Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Book Review #8: Towards a Just Society edited by Thomas S. Axworthy and Pierre Elliott Trudeau

In this political season, a review of a classic Canadian political work by our greatest Prime Minister

For anyone interested in Canada’s political history in the second half of the twentieth century, this collection of essays is essential reading. Subtitled “The Trudeau Years”, the book covers the period from 1968 to 1984 when Trudeau was Prime Minister, except for a short hiatus when Progressive Conservative Joe Clark was elected.

The essays present the Liberal party view of national and international relations during the period with a special focus on the persistent and vexatious Quebec question. A number of highly placed Liberals are included: Marc Lalonde writes on energy policy, John Roberts on the environment, and Jean Chretien on Canada’s endless constitutional dance marathon. The lead essay, titled “The Tempest Bursting: Canada in 1992” by Axworthy and Trudeau, reveals profound intelligence at work and is excellent at placing Trudeau within the historical liberal context beginning with the Greeks.

Canadian politics is apocalyptic – every major question seems to threaten the actual existence of the country: Quebec nationalism, the growth of provincial power, Western disaffection, U.S. relations. Also, Canada’s locus of power is centralized in the Ontario-Quebec axis, unlike the U.S. where power tends to reside on the two coasts.

Trudeau understood these realities – for him, a ‘just’ society is one that offers “equality of opportunity” to every citizen and all his economic and language policies grew out of this view, including his arguments against Quebec nationalism which are absolutely irrefutable and stand the test of time.

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