five blind men and an elephant:
summing up trudeau's legacy

Trudeau's Shadow: The Life and Legacy of Pierre Elliot Trudeau
Andrew Cohen & J.L. Granatstein
(Random House, xx pages)
trudeau's shadow cover
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The most surprising thing about Trudeau’s Shadow is the near-absence of an elegaic tone, in spite of the somewhat lugubrious tone of its introduction and publicity material.  Edited by journalist Andrew Cohen and historian J.L. Granatstein, the book is a collection of newly commissioned essays from a broad range of sources, ranging from actress Linda Griffiths to former Ontario NDP leader Bob Rae, from journalists Larry Zolf and Linda McQuaig to Trudeau political allies Jim Coutts and Donald S. Macdonald to cultural essayists Mark Kingwell and B.W. Powe.  In spite of the retrospective tone of every essay, there is no sense of Trudeau as anything less then a continuing presence in the country’s political and intellectual life today, in spite of his resolute physical absence.

The contributions range in political orientation and personal reaction.  Anybody who holds the opinion that economic performance is the surest way of judging the worth of a country’s leader need only read the back-to-back essays by McQuaig and her fellow journalist (and political antipode) Andrew Coyne, who find ways to show the former Prime Minister’s innocence or guilt, respectively, in the creation of our current economic distress. Elsewhere we find that Linda Griffiths’ memoir of flirtatious dancing with Trudeau, while researching her play “Maggie and Pierre”, gives a more indelible, vital portrait of the man than journalist Rick Salutin’s ruminations on Trudeau’s leftist credentials contrasted, of course, with his own.

Like any collection, the book is an uneven read, but the general tone of fascination, rapt or grudging, with its subject, acts to unify the hand-wringing and finger-pointing, the memoirs of encounters in friendship or political service and the ruminative speculations on the meaning of the man. While hardly useful as a biographical resource, Trudeau’s Shadow will doubtless be pressed into use by future writers, looking for a pithy quote or a telling anecdote to further explain the phenomenon of the fifteenth Prime Minister.

©1998, 2002 Rick McGinnis