Pierre Elliott Trudeau:
Eulogy won't turn old foes into friends
By JOHN IBBITSON
Thursday, October 5, 2000
On Tuesday, the day of Pierre Trudeau's funeral, the daily newspapers across Ontario and Quebec, including the Toronto-based national newspapers, were soaked with coverage of his final journey from Ottawa to Montreal, and the mourners who lined the route. In Edmonton, however, the Journal led with a story about a gang-related drug trial.
The Calgary Herald decided its readers would be more interested in hearing that Alberta's economy is about to surpass British Columbia's, while in B.C., the top story in the Vancouver Sun focused on a missing 10-year-old girl.
There are those, most of them in urban central Canada, who believe that Pierre Trudeau's death may evoke a renaissance of liberalism, that people may come together to celebrate and renew the principles of federal cohesion and social action for which he fought.
This may well be true, especially in urban central Canada, where some have treated Mr. Trudeau's death as the sunset of a god.
Pundits, whose cynicism knows no depths, have even speculated that Prime Minister Jean Chrétien might successfully exploit Trudeau nostalgia to secure a third majority government by calling a snap election.
But if the front-page editors of the Western newspapers are reliable guides, other parts of Canada have been far less captured by the news of Mr. Trudeau's passing. Even in central Canada, if e-mails and telephone calls in response to a recent less-than-adulatory column on his legacy are any guide, opinions on the former prime minister cleave to polar-opposite views.
This does not mean that Mr. Trudeau's death has not affected this country, or its politics. A Leger Marketing poll conducted last week revealed a sudden increase in support for the federal Liberals.
But pre-election polls are ephemeral things. Federal and provincial politicians have repeatedly called elections in the past based on buoyant poll numbers, only to watch those numbers sink as the electorate rouses itself.
The funeral unquestionably left an indelible impact on all those who watched. And British Prime Minister Tony Blair's "faith, hope and charity" recitation from Corinthians at Diana's funeral galvanized popular support for his charismatic new regime. Justin Trudeau's eulogy to his father may have affected this nation even more deeply.
But will that eulogy convince middle-class suburban voters in Ontario that they prefer the cautious pragmatism of the Liberals to the radical tax cuts proposed by the Canadian Alliance? Electors are far more complex and savvy than that. This election, like all elections, will be won on the street, not in the cathedral.
Even if Canadians have been transformed by Trudeau's death, even if we have become a nation of Dulcineas standing over the body of Don Quixote, will our reawakening help the Liberals? Jean Chrétien is the keeper of an old flame, the guardian of the remnants of Mr. Trudeau's national dream. Alliance Leader Stockwell Day, on the other hand, taps the other vein, the longing for renewal, for revitalization, that spawned Trudeaumania. The nation's loss could serve both their interests.
To believe that Pierre Trudeau will alter the destiny of this country in death as he altered it in life one must believe that his passing has caused people once opposed to his agenda to permanently change their minds. Such belief requires faith in things unseen.
More likely, those who loved Pierre Trudeau, and who loved what he stood for, but who have despaired at the dissipation of his dream, will take new heart at the genuine national mourning that accompanied his passing. The rest, perhaps, will simply carry on, the only permanent after-effect an increased interest in what Justin Trudeau is up to.
Who can measure the impact of individual events on the political currents of a nation? Who would dare calculate the effect of a politician's death on the life of a people?
Who wants to try telling it to the Albertans?