Obama and Trudeau

We were the only American family on our block in Toronto in the mid-1960's, and we had an easy time of it. Toronto had not yet experienced the boom caused by post-separatist flight from Montreal in the ‘70's, and growing up there was, I think, little different in important ways from living in any biggish Midwestern city.  Sidewalks mostly closed up at night, folks were friendly, the (Canadian) dollar was worth a (U.S.) dollar, and media reporting was U.S.-centered. The few differences were often symbolic: paper money featured the Queen's effigy, we played more hockey than baseball -- and "My Country ‘Tis of Thee" had different lyrics.... 

But something happened in the late '60's that changed everything.  The country elected as Prime Minister a charismatic and intellectual 48-year-old:  a man who had emerged from the country's minority group, but who in fact had a mother who was not a minority; a man who had only been a member of the lower house for three years, with no executive experience; a man who promised change and confidently asked the country if it was ready for it.  Pierre Trudeau was well-spoken and sexy, and Trudeaumania swept Canada's youth.  Trudeau garnered overwhelming majorities in Francophone Canada, and enough votes in Anglophone Canada to form a government.  Once in power he consolidated it, staying in office for 16 years and turning the country markedly to the left.

Trudeau nationalized 25% of the petroleum industry and ruined the nascent boom economy of conservative Alberta.  He ensured minority group representation at every level of government and instituted French language requirements in remote English-speaking corners of the country.  He turned away from the United States and toward a "third way", vowing to make Canada more European, from imposition of the metric system to implementation of universal "free" health care.  Though elected by civil libertarians and the pacifist left, he snarled "watch me" when asked how far he would go to deny civil liberties after FLQ terrorists kidnapped two men and killed one of them. He introduced landmark legislation decriminalizing homosexual acts, contraception and abortion, while enacting significant gun ownership restrictions.  And he enormously expanded the scope of Canada's federal government, all the while resisting free trade with the United States and encouraging links with Cuba.

Pierre Trudeau was staunchly anti-military and anti-American, even during the most just of wars. [As a young intellectual during World War II he had openly resisted serving: "[W]e tended to think of this war as a settling of scores among the superpowers."] His socialization of much of Canada's economy led to today's $0.79 dollar, which is much more dependent on the price of oil than on Canadian ingenuity -- indeed, Trudeau arguably set in motion a "brain drain" to the United States that sorely depleted that ingenuity.  [Without Alberta's oil sands goodness knows what Canadian currency would be worth.]  But he was always "with it", unlike his staid predecessors at 24 Sussex Drive. Why, Trudeau was the first world leader to meet John Lennon and Yoko Ono on their 'tour for world peace'. [Lennon called Trudeau "a beautiful person" and absurdly offered, "if all politicians were like Pierre Trudeau, there would be world peace."]  When his socialist ideology was challenged by opposition members in Parliament, he brazenly mouthed "F--- O---" and sneered at their shock that traditions of civility had been trampled.  [His epithet was transcribed in the Parliamentary record as "fuddle duddle", still today a Canadian euphemism.]  With Trudeau, Canada entered the post-modern era.

I've been back in my native USA since 1987, three years after Pierre Trudeau left office. My memories of him have been flooding back of late, for President Obama's ascension resembles Trudeau's in ways superficial and deep.  The Obama election's implications for us are possibly just as fundamental as was Trudeau's for Canada. What if 2008 is the year we became Canada?   What will become of us, and of the world?

Michael I. Krauss is Professor of Law, George Mason University School of Law.