Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume. 33, Number 7. 27 May, 1970
Pierre Trudeau: — Politics are Fun...in Canada
Politics are Fun...in Canada
Looking too much like Christiaan Barnard, and sounding as if he carried a Kennedy scriptwriter around in his pocket, Pierre Elliott Trudeau's whirlwind New Zealand visit seemed to be more that of a jet-set celebrity than that of a Commonwealth Prime Minister.
He kissed the leggy Miss New Zealand hopefuls—some of them more than once—signed autographs for middle-aged matrons and footballs for bouncy teeny-boppers, and even, in true royal style, shook hands with thirty footballers and sat out half the match. When the time came for him to sign the trade agreement which was largely instrumental in bringing him to this country, he found that he had left his pen behind.
Most of us would have been more than just a little disappointed if Trudeau had not acted in this way, for his penchant for flamboyancy had preceded his visit. But if the image was one of flashy smiles and exaggerated gestures, it would be foolish to consider Trudeau nothing more than an expensive walking Canadian PR machine elected to office by a fickle and captivated audience tired of the five chins of John Diefenbaker and the aesthetic abortion that was Lester Pearson's maple leaf flag.
At a meeting of students at Victoria, Trudeau showed a detailed grasp of many issues. Questioned by a panel of three (Mike Law, Auckland President, David Harcourt, Salient Editor, and Rod Alley, Pol Sci Lecturer), and later by the audience, he dealt fully and sympathetically with questions. Chairman Alexander MacLeod was at times forced to try to curtail some of Trudeau's replies, but it wasn't waffle that he was attempting to cut short. Most of the topics discussed concerned Canada's foreign policy. (And this was not surprising—the meeting was held under the auspices of the Institute of International Affairs.) They included Canada's attitude towards the International Control Commission, towards the recognition of the Peoples Republic of China, towards nuclear strategy and Canada's attitude to French tests in the Pacific. But the most pertinent thing that can be said about the meeting at Victoria, and, by implication, about Trudeau's foreign policy, is to recall the accolade given Trudeau by the Ombudsman, Sir Guy Powles, who, when thanking the Prime Minister for taking part in the meeting, intimated how we in New Zealand wish that we had such a reasoned foreign policy and such leadership ourselves.
Canada's foreign policy is not, of course, popular with some sections of the left in New Zealand or in Canada. It is, they claim, too responsive to and, too closely identified with, American foreign policy. Trudeau does not deny this. History, geography and economics are all partly responsible for this alignment. Rather than fight it, Trudeau prefers to accept it as a reality, and work from there, and if it is claimed that he has not managed to influence US policy very much it is probably not through want of trying.
Trudeau's domestic policies are dominated by the need to strengthen internal political unity and the struggle to achieve the Just Society. These were the twin themes of his election campaign and it is these two issues which have exercised him most since he took office just under two years ago. Trudeau has a very clear idea of where he wants Canada to go, and if the recent election returns from Quebec are any indication, he would appear to be succeeding.
So much for his image and his policies. It is sometimes claimed that the most fascinating aspect of the Trudeau phenomenon is not his policies per se or even his public and very colourful private life. It is, so some pundits claim, a matter of what makes Pierre Trudeau tick? Why is he in politics? Is he sincere? But these questions are not really so difficult to answer. What Trudeau seems to be saying is that there is no inherent reason why politics should not be enjoyable. Coupled with this view is his belief that, regardless of ones position, one has a right to a personal life, and if the press and public find it interesting then to hell with them. People who find Trudeau's style of politics inexplicable (the deepthroated "but is he really sincere" types) are victims of stereotype. They seem to believe that politicians must (or should) always be bragging, boring, statistic-quoters who find life wearying and fraught with the onset of peptic ulcers.
Trudeau's visit was worthwhile. He showed us that politics can be fun. He reminded us that there is a definite place for youth in politics and that young people should be listened to. He warned us that democracy may be breaking down, both here and in Canada. These were matters which needed to be said by someone of his stature, because few of our politicians discuss these matters (perhaps because they know nothing about them—perhaps because they dare not discuss them). And of course Holyoake got his trade agreement signed.
Other things too have come of Trudeau's visit. Probably the most saddening is the thought that while we were enjoying the charm of Canada's Prime Minister, those assembled at the Jakarta conference were having to listen to Keith Holyoake as he perambulated across the international stage in his inimitable style. Trudeau comes and—all too quickly—Trudeau goes and KJH goes on forever. That's the way it feels, anyway.