The Kremlin’s interpreter
A new book on Pierre Trudeau’s life recounts his cozy relationship with the world’s most brutal dictatorships
At the age of 32, Pierre Trudeau accepted an invitation from the Soviet government to attend a 1952 propaganda conference with an “economic agenda.” The other five members of the Canadian delegation included prominent members of the Communist Party of Canada. It was there that he remarked to the wife of U.S. chargé d’affaires that he was a communist and a Catholic and was in Moscow to criticize the U.S. and praise the Soviet Union. The U.S. State Department assessed Trudeau’s allegiances, noting that he evinced “an infantile desire to shock.” Canadian diplomats assured the Americans that Trudeau did not possess much common sense.
After being labeled a communist in his home province, Trudeau worried how this could derail his plan to run for public office someday. When Trudeau sought permission from the Church to sue his accusers, the bishop replied that given Trudeau’s writings, “I hesitate to consider this libel.”
With travelling companion Jacques Hébert (appointed to the Senate by Trudeau in 1983), Trudeau sojourned for six weeks through China in 1960. China was desperate for political recognition and had approached about 100 people before they found two Canadians willing to take the state-sponsored trip. Hébert noted that given their tattered reputations in Quebec, he and Trudeau were immune to reprisals.
Also in 1960 Trudeau set out from Florida in a canoe in an unsuccessful attempt to paddle to Cuba. Thousands of Cubans attempting to flee the island dictatorship would later die sailing in the opposite direction. After making it to Cuba in 1964 Trudeau remarked to a friend, “When you see mass rallies with Fidel Castro speaking for 90 minutes in 100 degree heat you wonder what is the need for elections.”
Such was Trudeau’s assessment of communism, and his variable commitment to democracy. After becoming prime minister, Trudeau rekindled whatever feelings of affection he had for these three communist regimes.
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