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  • A Former MP Remembers a Former PM
  • Aideen Nicholson (bio)
Pierre: Colleagues and Friends Talk about the Trudeau They Knew. Ed. Nancy Southam. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 2005. 408pp. $37.99 (cloth). ISBN 0-7710-8165-0.

Nancy Southam writes that her intention is "to show the personal side of Pierre, to make him human, to let readers know what he was like as a friend, an employer, a travelling companion and most of all—in his favoured role—as a father" (2005, xiv). Pierreconsists of reminiscences and anecdotes about Pierre Trudeau from people who knew him—friends, journalists, household staff, world leaders, politicians and others—people from many walks of life who had different kinds of interaction with him. Southam has organized the contributions by subject matter. These include Faith, Creative Canada, Citizen of the World, Canoe Gang, and Papa. Thus, some contributors appear more than once as they deal with different aspects of the life of this many-sided man. The writing styles are, obviously, many and varied. So too is the content. Some of the contributions are perceptive and some reveal more about the writer than the subject. Justin Trudeau acknowledges this in his preface: "It is natural that certain embellishments may have slipped into the tales over the years and the tellings," he writes. "And that, to my mind, is as fascinating as anything else: to see how people reveal themselves through their accounts of interactions with my father" (xii).

Biographies are as remarkable for what they leave out as what they leave in and this one is no exception. There are contributions from members of Cabinet but none from members of Parliament, those women and men who are often called backbenchers. To some, the term backbenchers implies people who do not think critically and who vote as they are ordered. Allan MacEachen preferred the term "private member" with its connotation of individuality and responsible involvement in policy development. Describing the process leading to the enactment of the Charter of Rights, MacEachen acknowledges the role of caucus: "Mr. Trudeau had consulted closely with the national Liberal caucus," he writes. "He knew the support of caucus was critical. What is not generally understood and appreciated is that the national caucus insisted on—and gave the final push for—the inclusion of the Charter in the final package" (368). I remember when caucus considered the Charter of Rights as part of the constitutional package. I was at the meeting—and I remember strong words of support from a Quebec MP and an Ontario MP. [End Page 244]

It is too bad that voices like these, the voices of members of Parliament, are not included, because the Pierre Trudeau I knew valued caucus. Because of a comment he made about members of Parliament as nobodies, he has been portrayed as a prime minister who disdained Parliament and had no respect for the elected representatives of the people; but in his memoirs, Trudeau made it clear that, "in the course of a parliamentary debate, I said of a group of Conservative MPs who were refusing to adjourn on the eve of some holiday or other 'When they get home, when they get out of Parliament, when they are fifty yards from Parliament Hill, they are no longer Honourable Members—they are just nobodies, Mr. Speaker'" (1993, 115). It was an intemperate remark, to be sure, but taken out of context it does not reflect Mr. Trudeau's understanding of and respect for Parliament.

Mr. Trudeau had worked in the Privy Council Office some years before his election to Parliament and, as he recalled in his memoirs, "senior public servants would suggest to their minister the solution most favoured by themselves, and the minister would tend to adopt that solution without giving it much thought." Uncomfortable with this, he stated, "I therefore took pains to involve the politicians more fully in the choice of proposed measures because they, being elected, were better acquainted with the needs and aspirations of their constituents, and would generally be more sensitive to them. Finally the memorandum in question had to take into account the consultations between the minister and the caucus" (1993, 110). These...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1911-0251
Print ISSN
0021-9495
Pages
pp. 244-249
Launched on MUSE
2007-03-08
Open Access
No
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