Trudeau Transformed

By Max and Monique Nemni

Trudeau Transformed is the follow-up to the award-winning bio Young Trudeau by husband-and-wife team Max and Monique Nemni, taking the enigmatic and controversial “son of Quebec” and “father of Canada” from the shock of attending Harvard to his decision to enter federal politics twenty years later.

The introduction lays out the authors’ intention to write an “intellectual biography”: one that proceeds primarily through a close re-examination of Trudeau’s public writings, leaving aside discussion of his personal life in order to stay firmly focused on his involvement in the major political and ideological debates of the day .

It’s a fair approach, given that Trudeau was probably the last Canadian prime minister to have any claim to being an intellectual. And while the narrow focus and depth of detail will make the book primarily of interest to specialists, an effort is made to explain the complex intellectual and political context to general readers (unlikely to have any acquaintance with now dated labels like corporatism and personalism), and a lively and engaging tone is maintained throughout. From the opening “Get ready for the journey! Fasten your seat belts!” the text is well seasoned with exclamatory ejaculations: “Far from it!” “Not at all!” “Unbelievable but true!” and “This is vintage Trudeau!” One appreciates the enthusiasm while at the same time being put on guard against some pretty obvious cheerleading. As loyal friends of Trudeau, the authors can hardly be expected to be objective chroniclers. “All his life,” we are told, “Trudeau was a lover of truth who refused to give in to fear,” his goal in seeking that truth the desire “to improve the well-being of his people.” This is the statesman ideal.

The transformation registered in the title is, in keeping with the book’s focus, an intellectual and political “180-degree turn.” Travel and education abroad had the effect of widening Trudeau’s horizons, turning the somewhat provincial Quebec nationalist described in Young Trudeau into a cosmopolitan Canadian federalist. Along the way many old friends became new enemies and youthful prejudices were publicly tossed in the dustbin, both for reasons of principle and out of personal ambition.

The Nemnis tread lightly on the matter of Trudeau’s ambition, but they also make it very clear that he was no aimless dilettante in these years, drifting about trying to find out what he really wanted to do with his life. Their book offers a corrective in this regard to previous Trudeau biographies, and in particular they frequently address the work of John English, Stephen Clarkson and Christine McCall. Trudeau was always a man with a plan, and the plan (expressed as early as his application to Harvard) was to be a statesman. In the pivotal years described in Trudeau Transformed it was the content, not the direction of that plan that changed. Luckily, given the man’s many talents, it was a change for the better, both for Trudeau and Canada.

Review first published in Quill & Quire, November 2011.

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