economics, pipelines, the environment, cities, foreign affairs, terrorism, immigration, crime, guns, and drugs as well as those referenced, above. Pipelines? He’s for them, except when he isn’t – and his position on each of the various pipeline projects varies by venue or occasion. Environment? There’s one set of talking points for Alberta, and another for Quebec. Capitalism or soft socialism? Depends on whether or not he’s addressing a crowd of donors. Terrorism? Trudeau wavered when asked whether or not last October’s shooting at the National War Memorial and Parliament Hill qualified. Military intervention in Syria and Iraq to push back on ISIS? Equivocation. Tightening domestic security in the form of Bill C-51, this year? He was in favour only when it was clear that Quebeckers strongly support it.
The Younger’s abilities pale by comparison with the Elder’s. Those who knew him best say that what the Canadian public took as diffidence in which they found a certain magnetism was really the Elder’s innate social reticence and shyness. In a similar way, Canadians initially warmed to the Younger’s image of a young, telegenic, family man who genuinely enjoys meeting and being around all kinds of people.
But what would Justin Trudeau’s legacy be as Leader of the Government of Canada? Should Canadians want to find out? Tuns thinks that one Trudeau’s serving as Canada’s First Minister is already one too many. The Dauphin is a handy reference for anyone looking for a one-stop shop for “oppo” (opposition research) on the Liberal Leader. For voters, still, taken in by the telegenic family man, this should be required reading.
Russ Kuykendall is a conservative political activist and strategic adviser on energy policy and economics.