Foreigners must find it hard to believe that the Canadian people, among the richest and most fortunate on earth, should solemnly consider the destruction of their vast estate sprawling across half a continent. But the crisis now facing them in many forms - constitutional, political, economic and, above all, emotional - has deep roots and lessons for free peoples everywhere.

Canada became a nation, or its embryo, on July 1, 1867, when four weak, quarrelsome British colonies between the Atlantic and the Great Lakes, fearing the newly powerful American republic on their flank, were united by Queen Victoria and her Parliament at Westminster and allowed to govern themselves. The rudimentary union, whose survival looked dubious, to say the best of it, quickly spread to the Pacific and embraced the second largest national territory in the world.

After 110 years of growth, its population numbers some 23 million, basically divided into two separate communities of British and French descent, the former including about 44 and the latter about 28 percent of the total. Various smaller fractions make Canada a nation of racial minorities, always difficult to govern, simple, serene and rustic in tourist advertisements, complex, restive and urban in truth, but managed so successfully on the whole that it now stands with the Western world's Big Seven at their summit conferences.

Given such a record, which most nations would envy, why has Canada encountered a time of wrenching trouble? Why is Quebec's provincial government (but so far only a small minority of its voters) determined to withdraw from the union and dismember it?

As foreigners may see them, these threats have appeared suddenly, overnight, but their seeds were planted more than three centuries ago when, in 1608, Samuel de Champlain, the first recognizable Canadian, built his rude habitation on the banks of the St. Lawrence and unwittingly seized the central gateway to North America. His brutal raid on the Iroquois, beside the lake that still bears his name, roughly defined the later bisection of the continent. The 49th parallel of latitude, separating the French and English colonies, entered the power struggles of Europe and in 1763, under the Treaty of Paris, France ceded its North American territory to Britain.

But it was the American Revolution, more than anything else, that produced the modern Canadian state. To a handful of French colonists were added the exiles of the Revolution, the United Empire Royalists, who established their colonies east and west of Quebec. The boundary between Canada and the United States was not to be securely fixed until the middle of the nineteenth century, after the original English colonies had twice invaded Canada, in 1775 and 1812, without success. But the two nations, north and south of the line, emerged from different circumstances with different goals.

Within Canada, the legacy of the original separate French and English colonies remained. Whatever its destiny might bring, the future nation, then hardly imaginable, must live a double life. Its major components could never be amalgamated in more than constitutional terms and only under a flexible, constantly evolving federal system.

From the beginning, the Canadian state was an experiment in what is nowadays called bilingualism and biculturalism - a unique experiment of some consequence to mankind. Canada has found no Lincoln to declare its purposes (and happily no Gettysburg to commemorate a civil war) but it is testing whether a nation conceived in duality and dedicated to the proposition that two diverse communities must have equal rights in the same land, can long endure.

As most Canadian citizens see it, and as Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau assured the U.S. Congress in a notable speech this past spring, that question will be answered emphatically in the affirmative. The union will survive and flourish but not without some years, perhaps a full decade, of political tension, economic change and, more incalculable, a changed attitude of mind. For Canada, with all its wealth and the unexcelled freedom of its society, a long, arduous journey lies ahead. The experiment, however successful, is not yet complete, nor sufficiently understood even by the average Canadian, much less by foreigners.


Though it primarily concerns us, of course, Canada's future involves its next-door neighbor more deeply and directly than the American people have begun to understand. As the late Livingston Merchant, twice Washington's ambassador to Ottawa, often argued, Canada is closer and more vital to the United States than any other foreign nation, and its old friendship should never be taken for granted. And as the late Dean Acheson observed, the reverse is equally true - Canada should not take the United States for granted either. The two nations, locked into a single continent, cannot escape the symbiotic life decreed by history, geography, language, common democratic ideals and daily bread-and-butter business. Across the U.S.-Canadian border moves the world's largest tide of international trade, investment and holiday travel. The United States buys about two-thirds of Canada's huge exports and supplies the same proportion of its imports. Americans in general have yet to realize that they sell far more to Canada than to any other foreign market (and even former President Richard Nixon showed his ignorance of these facts by saying, in a regrettable speech, that Japan was the United States' greatest trading partner).

Canada is also an unequaled importer of U.S. capital. American investors own a massive share of the Canadian economy, in some cases entire industries - another fact little understood south of the border and disturbing to the people north of it. Not only the United States but Japan, all members of the European Economic Community and nations of the Third World, possess valuable markets in Canada.

Even more imperative than the economic relationship is the fact of interdependent defense in a dangerous world. As Canada lacks the resources to defend itself against overseas attack, and finds its ultimate security under the American nuclear umbrella, so the United States must protect the strategic land mass between itself and possible European or Asiatic aggressors.

If the intimate economic, financial and military ties between the United States and Canada are necessary to both, they will never be easy nor automatic in an age of increasing complexity. For saying so, before an American audience, former Prime Minister Lester Pearson was misunderstood and bitterly criticized in the United States, but he had only stated the obvious in order to warn of difficulties ahead. These have appeared from time to time in clashes of specific interest, mostly commercial, but the "mad patches," as Mr. Pearson described them, were always smoothed out by quiet diplomacy and compromise because the supreme interest of the continent, its safety and prosperity, overrode them.

While the Trudeau government, in its so-called Third Option, is seeking closer ties with overseas nations to counterbalance its neighbor's oppressive weight, the United States will always be the paramount factor in Canada's foreign policy. American policy has much wider interests, responsibilities and risks throughout the world, but Canadians sometimes fail to appreciate them, just as the American public has not fully grasped the importance of Canada in its own affairs.

For all these reasons the United States would instantly feel the shock waves of Canada's partition if it ever happened. After Quebec's departure, what would then be left of the Canadian union, its economic strength, its enormous market, its American-owned industries and its military cooperation? When President Carter remarked (in a studied understatement lest he be accused of meddling in the business of a friendly neighbor) that he preferred to see Canada undivided, he understood how profoundly the three remaining fragments of the union could affect the United States. Three because a sovereign Quebec nation must divide Canada not on the perimeter but in the middle, astride the international artery of the St. Lawrence. The four Atlantic provinces of Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island would be separated from Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia by a constitutional and economic dam on the river that carries their goods and those of the American interior as well. Canada, in short, would split into a kind of East and West Pakistan, its single anatomy fractured beyond repair.

No thoughtful Canadian doubts the possible consequences foreseen by former Prime Minister Lester Pearson, who said that Canada was one thing or nothing. He rightly feared that the shattered fragments could not sustain a viable nationality. With their intricate economic organism dissolved, their political dwelling of three centuries in ruins, they might sooner or later seek entry into the American union, confirming the Manifest Destiny which the United States has forgotten and Canada has stubbornly resisted. No American government in its senses should accept with anything but horror pressures or results sure to compound its own domestic and foreign problems.


Outside North America, Canada's ongoing debate may not seem to have much significance. The world at large is little interested in the Canadian experiment, the willingness of distinct communities to dwell in one house, even if it is a marriage of convenience. But the same conduct of tolerance and mutual forgiveness must govern many other nations if humanity is to have any chance of peace and a decent life. Canada's ability to preserve such a marriage is the best justification of its identity in defiance of all visible logic.

The secret Canadian logic, felt more than it is expressed - a family instinct beyond expression - has overcome every attempt to contradict it. Premier René Lévesque and his Quebec government, however, find no logic, visible or otherwise, in the mixed household. He has pictured it as a "hybrid bicultural monstrosity" - ignoring the fact that his own imagined republic of some six million inhabitants would include an English-speaking population of some 1.2 million. If Canada is monstrous in its differing breeds, so is Quebec. If Quebec has the right to separate "democratically" (Mr. Lévesque's word), can its non-French minority be denied the right to remain in the union? If Quebec remains a true democracy the unadmitted logic works both ways.

Mr. Lévesque's French Canadian ideals extend far beyond Quebec. There are minorities of his people, large and small, in all the provinces. But it is only in Quebec that separation from Canada has ever been a serious aspiration. It has appeared there from time to time, mostly as a vague sentiment, since the British conquest of 1759, a conquest in name, not in fact.

The French Canadians, then numbering about 60,000, have multiplied more than a hundredfold. They have maintained their own way of life, produced three of Canada's most distinguished prime ministers and always had the power to destroy the union, if they decided to use it, as they did not. The endurance, cohesion and unconquerable vitality of this great people have few equivalents in human history.

Despite all their successes, the French Canadians of Quebec, abandoned by their European motherland and frequently ignored by their compatriots, have a sense of isolation, injustice and fear for their language and culture. When an English-speaking continent surrounds them, like an ocean breaking on a solitary island, that fear is understandable. But its corollary should also be clear: Quebec needs the environment of a strong, sympathetic nation to resist the southward magnetic pull of the United States. Canada needs Quebec for the same reason.

All the inchoate yearnings of Mr. Lévesque's people found their first effective political instrument in his Parti Québécois. To the nation's amazement, and his own, he won the provincial election of November 15, 1976 - not on the issue of separation, which was deliberately played down, but rather by playing up promises of honest government, economic growth and social reform. Though Mr. Lévesque's sincerity and high talents were respected, even outside Quebec, he could not have won - and then by only 41 percent of the vote - if a notoriously inept government had not defeated itself. Quebec did not vote for separation. It voted for a thorough and necessary housecleaning of its public business.

After the election, and until the present day, opinion polls, varying in detail, have found that about 20 percent of Quebec voters are prepared to separate themselves completely from Canada, but that a majority seems to favor a "special status," or semi-independence, for Quebec. The Canadian constitution allows no province to leave the union (though no civil war would be fought to keep Quebec within it), and Mr. Lévesque has no mandate to lead it out.

Admittedly Quebec appears to have the material assets to exist independently - an area, a population and a hoard of natural resources greater than those of most members of the United Nations. Independence would mean a reduced living standard, for a time anyhow, but the new leaders of the province, if not its people, are prepared to make that sacrifice for the more precious, non-economic gains of sovereignty, the full liberation of the French Canadian spirit.

Mr. Lévesque expects to work patiently to get a mandate for separation, according to a plan first disclosed to a world audience in this magazine when he was still a private citizen.1 At a date not yet fixed he will submit a referendum on Quebec's future to the voters. If they reject his basic separatist policy, a second or even a third referendum will be submitted, the government meanwhile retaining office in disregard of parliamentary tradition and using all its influence, moral and legislative, to make the people change their minds.

At this writing the contents of the first referendum are unknown. It could be as meaningful or meaningless as its wording implied. It could offer the clear-cut choice of total separation or a variety of options, such as a Quebec state politically independent yet enjoying a common, free-trade market, and perhaps a common currency, with Canada.

Mr. Lévesque has repeatedly argued that a cooperative "economic association" is possible, desirable and ensured in advance. Of course there will always be an association of sorts since Canada is ready to do business with countries all over the world, but a common market, as Mr. Lévesque evidently conceives it, is quite impractical. Even if the dismembered Canadian fragments were willing to negotiate a generous bargain after the wrenching process of separation, they would never accept Quebec's right to veto their tariff policies and trading arrangements with other foreign nations. Nor would Quebec accept their veto.

Mainly for this reason the government of the largest province, Ontario, has flatly dismissed Mr. Lévesque's version of a common market as an impossible substitute for the existing common market of Canada, which buys much of Quebec's industrial production. Since all the provinces sell massively to Quebec, they too must suffer if that market is lost or diminished. No region could avoid some loss. Quebec simply does not have the option of leaving Canada and continuing to share its benefits.

However Mr. Lévesque's still indistinct economic blueprint is viewed, he faces more than enough strictly provincial issues to require all the administrative capacities of his government. The barren heritage of his predecessors confronts him with acute problems of finance, unemployment, inflation, industrial strife and the need to attract large foreign investment.

These problems will not be easily or quickly solved, but Mr. Lévesque has moved rapidly to deal in his own way with a peculiarly sensitive and divisive problem, the use of the French or the English language in Quebec's public schools and private business. There his collision with the federal government, led by a fellow French Canadian, was foreseeable and inevitable.

The constitution vests control of education in the provinces and, until fairly recent times, many of them provided teaching only in English. To French Canadians that one-sided system appeared discriminatory and unfair, if legal, since Quebec's English-speaking minority has always been taught in its own language.

Gradually the other provinces have tried, in varying degrees, to remove an old and legitimate grievance by establishing classes in French where French-speaking minorities were sufficiently large to justify the cost. In 1969, Parliament passed the historic Official Languages Act, and the federal government undertook to provide its local services in French for French-speaking communities outside Quebec or in English for the Quebec anglophones. The Act was widely misunderstood in the other provinces and did nothing to placate the new Quebec government, which regarded it as mere window dressing.

When Mr. Lévesque then introduced a provincial language policy (candidly admitting his own doubts about some parts of it as approved by his cabinet), the federal government, and most of the nation, were shocked by its stringent provisions. It would maintain Quebec's present English schools but would permit only French teaching for children who enter the province from foreign countries or from Canada, unless at least one parent had been previously educated in English and in Quebec. The law would also compel Quebec industries, with minor exceptions, to use French as their language of management and work by 1983.

The Lévesque government hopes that these measures will permanently safeguard French, both as a sacred symbol and a necessary tool, but they outrage the Quebec anglophones and deny Mr. Trudeau's doctrine that all Canadians, wherever they live, have the right to educate their children in either of the nation's two official languages.

Facing a direct and unprecedented challenge, the most critical in his experience, Mr. Trudeau has considered various options while hoping that the Quebec law would be amended to remove its objectionable clauses. If they are retained (in the debate proceeding as this article was being written), he could disallow the law by a constitutional device never used in modern times. But its use now would play straight into the hands of the Quebec government, which would accuse the Prime Minister of violating provincial jurisdiction, betraying his native province and truckling to the will of the national majority. Or, as he has indicated, the law may be referred to the courts for a test of its constitutionality, depending on its final draft.

Mr. Trudeau would prefer a constitutional amendment empowering the federal government to protect the educational privileges of minorities in all parts of the nation. While Quebec is unlikely to accept this proposal, Mr. Lévesque has offered to negotiate a "reciprocal" agreement with any province under which its children, moving to Quebec, would receive English teaching if that province taught French-speaking children in their mother tongue. Mr. Trudeau has urged the English-speaking provinces to reject the offer because, he says, minority language rights in education are basic and non-negotiable.

The complicated legal argument is the lesser aspect of the bitter trial of strength under way between the two French Canadian leaders. Mr. Trudeau says that "the proper way to get rid of bad laws . . . is to get rid of bad government. I think the real recourse is to defeat the P.Q. [Parti Québécois] government and that's what they [the Quebec voters] should do if they don't like the government."

All the resources of the Liberal Party in Quebec will be mobilized to accomplish that defeat three or four years from now, possibly sooner. Before then Mr. Lévesque's referendum will intervene, with unpredictable results.

Meanwhile, the anglophone corporate managers of Quebec, both Canadian and American, protest that the school legislation would damage their industries because English is the language of international commerce. Besides, they say, it would be impossible to bring enough English-speaking experts to Quebec if their children must be educated in French.

The Lévesque government is not impressed by the threat of some corporations to move their head offices out of Quebec, brushing it off as an empty bluff. Actually the government's leftist economic and social policies seem more alarming than its language law to most non-French businessmen.


The latest dispute inherent in a dual society must be set against the background of one of the world's oldest written constitutions. It is a statute of the British Parliament, the British North America Act, which established Canadian self-government in 1867 (and, incidentally, foreshadowed the Commonwealth of the twentieth century). Though Canada has long been totally independent of Britain, with its own separate monarch who happens to reside in London, only the British Parliament can amend the constitution - and does so, automatically, on the formal request of the Canadian Parliament.

Over and over again Canadian governments, federal and provincial, have sought to remove this fictitious but humiliating relic of colonialism and shift the constitution from London to Ottawa. They have never succeeded because they could never agree on a method of future amendment. Twice in the present generation an amending formula was drafted, accepted by all the English-speaking provinces and, at the last moment, vetoed by Quebec. If John C. Calhoun's theory of concurrent majorities did not succeed in the United States, it has worked in Canada even if few Canadians have heard of it.

Mr. Trudeau's failure to bring the constitution home is the worst disappointment of his career as a lawyer. As a politician watching the crisis develop, and buying time to deal with it, he has adopted a Fabian strategy of postponement, compromise and conciliation. On the one hand, he reminds the English-speaking provinces that they have not been entirely just to the French Canadians nor have they relieved French Canadian grievances. On the other hand, he tells Quebec that it has every right to preserve its language as long as it treats its non-French minority justly. And he warns that, outside a robust national state, Quebec's language, culture and economy could not survive the pressure of an English-speaking continent.

In the nation's crisis his eloquent rhetoric and unequaled prestige are inadequate weapons. To them he has lately added a typical Canadian initiative, a kind of safety valve in the form of a new task force on national unity. This group is headed by two of the most respected men in Canada: John Robarts, the English-speaking former Premier of Ontario, and Jean-Luc Pépin, a French Canadian who sat in Mr. Trudeau's cabinet before his retirement to private life. With less-known representatives from the nation's five distinct economic regions, this grand assize will study regional problems, sort out the possible solutions and propose some method of improving the federal system, perhaps a completely new constitution.

As the study begins, two facts are already evident: first, the angry, uncontrollable "English backlash" generally anticipated when the Lévesque government was elected has not yet occurred except within a thin extremist fringe outside Quebec (though it could be provoked by an unchanged provincial language law). Second, and most important, not only Quebec but all the provinces are demanding, and undoubtedly will secure in the end, a decentralization of power through constitutional revision or ad hoc arrangements. Mr. Trudeau, who is attacked by the opposition parties in Parliament for his supposed centralist and authoritarian tendencies, has agreed that more power may have to be transferred to the provinces, despite the fact that they are already more powerful - almost like ten baronies - than the American states. Probably the most difficult question before the Robarts-Pépin task force is how much power the federal government can afford to relinquish without losing not only essential revenue - always a point of contention - but also the ability to govern effectively at all.


At the same time that Canada is rethinking its internal balances of power, the country is in the throes of its most profound economic upheaval since World War II. Obviously, the two crises are not unrelated, with Mr. Lévesque conveniently blaming the "bicultural monstrosity" for Quebec's depleted treasury and high unemployment. Politics and economics move in a vicious circle.

The federal government is now trying to dismantle its system of direct controls over wages, profits and prices - a system that big business and big labor opposed from the start in 1975. But when the nationwide Canadian Labor Congress refused in mid-August of this year to accept any wage limits in collective bargaining after controls were removed, Mr. Trudeau said they would continue so long as inflation threatened to reach two-digit figures. Though he hopes that government, business and labor, given time for second thoughts, will agree on a consensus of future economic restraints, it is still no more than a hope. The opinion polls show that the public by a large majority want the controls maintained until the danger of a new cost-price explosion has passed. Even if it is avoided in the post-controls period, a still prosperous people will have to rethink their prospects and repair their mistakes.

Some crude figures will serve to outline the current state of the economy: a gross national product of $200 billion this year; a three to four percent real growth rate; a federal budget of about $45 billion with a deficit reckoned at six to seven billion dollars; merchandise exports last year of some $38 billion and imports of $37 billion but, with invisible items, a balance-of-payments deficit of $4.3 billion; an inflation rate of eight percent, or more, as against the official target of six percent; unemployment, on average, of eight percent; a dollar fallen from 103 cents in U.S. currency to about 93 cents within a year.2

The Canadian people may well possess the largest per capita raw resources in the world and the skills needed to utilize them. Blame for their misuse is shared by government, business, labor and a public beguiled by unreal expectations. Canada entered the World War in 1939 with a primitive economy, doubled its output and by 1945 was a sophisticated industrial power. It also became an influential secondary member of the United Nations, its peacekeeping efforts in foreign lands widely praised, its wealth envied. But three decades of boom, with short interruptions, led to wild extravagance in government, inflated production costs, a mood of euphoria and finally the hangover of an economic spree.

Up to now only the weak, unorganized groups have suffered any serious damage. Most Canadians enjoy one of the world's highest living standards without realizing that it exceeds Canada's immediate means and is too dependent on foreign borrowings, among the largest in the Western nations, to cover the exchange gap. When Mr. Trudeau says that the present demands on the economy must be reduced or it will "go down the drain," his belated warning is muffled by the sound of cash registers in the shopping centers, ignored by the holiday crowds in the airports. Donald MacDonald, the harassed Minister of Finance, tells the public that the next decade cannot be as rich as the last, and tries desperately to curb the government's own inflationary demands, but he is continually pressed to spend more money and stimulate business.

Basically, John A. MacDonald's ancient and little changed protective tariff of 1878 (called the National Policy) enabled Canada to build an economy as efficient as any in its processing of the products of its farms, forests, mines and fisheries. But under the protection of the tariff many manufacturing industries, concentrated in Ontario and Quebec, became soft and non-competitive in the world market and accumulated a frightening trade deficit of ten billion dollars last year. Their earlier advantage from a lower Canadian wage scale relative to that of the United States has recently been eroded, in some cases canceled, by labor's insistence on continental wage parity or superiority. Soaring production costs, not scarcity of resources and technical expertise, distorted the economic structure and now make drastic readjustments unavoidable, in the short or medium term at least. For the longer term, Canada must decide if it should shrink its weak industries by tariff reductions and sharper competition, at the risk of temporarily worsened unemployment, in order to expand the strong - a decision soon to face it in the Tokyo Round of GATT and, in terms of domestic politics, a nightmare for any government.

Another formidable necessity cannot be evaded. In the next decade Canada plans to spend $800 billion on public and private investment. Unable to raise all this money from domestic savings, it will continue to borrow heavily abroad, thus increasing foreign economic penetration (the nightmare of every "nationalist") and raising the already burdensome cost of external debt.


Until the Parti Québécois came to office the Trudeau government, as gauged by public opinion polls, appeared to have no hope of reelection, despite its victory in 1974. The subsequent election of a Conservative government, under a newly chosen young leader, Joseph Clark, was foreseen. But then the whole political climate changed. Ironically, Mr. Lévesque's triumph revived Mr. Trudeau's fortunes, because the Prime Minister looked more able than his competitor to resolve the crisis. Trudeau's party won four Quebec by-elections last spring, the opposition lost an apparently safe seat in Prince Edward Island, and two of its elected members crossed the floor of Parliament to join the Liberals.

Assuming that the polls are roughly accurate and that the climate does not change again, Mr. Trudeau could easily win the next election. When an election is called, Mr. Clark will face the reality of his party's virtually total exclusion from French Canada during much of the present century. Apart from his inexperience and bad luck, Mr. Clark is the victim of a history for which he is not in the least responsible. Once strongly Conservative in politics and Catholic in religion, a furious Quebec turned to the Liberal Party when, in 1885, the Conservative government of John A. MacDonald prosecuted, convicted, and rejoiced at the execution of Louis Riel, a deranged French Canadian, following his small abortive rebellion in Saskatchewan.

MacDonald, more than any other man, was the nation's architect and is still its unrivaled folk hero, but since his death the Conservative Party has never fully recovered in Quebec from his fatal mistake. Indeed, the illustrious Liberal career of Wilfrid Laurier, Canada's first French Canadian Prime Minister and Quebec's idol, was launched by the backlash against the Conservatives. His success heralded a period of relative harmony between Quebec and the English-speaking provinces. Then, however, in the course of two world wars, Quebec resisted the military conscription enforced by the national English-speaking majority, and old wounds were reopened.

Today only three Quebec members sit with Mr. Clark in the House of Commons, and the vagaries and injustice of politics do not alter the fact that no government can govern Canada effectively, or for long, without a minimal beachhead in Quebec, even if it has a majority drawn from the other provinces. No substantial Conservative gains are in sight in Quebec, however. The region from the Great Lakes to the Pacific, on the other hand, has recently elected few Liberals. Thus, Canada lacks, for the time being, a national party of the historic model.

Both parties, Liberal and Conservative, have always been uneasy coalitions of conflicting interests like their American counterparts, and so they must be in a diverse nation. Of the two, the Liberal Party has been the more successful thanks to better management, discipline and luck. Since Wilfrid Laurier's arrival in 1896, the Party has held office for 60 years, sometimes with a minority in Parliament. It was founded, early in the nineteenth century, on a creed of laissez-faire, free trade, unrestricted private enterprise and the Darwinian economics imported from Britain's Manchester School. Under Prime Minister Mackenzie King, who won his first national election in 1921, its philosophy was quietly and smoothly reversed to make its long-lived governments the agencies of social reform in bland, unadmitted imitation of the New Deal in the United States. Eventually the Canadian welfare system, replete with Keynesian machinery, was to go further and cost proportionately more than the original plan devised by President Franklin Roosevelt (whom King described as a great man but an economic illiterate).

The Conservative Party, at its beginning, stood for the partnership of government and business in MacDonald's National Policy of tariff protection, loyalty to the British Empire and resistance to American influence. Later the Conservative Party too became a party of reform and now indicts liberalism not for its reforming zeal but for grossly mismanaging and stunting the nation's economy.

The ideological gap is narrow, but Liberal governments always make sure that they stand slightly to the left of the Conservative opposition and to the right of the minor socialist New Democratic Party. The Liberal Party's expandable Gladstone bag can hold any ambitious politician if he supports its vaguely defined principles and votes for the government in the Commons. Mr. Trudeau thus inherited a political apparatus so broad, eclectic and pliable that he could recently take into his cabinet, with no questions asked, the leading Conservative of Alberta, John Horner, of unimpeachable right-wing credentials and an opponent of the Official Languages Act.

To Mr. Trudeau pragmatism is the essence and natural operating method of democracy. "The only constant factor to be found in my thinking over the years," he once explained in print, "has been opposition to accepted opinions. Had I applied this principle to the stock market I might have made a fortune. I chose to apply it to politics and it led me to power - a result I had not really desired, or even expected."

After more than nine years in office he relishes power and despite his many admitted blunders and false starts, is deft, often ruthless, in its use - a lonely, enigmatic creature, friendly or truculent as his humor fluctuates, sui generis among Canadian statesmen, past and present. The nation does not understand nor particularly like him, but it admires and has usually supported an intellect without equal in Canadian politics.

His reputation abroad is higher than at home where his flaws are more apparent, his brilliance less esteemed. The son of a rich French Canadian father and a Scottish mother, the youthful socialist and world traveler, the Quebec anti-conscriptionist who did not choose to fight in the Second World War, the outdoor athlete of reckless physical courage, the scholar of history, the brooding philosopher and bold gambler in politics has deeply impressed foreign governments and sometimes is painted larger than life in the news media. Strangest of all in this variegated record, he has made himself probably the most influential figure, as the honest broker between whites and blacks, in the Commonwealth.

Nevertheless, the great pragmatist has yet to solve any of Canada's basic problems and has frequently misconstrued them. In the summer of 1976, for example, he asserted that French Canadian separatism was "dead" and four months later the separatist Quebec government was elected. He barely escaped defeat in the federal election of 1972 and governed with a minority until 1974. Then he recaptured his majority by denouncing the Conservative policy of compulsory wage-profit-price controls, which in the following year he himself imposed after inflation had passed the two-digit level. Fascinated by John Kenneth Galbraith's books, he said on television that the market system no longer worked and, shortly afterwards, seeking to calm the frightened business community, declared the government's faith in it. As an economic and financial housekeeper his performance has been lamentable, and he knows it.


All things considered and all mistakes admitted, given the fact that Canada is the only major nation in the Western world that lacks either an adequate home market, or a joint market like that of Europe, its economic record is something of a prodigy. It reflects the people who made it, their three centuries of work, thrift and common sense, their inarticulate but fierce native pride.

Behind today's economic issues and the crisis of politics there looms a momentous human question, and the answer made to it will show whether the unique experiment in duality can long endure. Has the nation's character been permanently changed, or briefly diverted by sudden affluence from the true facts of life in a hard northern land? Do we still have those quiet ancestral virtues that mastered the half continent and fashioned, against the accepted canons of logic, a society blessed with as much freedom and fair opportunity as the world has yet found anywhere?

Mr. Trudeau gives his own answer to the final question: the virtues remain, the crisis will reinvoke them and Canada "is greatly strengthened by the very forces which seek to disrupt its unity" - because the separatist challenge has brought a decisive response after the years of indecision. He has often been wrong about daily affairs. But at a time to try men's souls he is right about Canada's goodly future. Our young nation will not close the book of its life when merely the opening chapters have been read and end a pursuit of happiness only well begun.


2 For rough comparative purposes, the figures of production, expenditure and trade deficits should be multiplied by a factor of ten to show the American equivalents.

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  • Bruce Hutchison is the Editorial Director of The Vancouver Sun, British Columbia, and the author of many historical works on Canada.
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