Nixon loathed Trudeau and Ottawa
30-year-old tapes of disgraced president drip with scorn
By Robert Russo
Five hundred hours of audio tapes secretly recorded by the disgraced former president and made public by the U.S. National Archives make it clear that Nixon's sulphurous loathing for Trudeau extended to the former prime minister's staff — and even to Canada.
Trudeau was that "clever son of a bitch" playing both sides of the street.
The former prime minister's executive assistant was "that ugly bastard — a real left-winger" who became the subject of a petty Nixon vendetta.
Spending three days in Canada was "a pain in the ass."
Nixon found Trudeau's intellectual acrobatics tiresome and baffling. After the Canadian left an Oval Office meeting, Nixon wondered aloud to then-secretary of state Henry Kissinger: "What in the Christ is he talking about?"
Nixon fought the release of his taped conversations right up to the day he died in 1994. His daughters continue the struggle to this day.
About half of the 3,700 recorded hours have been made available so far. The most recent tapes cover six months near the end of Nixon's first term, from 1969 to 1973.
They include the former president's unfavourable impressions of a 1972 trip to Ottawa, his assessment of Trudeau, and an Oval Office conversation between the two men.
A voice-activated, 1960s-vintage microphone under his Oval Office desk barely captures Nixon's baritone at times. Cross talk and a constant hiss obscure much of the dialogue.
The tapes reveal a man with a brilliant command of an incredibly complex world stage at a time of a hot war in Vietnam, a Cold War with the Soviet Union and growing demonstrations at home as he headed into an election year.
But they also allow for new glimpses of the already documented dark side of a paranoid former president.
He can barely mention Trudeau without referring to him as a "son of a bitch."
On April 18, 1972, Nixon complains to chief of staff H. R. Haldeman about his dealings with Trudeau during a trip to Ottawa days earlier.
For months, Trudeau complained to Nixon that the war in Vietnam and American economic policy had given succour to the Canadian left. The tapes reveal Nixon was suspicious of his Canadian counterpart.
"That Trudeau, he's a clever son of a bitch. You see, he's on that side of that Canada liberation movement," he tells Haldeman. "He's trying to play both sides so he has them out there and he sort of tries to give us a little colour guard. But after the way we treated the son of a bitch..."
Cross talk blurs the rest of Nixon's thought. So do two sections of the conversation totalling more than three minutes that were beeped out for national security reasons.
But Nixon won't let it go. He fumes about a Trudeau aide who refused to allow Haldeman to open an elaborate set of sculptured doors at the National Arts Centre so Nixon could make a quick getaway from a dinner he and his wife were attending with Trudeau.
"Was the prime minister's executive assistant that bushy-haired fellow?" Nixon asks. "Ugly bastard. Probably very left wing. Why didn't we do something about it?"
Nixon, practically sputtering with rage, orders Haldeman to plant a negative story with columnist Jack Anderson about the Trudeau aide.
"Play it hard, find a way goddammit. Give it to somebody around here," he says. "You've got to put it to these people for kicking the U.S. around after what we did for that lousy son of bitch (Trudeau), wasting three days up there."
The subject of Nixon's rage turns out to be Timothy Porteous. Before he headed the Canada Council for the Arts, he was Trudeau's executive assistant, and he well remembers the incident.
"The veins were popping through Haldeman's forehead," Porteous, now retired, said from Vancouver.
He chuckled when Nixon's description of him was read over the phone. "I'm actually proud to have been the subject of a Nixon smear campaign," he said.
Tapes released several years ago made Nixon's scorn for Trudeau clear. The conservative president came from a hardscrabble background. He looked at Trudeau's wealth, his privileged education and his long hair, and was appalled even before the two men had a chance to discuss policy.
Henry Kissinger said Trudeau's brilliance, elegance and liberalism inevitably stirred the beast in Nixon.
"Trudeau was bound to evoke all of Nixon's resentments against `swells' who in his view had always looked down on him," Kissinger wrote in his memoirs.
"He disdained Trudeau's clear enjoyment of social life; he tended to consider him soft on defence and in his general attitude toward the East."
Marc Lalonde, Trudeau's senior adviser during Nixon's first-term, said his boss was well aware of Nixon's antipathy. "It certainly didn't prevent him from sleeping at night," he said from Montreal.
When the first tapes made public years ago recorded Nixon referring to Trudeau as an "asshole," the former prime minister reacted with a characteristic shrug of the shoulders, saying: "I've been called worse things by better people."
The latest tapes include conversations recorded the day Nixon returned from his three-day trip to Ottawa. That trip we needed like a hole in the head," he told Kissinger on April 15, 1972, later describing it as "a whole pain the ass."