Montréal, 28 octobre 2000  /  No 70
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Ralph Maddocks is a retired textile executive and former management consultant. He lives in Cowansville.
by Ralph Maddocks
          Robert Frost's famous poem « Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening » ends with the words; 
The woods are lovely, dark and deep, 
But I have promises to keep, 
And miles to go before I sleep, 
And miles to go before I sleep.
          So it was that Justin Trudeau ended his eulogy to his father by paraphrasing those words and saying: « He has kept his promises and earned his sleep ».
What promises did he make? 
          Those of us who heard that emotional outpouring might have been even more touched by it if we had not known that the eldest Trudeau son is a professional drama teacher. Even with that knowledge, it was a performance the equal of any put on by his late father. As I listened to it, I wondered just what promises were kept by the late Mr. Trudeau? Indeed, what promises did he make? 
          I do not recall Mr.Trudeau promising to convert the yearly budget surplus from the $332 million surplus in 1970 into a deficit of $32 billions by the end of his term. 
          Although I am growing old, with all the penalties that ageing brings, I do not recall that Mr. Trudeau, upon taking office as our 15th Prime Minister, promised to increase Canada's National Debt. A National Debt whose increase he oversaw from the less than $16 billions he inherited from Mr. Pearson, to the almost $160 billions he entrusted to his successors. In fairness though, it should be mentioned that the late and unlamented, alleged Progressive Conservative party of Mr. Mulroney did not do anything about it either. He just let it rise to $500 billion by the time he strolled off the stage. An ever increasing amount of debt which Mr. Trudeau's friend, admirer and successor, Mr. Chrétien, allowed to reach $580 billions before he took the first faltering steps to reduce it. How many of us realise that our share of the National Debt now amounts to something like $54,000 for each taxpayer? An astounding figure that increases to something over $240,000 per taxpayer if one includes all the unfunded pension liabilities scattered around the country. 
          In 1970, as older readers will recall, the Canadian dollar was worth $1.05 or so against the US dollar. They will remember too that in company with the United States and Switzerland we were then the third richest country in the world. Where are we today? Well, along with the left-wing governments of Belgium and Italy we lead the list of debtor nations. But we shouldn't worry, because as Mr. Chrétien tells us, we live in the best country in the world. The USA expects to pay off its huge debt by the year 2012. At our present rate of debt repayment, Canada will have to wait nearly fifty or so years to achieve the same result. Our dollar is now hovering around two thirds of the value of the US dollar and represents the robbery, by government devaluation, of a third of our savings. You can see the results for yourself each time you visit Vermont or vacation in Florida. Was that another of these forgotten promises? 
Never heard that promise 
          Maybe we were all suddenly struck deaf and didn't hear him promise to increase government spending from some 30% of the country's total economic output to the staggering 53% he left us to worry about in 1984? If he did promise us these things, then I for one certainly never heard him. Perhaps one of his devotees and successors would be kind enough to enlighten me and show me where and when he made these promises. 
          I do remember him allowing Mr. Bryce MacKasey to promise to introduce the first incentives for unemployed people, a bonus given so that they could remain happily in that condition. An unemployment insurance system which encouraged some of the lesser valiant members of society to travel around the country at the taxpayer's expense for almost a year while drawing UI, as it was then known. Mr. MacKasey, seemingly without reproach from Mr. Trudeau, succeeded in creating a state-sponsored culture of idleness. In those days, we hadn't yet been promised that the costs of our rising unemployment levels would increase constantly to the point where the system would have to be changed and the bonuses greatly reduced in scope. 
          I do not recall any promises being made to change the concept that governments are elected to serve the people to one where an increasingly impoverished electorate serves the government. A government run by an autocratic plutocracy which abolished the concept of public service in favour of a self-serving unionised bureaucracy. A bureaucracy that, even today, is said to cost more than it used to when there were allegedly many more bureaucrats employed. 
          Were we promised changes to the Parliamentary system of responsible government? I do recall Mr. Trudeau saying something rather derogatory about backbenchers once; to the effect that they were nobodies when fifty yards from the House of Commons. Were we promised a presidential style government? I cannot recall that we were, yet that is what we got, and still retain. 
     « The number of people employed directly or indirectly by government has been estimated at practically half the population of working age. When half the voters work for the government why would they vote to throw it out? » 
          Others have claimed that, in spite of an early attraction to Alexis de Toqueville, he was no libertarian. Sometime in the 1970's though he told us that we might have to get used to more authority in our lives. A prophesy if not a promise! 
          The number of people employed directly or indirectly by government has been estimated at practically half the population of working age. Such massive state-employment coupled with extensive welfare schemes was, and still is, the major reason why the Liberal Party is able to perpetuate itself in office without too much difficulty. When half the voters work for the government why would they vote to throw it out? Who else could have conceived of such an effective vote-gathering scheme? 
          Without promising to do so, Mr. Trudeau moved Canada's political parties so far to the left that even a party of such mild conservative views as the Canadian Alliance is now considered to be extremely right-wing. In the USA, or elsewhere in the world, Mr. Day's party would be considered a mild and moderate party of the center. Mr. Day isn't promising to destroy Medicare or repeal the constitution, is he? One of Mr. Trudeau's legacies has been to harness left-wing academics to an uncritical left leaning press who declaim endlessly the view that big government is good for you and that high taxes are a privilege that you enjoy for having it. Questioning these tenets and the legacy of multiculturalism, massive government spending, redistributionist policies and bureaucratic control brings denunciation from that quarter. Holding opposing views brings cries of racism and fascism. 
We were promised a garden of roses 
          I recall that we were promised a « Just Society » but I do not think that he ever explained exactly what it was going to cost. Perhaps if he had done so we might not have thought it such a desirable thing to have. 
          I do not recall Mr. Trudeau making any promises about the need for Canada to become friendly with the leader of that other much admired « Just Society » in Cuba, the hirsute Mr. Castro. A gentleman whose intelligence service was even allowed to use Montreal as a base from which it could operate against our neighbour, the United States of America. Cuba does share one characteristic with Canada though. Both countries deny their citizens the right to have private medical insurance. Did Mr. Trudeau promise also to befriend Chairman Mao, the man responsible for uncounted numbers of deaths in China? Mr. Trudeau befriended Julius Nyerere, another Marxist dictator, who like him borrowed a great deal of foreign money to support his ideas and wrecked his economy in the process. 
          Space is limited and I haven't even mentioned the emasculation of Canada's armed forces begun in the Trudeau era. Armed forces upon which we spend less than a quarter of the $41 billion dollars we spend each year on debt interest. I haven't mentioned our universal healthcare system either. A system which failed to take into account the demands that would be placed upon it as the population aged. I did not mention the failed National Energy Programme so beloved by Alberta in its heyday. I did not mention the Scientific Research Tax Credits scheme which defrauded taxpayers of over $3 billion and for which nobody was ever charged, let alone imprisoned. The harbinger of the Human Resources give away of recent times in which no one has been charged yet either. Nor have I mentioned the Constitution or the Charter of Rights and Freedoms which did sort of promise us good government, without defining what it means or how we might measure it. One must ask the question though, can a Charter which makes no reference to property rights be truly the cornerstone of a « Just Society »? Space precludes mention of the War Measures Act too, a measure he enacted only after being implored to do so by both Robert Bourassa and Camille Laurin; just in case the revisionists among us have forgotten. 
          In spite of his many shortcomings, Mr.Trudeau will be seen, rightly, as an intellectual whose native intelligence was well above those, past or present, who normally inhabit the political sphere. The sharp contrast he made when measured against his immediate predecessors, the ageing Pearson and Diefenbaker perhaps inspired the voters in the 1960's. He certainly towered, intellectually at least, over all his successors. Perhaps this explains in part how he was able to keep us all so docile and untroubled by the unpleasant events swirling around us. He was clearly able to deal with the press, sometimes by ignoring them and sometimes by ridiculing them. He remains in large part an enigma, a man of great intellect who could somehow be persuaded by lesser lights to implement the most damaging economic programmes that this country has ever seen. 
          After the vote buying promises made in the « Economic Statement » the other day, the much expected election was announced last Sunday. Now we are being asked to vote for a party of whom at least nine of its members cannot find their way around the House, even after three and a half years of occupancy. In the coming weeks we may expect to see much cynical exploitation and distortion of the Trudeau legacy in order that the reigning Liberal party may once more cling to office. There has been some talk about renaming a mountain, with one commentator even thinking that naming the mountain of debt after him might be appropriate. Doubtless a few streets will be renamed, as happened in Montreal when Mr. Lévesque left us. There is talk of a Trudeau Day aimed at replacing the holiday named after the Frenchman Dollard and an ageing queen. Perhaps it might be even more appropriate to make it a variable feast, and declare it when we have all stopped paying our taxes and have begun to work for ourselves. A day now known as Tax Freedom Day. A few city parks will acquire his name and perhaps some remote forested area will become the Trudeau National Park. His writings will be quoted, and misquoted, for the next few months until he is trotted out again by the Liberals in another four or five years when next they need to manipulate public opinion. 
          I wondered too how many of those present in the congregation at the Requiem Mass could have completed the opening phrase in Justin Trudeau's eulogy? 
          Just in case the rest of the phrase escapes you it continues: 
Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears; 
I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him. 
The evil that men do lives after them, 
The good is oft interred with their bones
          Perhaps more fitting than Justin Trudeau knew. 
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