NORMA GREENAWAY - Leading Liberals have dismissed as a cheap shot Brian Mulroney's allegation that the late Pierre Trudeau's failure to support the war against Nazi Germany showed he lacked the moral fibre to lead Canada.
"Mr. Trudeau has been a great prime minister," Liberal leader Stéphane Dion said. "I don't need to say more. It's too (much of) a cheap shot to deserve a long answer."
Dion was reacting to an interview Mulroney gave CTV to promote his memoirs, slated for public release Monday, as well as excerpts from the book published in the Sun newspaper chain and Journal de Montréal, which confirm one of the worst-kept secrets of Canadian politics: Mulroney has never forgiven Trudeau for helping turn the public against the Meech Lake constitutional accord.
Excerpts to be published today are expected to focus on Mulroney's depiction of former Quebec premier Lucien Bouchard's "treachery" in breaking away from the Tories and establishing the separatist Bloc Québécois.
"I loved him like a brother," Mulroney told CTV's Lloyd Robertson in the program taped for Sunday broadcast. Mulroney said he should have fired Bouchard, whom he'd named ambassador to France as well as to his cabinet, much earlier.
Of Bouchard's decision to break from the Tories and form the Bloc, "he had cooked up the deal with (former Quebec premier Jacques) Parizeau ... while he was a member of my cabinet," Mulroney said.
The loathing is for life.
"He won't come to my funeral," Mulroney declared.
In the television interview, excerpts of which were shown last night, the former Progressive Conservative prime minister resurrected Trudeau's opposition to conscription during the Second World War.
Mulroney acknowledged Trudeau was not alone in his opposition, given the anti-war environment in Quebec at the time. But he added: "They aren't around 50 years later to say, 'I'm Captain Canada.'
"Look, out of 11 million citizens of this country, there were a million people - young men from British Columbia to Newfoundland - who rose to fight the Nazis," Mulroney said. "The most evil machine ever known to man, trying to exterminate the Jews, everybody knew that, and all these young Canadians rose and went overseas to fight them. Pierre Trudeau was not among them.
"He's entitled to make that kind of decision, but it does not qualify him for any position of moral leadership in our society."
Dion noted that Mulroney had amply praised his Liberal predecessor. Upon Trudeau's death in 2000, Mulroney called him "an exceptional individual who served his country effectively and well. ... History will eventually judge us all, but I have no doubt Mr. Trudeau will be remembered as a gallant political warrior who loved this country and devoted much of his life to its service."
Dion - who applauded Trudeau for, among other things, giving Canada a Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Official Languages Act - challenged Mulroney to admit he was right about Trudeau then and is wrong now.
Marc Lalonde, a former Trudeau cabinet minister, said Mulroney had sunk to new lows in his quest to rehabilitate his image with Canadians.
"The poor man is so eager to try to prop himself up, he thinks that pushing people down will help him rise up," Lalonde said. "By his age now, he should know this doesn't work - it's gross."
Lalonde said Trudeau's attitude toward the war and the world was no different than his own and that of "98 per cent" of the students at Quebec colleges at the time.
"The beauty of it all is that a guy like Trudeau had the gumption to go around the world after his studies and discover the world was not what he was taught about."
Historian Stephen Clarkson, who has written extensively about the Liberal Party and Trudeau, shrugged off Mulroney's take as "empty stuff."
"I think Mulroney does himself a huge disservice by this slur. It doesn't ennoble the author.
"Just the logic of it would imply that everybody should retire at age 25 because you are condemned for life by your positions when you are still immature."
Clarkson said that although there's no question the young Trudeau was swept up by anti-Semitic sentiment in Quebec, "it's very hard to paint him as morally handicapped as an adult."
He pointed to Trudeau's record as the first prime minister to appoint a Jew to the Supreme Court of Canada, Bora Laskin. Trudeau also had several Jews in his cabinets over his years in office.
Jewish leaders, however, said Trudeau was a disappointment as prime minister, largely because he did not heed their pleas to pursue Nazi war criminals living in Canada.
"Certainly, he didn't have the moral fibre to pursue aggressively Nazi war criminals in this country," said Frank Dimant, vice-president of B'nai Brith. "Not having done that was unforgivable."
For that reason alone, he said, Mulroney's portrait of Trudeau "in some fashion is very, very accurate."
Mulroney, who established the Deschênes Commission on War Crimes after coming to power in 1984, writes in his book that Trudeau, by failing to recognize the destructive nature of the Nazi war machine, was not qualified to insist on his vision for Canada - as he did in fighting the Meech Lake accord and branding the premiers and Mulroney as everything from snivellers to unhappy losers.
"The man who had surrendered to the provinces the most sweeping concessions in history - the notwithstanding clause, for which he still didn't get unanimous agreement - was reproaching others for the exercise of honourable compromise of the sort on which the nation was built," Mulroney wrote. " 'Bunglers,' 'cowards,' 'snivellers' - Trudeau knew whereof he spoke."
An excerpt from Brian Mulroney's Memoirs will appear in tomorrow's Gazette
"Although in his mid-20s, well educated, well informed, and in excellent health, he (Pierre Trudeau) declined to serve. While compatriots like Pierre Sévigny, Guy Charbonneau and Paul Sauvé were fighting off Nazis on the battlefields of Europe in the summer of 1943, Trudeau and his friends were fighting off black flies in Outremont. (It is false to suggest, as some bigots have, that all young French Canadians did likewise. In fact, thousands served bravely throughout the war, in all of its most dangerous theatres, and many were among the 45,000 Canadians who gave their lives.)"
"I was shocked and disappointed but not altogether surprised - to learn in a book published in June 2006 by two of his close friends (Max and Monique Nemni) that during this same period young Trudeau wrote and acted in an anti-Semitic play, spoke strongly in favour of fascism, stated that England and Germany were equally responsible for the war, and urged Quebecers to resist conscription and to prepare to ethnically cleanse the province if need be, to ensure the creation of a pure French-Catholic state."
"Although much of the free world, including Canada, recognized the destructive and criminal nature of the Nazi war machine, Trudeau did not. In fact, as the (authors Max and Monique) Nemnis have shown, he was indifferent to its ravages and opposed to enlightened policies designed to wipe out the curse of Nazism.
Pierre Trudeau, Captain Canada?
"Trudeau had his own impressive virtues and significant accomplishments, but none qualified him to moralize and insist that his vision of Canada - and his alone - deserved to prevail. The man who had surrendered to the provinces the most sweeping concession in history - the notwithstanding clause, for which he still didn't get a unanimous agreement - was reproaching others for the exercise of honourable compromise of the sort on which the nation was built. 'Bunglers,' 'cowards,' 'snivellers' - Trudeau knew whereof he spoke."
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