Barry Callaghan

Have I Ever Lied to You?

Adventures in the Word Trade

In the early sixties, young Jerry Goodis, a sometimes flurried, incautious but always amiable man who was quick with words and at ease with a dollar, had sung tenor with a popular folk group, The Travellers, and for a while the quartet had had great success… Michael, row the boat ashore, Just like a tree standing by the water, a re-vamp of Woodie Guthrie’s This Land Is Your Land… and other union hall, hootenanny and picket line songs… but then Jerry Goodis… unafraid of the resentment his ambition incurred among friends left behind – he liked to say that “he had not been born with a silver knife in his back” – had quit the group, those singers of union songs, to give himself over entirely to advertising where he had made a billboard name for himself – in a time when sensible men wore sensible shoes – brogues with thick soles and tooled leather toe caps – by successfully promoting a soft pliable shoe, the Hush Puppy; he had also created a same day service muffler market for Speedy Muffler King (“At Speedy You’re A Somebody”); a fast food market for Harvey’s (“Harvey’s makes your hamburger a beautiful thing”); and he had leant a certain gravitas to his rise to prominence by not only becoming a senior executive at MacLaren Advertising (General Motors and the federal Liberal Party), but by telling his “true” life story in a brash little book, Have I Ever Lied To You Before? by Jerry Goodis, which of course had been written by a ghost – the journalist Barbara Moon.

In 1979, Jerry and his clients – the federal Liberal Party – the party of Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau – were up to their worried eyeballs in a re-election campaign. They were running on the hapless slogan – The Land Is Strong. They were not just flagging at the polls; they were trailing the supposedly inept “Joe Who” Clarke and his Conservatives, and most troubling, Trudeau seemed to be distracted, disengaged, even disinterested.

I sat with Jerry on the patio at an outdoor table in the shadow of an Anglican stone church at Prego de la Piazza, a downtown restaurant favoured that spring by the plugged-in and well-heeled.

It was a bright sunshiny day. The white linen of our tablecloth gleamed in the shadow cast by the church.

He ordered a bottle of Chassange Montrachet.

Over a bowl of moules in a white wine sauce I drank most of the bottle.

He offered another.

I said I thought that would be taking advantage of him.

“Take advantage,” he said expansively. “I like it.” He petted his soft cheeks, as if he might be freshening himself at his mirror in the morning, and then told me what was on his worried mind.

“It’s her, his crazy wife… it’s not about the see-through nipples when they’re with Castro, it’s not just she disappears with the Rolling Stones for the weekend, I mean, he’s crossing the country trying to get us re-elected and she’s on the phone all the time… they tell me he whacked her in the eye in the limo, it’s all got outta hand, we gotta get it back in hand, she torments him at three in the morning… he’s lost touch, like he’s losing it, and Pierre Trudeau’s not a loser but he’s gonna lose.”

“And so, you want me to do what?

“Do what you do best.”

“What can I do?”

“We gotta place him, Trudeau, we gotta place him here, like he cares, like he’s one of us, here in Toronto.”

“He has no story here.”

“Make him one, make him a story.”

“Like what?”

“I don’t know. Think about it.”

“I’ll think about it.”

I spoke to the editor of Toronto Life magazine. I asked him if he would like to publish a story by Pierre Elliott Trudeau… maybe, I suggested, Trudeau talking about the ravines of Toronto?

The editor, who had a wry sense of the opportune, said yes.


I should explain how my relationship with Trudeau – glancing, as it turned out over the fullness of time – had come about.

In 1962, after the young Trudeau had been in Lester Pearson’s cabinet as the Minister of Justice for about a year, in September – as part of the Expo 67 celebrations – I had attended a brunch in a Montreal hotel given to welcome some thirty poets from around the world. I had written:

Last September poets from around the world met in Montreal, and they first came together at a brunch in the Windsor Hotel. There was much to drink and some stoked up on martinis before noon, having been through the grinde of poetry conferences before. Then it was time to eat, and as we ambled into a dining room, the English poet, George Barker, muttered, “Now we get the rubber chicken routine.” We got beef, but that didn’t cheer him up. About half-an-hour into the meal, just as he was jabbing his spoon at the dessert, there was a clinking of a knife against a glass, and Barker, out of the corner of his eye, noted someone had risen to speak. He poured brandy on his ice cream and kept on eating. But then he stopped and turned to listen.

         A slightly built but sinewy man, in an off-the-cuff fashion, was talking about literature and art. He had a kind of natural grace that finishing schools cannot teach. After listening for about five minutes, Barker asked, “Does he write good verse?”

         Realizing he thought the speaker was a Canadian poet chosen to welcome the literary guests, I said, “Poetry… I have no idea. He’s the Minister of Justice.”

         “You mean he’s a bloody politician?”


         “Uncanny… the man knows what words are.”

         The speaker was Pierre Elliott Trudeau. I was pleased with my poet friend’s response, for I have a certain admiration for Trudeau, an admiration for the way he uses both languages.

         It is my view that men who care nothing for the value of words, who distort reality with vague rhetoric, or twist the truth through glibness, are not to be trusted. A man who unwittingly, or what is worse, knowingly falsifies facts, misrepresents his own experience or the experience of others, is capable of any kind of legerdemain. It has been told many times that Prime Minister King was determined that nothing in his speeches would ever be remembered, and so, he made them as drab, as toneless, as possible. This ensured that he would not have to account for anything on the hustings. What does this tell us about the man? That he was duplicitous? That he had contempt for the people?

         And what do we learn about a politician like Allan Lamport, Mayor of Toronto, who is good for a garbled speech on any subject at the drop of someone else’s hat. He uses the language as if it were a punching bag. He smashes into verbs as if they were nouns. He jabs away at facts, but always leaves me with the impression that he didn’t hear the question, and even if he had, it wouldn’t matter.

         John Diefenbaker, ex-Prime Minister much-beloved, is only a degree removed from Lamport. He is the master of dramatic incoherence, and the country discovered that Diefenbaker’s government at no time had a coherent policy. Can coherent action ever come from incoherent thinking expressed incoherently? Experience tells us no.

         Nor is it accidental that the able negotiator, Lester Pearson, affable though he may be, always sounds somewhat ineffective. He is negotiating with the language, counting on the phrases to recognize the reasonableness of his position and, as a result, show up on time. On the other hand, the style of the Socialist Tommy Douglas is predictably doctrinaire. All his thought is predictable, sheer plod, and the predictable style, always devoid of imaginative surprise, does not make plough down sillion shine.

         Consider the ponderous style of Paul Martin, Pearson’s possible successor. Surely there is a kind of weird mastery of language here. What discipline must have been required to evolve a style that conceals the thought behind the words.

         If you want to know about René Levesque, read his words carefully. You will discover in the images a secular Jansenist – and old monk in a new, double-breasted business suit talking of the purity of the French spirit on one hand, and the corruption of the materialistic English on the other.

         Such is the way politicians use the language and such is the way of democracy. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes was certainly too harsh when he said that if you wanted to see the human brute at his professional worst, at his most cunning, most self-deluding, then look to his elected representatives. But, listening to these figures day after day I can’t help but feel chagrin, and not a little trepidation.

         So, it is with relief that I turn to Pierre Elliott Trudeau. He is direct and to the point, he knows what he means and never seems unaware of the implications of what he, or anyone else, is saying. It should have surprised no one that Trudeau, as the Minister of Justice, has taken the criminal code by the throat and made sensible and sweeping reforms.

         It is the real satisfaction of the democratic process that every now and then a politician comes along who is impressive, a man who not only has his own voice, but gives clarity to that voice… a man you would invite into the privacy of your home – not because of social prestige – but because you would genuinely like to discover his world.


In Ottawa, in the shank of the afternoon, a little after the appointed afternoon hour, Pierre Elliott Trudeau – in boldly striped shirt sleeves – opened the door to his office. He didn’t seem distracted or disengaged; he was beaming and he invited Jerry to take a chair over to the right of the Prime Ministerial desk. Jerry sat down on the edge of his chair, backed by the prime minister’s attendants, two gaunt men of gallic severity. Jerry’s chair faced a sofa on the opposite side of the carpeted room where Trudeau and I sat corner to corner, each with a left leg folded under the right. Between us and above us, an Inuit cloth wall hanging, drummers, harpooners and seals.


For a little more than a decade, from round about the election year of 1968, I had – at off-chance meetings during the odd social gathering – bantered with Trudeau… a quick exchange or two of idle anecdotal wit over canapés… and, we had eaten supper alone together twice, the tone over these meals casual, amiable. His amiability, however, brought out in me -- almost compulsively – a wry, ingrained attitude toward power, always turning me a little pesky – an attitude that had provoked him only once to flinty anger – when I had suggested that his speech writer, Ivan Head, had no gift for his voice. “He makes you sound like Bishop Fulton Sheen after he lost his faith.”

Otherwise, this attitude more often than not amused him – as when I had asked him over Chinese noodles if he wasn’t afraid that his fate as a master of politics might not be that of one of Henry James’ characters, a great painter whose masterpiece, a canvas worked on for years, when finally seen in the James story, turned out to be blank. He had deflected this mild impertinence by telling me, “Never mind James, he stole that story from Balzac. And the Bishop never lost his faith.”


As for Jerry Goodis and his relationship with the Prime Minister, Jerry loved Trudeau – because Trudeau had, on several occasions, made it clear to men who were more sophisticated, men of political presence who believed they were more deserving of preferment – that he liked Jerry – that he really liked the way Jerry was so openly and even guilelessly himself – a man who – while giving off an air of utter good faith – the air of a man who intended no harm – could be, not duplicitous, but capable of what the Irish call bull – from the French boule – not so much a matter of outright deception as the ability to mislead while honourably taking the lead – or as Yogi Berra once put it: if you see a fork in the road you take it.

“Barry’s gonna make this happen,” he told Trudeau. “It’s a small thing we’re doing but it can be a big thing, too.”

“How long’ll this take, how’re we going to do this?” Trudeau asked.

“If the way I want to do this is okay with you,” I said, “we’ll be done and out of here in forty minutes…”

“That quick,” Jerry asked, looking a little disappointed.

“Really,” Trudeau said, dubious, but pleased.

I had placed a Uher tape recorder and a microphone on the sofa between us.

“I’m taking a guess,” I said, “but I bet – you being who you are – that when you were a student visiting Toronto, you went out walking, and I bet you figured out that we have these ravines…”

“As a matter of fact you’re right,” he said, cocking his head to the side. “I was so bored I went for a walk and I ended up down in one of the ravines.”

“Great. We’re going to write a piece about how much those ravines mean to you, and to how you think about Toronto today, the mystery of the place…”

“Okay,” he said with a wry little smile.

“Okay,” Jerry said emphatically. “Right. Good.”

“So what I’m going to do… is, I’ve got some notes, almost paragraph by paragraph for the way this can be… so, I’ll give you the ideas for each paragraph as we go, and you give me the ideas back in your own words, talk them to me, and when we’re done, we’ll have the piece… I mean, I’ll take the tape home and hone everything you say into shape and it’ll be you writing about the ravines just like you’d been home-grown in Toronto…”

He was all eagerness, as if this were a new diversion, a new game that was not about politics or re-election at all.

“The first thing is,” I said…


         Within weeks, Toronto Life published an article In which, they said, our correspondent recalls his days as a visiting student in Toronto, returns in search of the heart of the place and says what he thinks of the city and its people.

Toronto and Its Ravines


Pierre Elliott Trudeau


The best way to get to know a city is to walk around in it. I suppose I’ve walked around most of the great cities of the world. I’ve taken a lot of time doing it, nosing about, looking into things. You must have the curiosity to look into things, but also, there must be something there to look into. I can say that Toronto, even when it was at its narrowest, ingrown and a little mean-spirited, had its character, its own human dimension. Now, when I walk the streets, I see a change, a change of heart.

         The first thing that strikes me about a city is the landmarks particular to it, and the use people make of them. In this sense, what impressed me early on in Toronto was the ravines. The ravines are something you discover and then go down into, as I did when I was in the city as a visiting student in the late ‘30s and early ‘40s. I was amazed that a mercantile town, a place that some people dismissed as a city of shopkeepers, had preserved its ravines, had kept the country alive right in the middle of city life. I was, however, a little distressed to find that Toronto, built on a great lake, had hardly any access to the water. The city, for whatever reasons, had turned its back on the water. It was years before I discovered the islands, and that was sad, because the lake should have been there in the lives of the people and it wasn’t. One of the cheering aspects of more recent times, however, has been the opening up of the city’s arms, bringing the lake, and the moods that come from being close to the water, into the city. But back when I first discovered Toronto, a visitor didn’t get much to hang on to between the ravines and the lake; there were low buildings in a rigid grid-work of commercial streets, and people who talked in the same tones and lived in little pockets. It did seem to be a place of pockets, inland islands, and it was not easy to be in one place in the city and say, aha, here’s where the heart beats.

         You see, back in my university days, I’d go to Hart House – a lovely building with the feel of old stone and heavy wood, a place where many young could take the time to learn how to think – and I’d meet my fellow students there, or the professors. They were all good meetings, but I could just as easily have been at a provincial university in Kingston or Poitiers; they were good scholars comforted by closeness yet subdued by separateness. It seemed to me that the university was not tied into Toronto in those days. It was one of those inland islands, interesting in itself, but an island.

         The same was true of the CBC. I was completely bemused by the old building on Jarvis Street, that rambling, red-brick honeycomb of offices. People went in and out of there as a kind of clan. They were talented, intelligent and witty, but I was struck by an irony. They were interpreting the country to itself, often with great accuracy and insight. They had connected with the country but seemed to have little connection with their own city. Just like the university, they gave me no sense of being tied into the city.

         These are, of course, early impressions from many years ago, but though they are only impressions, I’m sure to this day that those professors and broadcasters didn’t quite know where the heart of their city was, either. It might have been Bloor Street, Queen’s Park or Eaton’s, but you were always looking for the heart and you couldn’t quite locate it. That’s frustrating when you’re a foreigner in a city. You go out at night and you say, well, where’s the street with all the lights and we’ll go there and we’ll explore it because that’s where the people come together. Or, when you go out in the daytime, you say, well now, where are all the pretty women going and where do all the businessmen go for lunch? No matter how hard you tried, you just couldn’t touch the heart. I’m not saying that a city can’t have many hearts because obviously it can, but it’s frustrating when a city doesn’t seem to know where any one of its hearts is.

         I’m saying all of this only to lead up to the impression I now have of Toronto: obviously, it is changing, it is changed. You can feel a heartbeat. You can see the centre booming, you can see the City Hall square, unlike anything else in the country, and Cabbagetown, which I understand was once the only Anglo-Saxon slum in North America. It is saved and restored, as if to say that there is still a life worth living in the core of the city, and there’s Kensington Market. I remember going through those side streets after I became prime minister, feeling a little uncertain and withdrawn because I thought in a market I might just be reduced to “squeezing the flesh” – that distancing that’s so debilitating to any politician – and instead I was charmed, carried away by the natural vitality of the place and I found myself holding a chicken aloft by the neck, mock-haggling with the storekeepers. You could see right there how the city had changed, all those different faces that had come together, a man’s eyes with the light of the Black Sea in them, and then another face from Lisbon, faces from all over, suddenly there together on that side street. They are the people of the place, and their voices are the voice of the place. I’ve never understood why a person would want to hear only one voice, one tone all his life, and now in Toronto a dozen different voices always surround you. This is how one of the hearts of a city seizes you.

         You see, those hearts are communities. I remember about six months ago, when I saw the glass roofs of the Eaton Centre, I said, “We’ve got to go in there, we’ve got to take time from these political meetings and just walk around there.” That’s what we did, and we discovered that it, too, is a kind of community centre, with people moving about comfortably no matter how harsh the cold outside. One of the things that struck me was the greenery, the plants, as if there had to be a part of those ravines close to the heartbeat of the people. The fact is, Toronto has become a city alive in the day and at night. It’s a city taking hold of its own potential.

         This is what touches me in a city. As people begin to discover their potential, you begin to discover them. You pass through the physical city and you try to find your own place in it, but then you realize that the place is in the process of being defined by the people who live there; big buildings are going up and people are being drawn into the canyons. But in Toronto there always seems to be enough open space and sunlight so that the people aren’t lost in shadows. And suddenly it’s a pleasing and exciting city, surprising as you see it develop, asserting its own special character.

         I have to confess, you see, that Toronto has surprised me. If I look back about 10 years, when I was beginning as prime minister, I was amazed to see building going on in Toronto because in my mind Montréal was the city that always had buildings going up. But suddenly Toronto was growing, too. Then, the same thing happened with the people.

         I suppose, in a sense, my surprise is shared across the country: Toronto is still called Hogtown, largely because it was Hogtown and the people had the reputation of being straight-laced and rather boring. Hogtown is a legend with real roots. There was something sour and sullen about the place. It was hard to meet anyone outside the little group you happened to be with – what someone once called the town’s secret living-room culture – and city life seemed to mean little more than working and going back to live in the seclusion of your home, the safety of your home (though Toronto has always been one of the safest cities in the world).

         But now, all this has changed. Anyone who cares to look can see it. The people are coming out into the streets and they’re beginning to develop a spirit. You can’t create spirit through any kind of boosterism. Spirit is one thing a manufacturing city cannot manufacture. It springs out of itself, out of the people, and the people of Toronto are no longer Hogtown. As I look back, I think the coldness I used to feel was all just a matter of process, of building quietly, of getting the heartbeat going, because now, when I am in some small eating place that feels warm, like someone’s living room, when I’m with one of my friends, say Marshall McLuhan or Peter Stollery, or when I’m at a friend’s house and there’s a little musical group after supper, perhaps Liona Boyd plays for us, a woman of remarkable talent, I know that I’m there as myself. The city gives me that sense of freedom. I’m at home; I’m not a foreigner looking for a place to hang my hat or my hopes, and I think, as I’m sure others do, “Gee, what a nice place it is.” A city, if it has a heart, should make you feel at ease, at ease with yourself. Now I feel at home in Toronto, so the heartbeat must be there, for me, for thousands.

         I remember one day when some of those thousands had come together to see Pelé play soccer. Everybody in the stadium seemed to be Italian or Hungarian or Portuguese or German or Pakistani, people from everywhere. It seemed to be a stadium of the world in a city of the world. It was bigger than any narrow group though they were there in their groupings, and they’d all come out to see Pelé, to see a unique man, to applaud him, to feel bigger because of him. The taste for excellence, the large thing, was there.

         On this theme, I would say Toronto is developing a pride in itself that is due and merited. That would, however, be a terrible stage to stop at, becoming smugly proud of being the biggest metropolis in Canada because you have the biggest financial centre and the theatres and the opera and the coffee shops and the media centres and a press that’s alive. And I say that about the press, even though we sometimes have our differences, because there are still three newspapers in Toronto, a fact true of too few cities in North America. That means people are reading. I’m not fond of the age of television and if people read newspapers that’s good, because it probably also means that they’re reading magazines and books. Our civilization must preserve the ability to read. It’s disappearing so rapidly, even among our students, but the multidimensional media are a hopeful sign for Toronto, a hopeful sign for all of us. Toronto should be proud of all these things. It’s great to be proud of your city and community because that permits you to go on and accomplish things.

         But, and I don’t want suddenly to sound like a spoilsport in the midst of my enthusiasm, it seems to me that Toronto is at that point where it has to go beyond being proud of itself and pleased with the sound of its own heartbeat. People should sort of say, “Okay, this is our springboard. Now what do we do with it?” I haven’t sensed that yet in too many areas in Toronto, that real leap of confidence. I still notice a defensive negativism, as if too many people feel it is easier to be a bit cynical about the future of a country, or a province or the economy or whatever. Cynicism, like irony, is all too often a refusal to realize the possibilities of your dreams about yourself, because there is a risk; you have to say, “Here I am and I’m not afraid.” I happen to believe that the people of Toronto will get over their sometimes glib cynicism, that fear of risking excellence, and they will say, “Okay, let’s just turn ourselves outward with great confidence.”

         One way they could do that was put very nicely to an acquaintance of mine by Marie-Claire Blais, the novelist from Québec who lived a long time on Cape Cod. She said that the Toronto-Montréal axis – only an hour-long hop by air – was now richer for her than the tie between New York and Boston, that legendary culture linkage full of ferment. What a fresh way of looking at the possibilities of our community life. However, Mlle Blais made a particular point: You have to have the courage of your imagination to step into both cultural camps. You have to want to be bigger than you are. Rather than that eternal rivalry and pettiness that moves back and forth, we should sort of shake hands along the St. Lawrence and say, “Look, we’re big enough to look to the future together, to exchange between ourselves, like Boston and New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles, London and Edinburgh, Paris and Marseilles, Rome and Milan. Those are the possibilities that are open to us if we’ll only seize them.”

         But someone has to show courage and leadership. It can’t just be the mayor of Toronto and the mayor of Montréal shaking hands at Grey Cups. The people of Toronto have to say, “Gee, we’re an exciting city but there’s also this exciting city down in Montréal. Let’s go and walk the streets, let’s see what we can see, let’s have the curiosity to look into things outside ourselves and, above all, let’s forget our timidity.” This goes for Montréalers, too, who still think Toronto is Hogtown with nothing to do and no place to eat, which, as I said, it is not. Only someone wearing blinkers would say that, someone afraid to look. But neither is Montréal a hub of animosity toward les Anglais. That’s not true, and Torontonians should be wise enough and big enough to find out for themselves that it isn’t true. They should consider the possibilities: Marshall McLuhan and Pierre Dansereau, Marie-Clair Blais and Margaret Atwood, Morley Callaghan and Jacques Ferron, William Ronald and Jean-Paul Lemieux, Harry Somers and Robert Charlebois; if only they would all come out to play with each other, full not only of pride but confidence, what wonderful things they could say, and what wonderful things they could reveal about their cities, and how surprised we would all be to discover how interesting we are. But the risk has to be taken, with self-assurance and not petty cynicism. Just as Toronto should at last open its arms wide to the lake, really take the lake into itself, so too the people should open up to the whole of the country; and Toronto will become the great city it can be if the will and the courage are there.


         During the campaign of 1979, as he crossed the country, Trudeau continued to seem slat-footed and distracted: He was being humped in the polls by “Joe Who?” His advisors at MacLaren in Toronto decided that unless he gave a “heartfelt” speech – “ a speech in which he is not aloof and half-dead on his feet” to launch the last week of the campaign, a speech that would be televised to the nation from Maple Leaf Gardens, “then the fat lady can uncross her legs, it’s over. We’re gonna lose. Fucked, we are!”

         Jerry asked me if I would write the speech. I had something more than one week. I decided to turn Trudeau’s private disappointment with his beautiful young Margaret into a metaphor for the public’s disappointment with him. Discreet but direct, I took up every major social and political question – particularly Québec – as if each were a sorrow he had to share with his family, his neighbours, the electorate. At the end of the week I read the speech to Jerry. When I was through there were tears in his eyes.

         Maybe the speech was great, maybe it wasn’t. Jerry was an easy weep.

         So I wondered and we waited.

         As the days passed, Senator Keith Davey, the “rainmaker,” the eminence in Ottawa, could not say whether Trudeau was going to read the speech. The Toronto advisors started pushing their noses into their hands.

         On the night of the speech, we sat at the south end of the Gardens: among us, a senator who had recently come out of the closet, several local MPs hoping to ride Trudeau’s coat-tails, my father, Morley, and Jerry Goodis. The Ottawa word had come. He was going to read the speech. Sixteen thousand people were on their feet roaring as he stepped to the podium, opening his arms to the crowd. “Tonight,” he said, “I want to speak to you very personally…” Jerry clutched my hand.”… personally, so that I can touch the private…” He paused. “… the private places in the heart… the private places of the heart in this great land, that is strong…” Jerry moaned. “The land is strong…” Trudeau went on to deliver his usual speech about the land, bereft of sentiment, timing, twist of phrase or turn of thought, the speech of a politician trying to please. Jerry looked at me, ill with disappointment. “The check will be in the mail,” he said.