Opinion-Policy Nexus

Probably all of us have had an experience was so unexpected or startling that we were able to remember years later where we were and what we were doing when it happened.

In my case, one such memorable moment happened 50 years ago this coming Saturday. It was at the height of what became known as the “October crisis.” I was asleep at home in Manotick, south of Ottawa, when the phone rang from the New York news desk of my employer, Time magazine:

“AP has moved a bulletin that the terrorists have murdered Pierre Laporte. They found his body in the trunk of a car. What’s Pierre Trudeau going to do? We need as much as you can get, as fast as you can.”

I scrambled. Into the car, to Ottawa, to Parliament Hill, which was in eerie total darkness. Abandoned the car in a Senate parking space. Raced into the Centre Block. Ran across the rotunda beneath the Peace Tower. No lights anywhere. Crashed headlong into Treasury Board President C.M. (“Bud”) Drury who was rushing to an emergency cabinet meeting. Picked myself up and followed him.

The “execution” – as the Front de libération du Québec called it – of Laporte, Quebec’s deputy premier and labour minister, was only the second political assassination in Canadian history, 102 years after that of Thomas D’Arcy McGee, a Father of Confederation. It was the FLQ’s response to the Trudeau’s government’s implementation of the War Measures Act the previous day. 

The October Crisis revealed the steel – “Just watch me!” – that lay just below the hippy-dippy philosopher veneer of Pierre Trudeau, and it tested the mettle of his two-year-old Liberal government. 

Nothing quite so dramatic as the kidnapping of British Trade Commissioner James Cross and the murder of Laporte has occurred on his son’s watch. Yet Justin Trudeau is being tested, month after arduous month, by the COVID-19 pandemic – with no end in sight as cases continue to spike, especially in Ontario and Quebec.

Dealing with the pandemic is unrelenting, undramatic work. If it’s drama we seek, we need only to look across the border where President Donald Trump faces defeat, perhaps massive defeat.

He is falling further behind Democrat Joe Biden, by 10 to 13 percentage points in national polls. He is trailing in the battleground states he won in 2016. Not only has his gender gap become a gulf, Trump is losing support among men; new polls put Biden even or marginally ahead among male voters. Even over-65 voters are leaving Trump. 

Never a model of consistent behaviour, Trump has become consistently erratic. He blows one debate and blows off the second. He contracts COVID-19 and learns nothing from it. He continues to insist he will win on Nov. 3, yet refuses to say he will accept the results, all the while working to undermine legitimacy of the election. 

He risks his own health and that of his audience by staging largely mask-free public rally after public rally.

With just 21 days remaining before the election, concern is mounting on both sides of border about what could happen if Trump loses and refuses to resign. 

Trump plays openly to the racists, xenophobes and other extremists on the fringe of his political base. Last week, the FBI revealed that it had infiltrated a plot to abduct Michigan’s Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer and to put her on trial for violating the U.S. Constitution. The charge: she was exercising “uncontrolled power.” 

Why, Whitmer had even refused to allow gyms to reopen during the pandemic, according to one of the six accused. It may sound absurd, but not to the six extremists. According to the FBI, their object was nothing short of a violent overthrow of the Michigan government.

Meanwhile, in a separate proceeding, Michigan state authorities charged seven other individuals with plotting to attack police and ignite a civil war.

The Trudeau government is aware of the possibility, however remote, of violence close to the Canadian border if Biden wins the election and Trump refuses to leave. All the government says is that it will be prepared for any eventuality. 

In the case of an extreme eventuality, might the army be sent forth, weapons pointed south, to protect the world’s longest and supposedly undefended border? Given the size of the Canadian military, it would be quite a thin line of defence. 

Still, it would become one of those moments to remember.

Cambridge resident Geoffrey Stevens, an author and former Ottawa columnist and managing editor of the Globe and Mail, teaches political science at the University of Guelph. His column appears Mondays. He welcomes comments at [email protected].



Tuesday, October 13, 2020 - 09:14