Trudeau, Brezhnev used hockey for political gains
Pierre Elliot Trudeau and Leonid Brezhnev might not have had a lot in common, but a love of sports and a belief that sports, and in greater context culture, can play a vital role in the development of the nation.
Trudeau was an avid outdoorsman, but whether he was a true fan of professional sports in Canada only those close to him know. He was often seen at highly popular events such as big hockey games or CFL Grey Cup games. However it might have been more of a political posing moment than genuine interest.
But Trudeau had a very keen interest in developing sport in Canada. He saw sport and culture as a way of easing the national identity and unity issues that have to some degree always plagued politics in Canada.
In 1968 when he was elected into power he set up The Task Force on Sport for Canadians. While the mandate was broad, much of the focus was on hockey and specifically on why Canada wasn't doing well on the international hockey scene.
Meanwhile, over in Russia Leonid Brezhnev took a strikingly similar stance. He wanted Russian athletes to be the best in every sport. That would instil great pride in the nation and show the West that the Communist ways were working incredibly well.
Unlike Trudeau, there is no doubt that Brezhnev had a keen interest in hockey. He attended all 4 1972 Summit Series games attended in Moscow.
There always has been some speculation that Brezhnev might have abused his power to try to influence the outcome of the 1972 Summit Series. Off-ice games were being played by the Soviets - games such as disappearing food and beer imported from Canada for Canadian players; mysterious late night phone calls waking players up; and even reports of bugged hotel rooms. Some conspiracy-creators believe that a political higher up was behind this, perhaps even Brezhnev himself.
Did Team Canada Save Pierre Elliot Trudeau?
September 1972 featured Canada's two favorite past times at their dramatic heights. Obviously one was hockey and the 1972 Summit Series.
Canada's other favorite past time is politics. And in the fall of 1972 one of the most interesting federal elections in Canadian history took place on the heels of the 1972 Summit Series
But the question to be asked is how did the 1972 Summit Series effect the federal election of 1972?
The election was one of the most important in Canadian history because of the crossroads the country was at during this time. French-English relations were strained following the infamous FLQ crisis of 1970. This created much dissension across the fragmented country The country needed a strong leader.
Trudeau came to power in 1968. Using nationalism as his key campaign focus, he rode the wave of national pride that naturally arose following the 1967 Centennial anniversary celebrations. He landed an impressive majority government.
Over the next 4 years Trudeau would see his large support decrease. He angered many interests groups across the nation, especially in the West and separatist areas of Quebec.
Political pundits feared Trudeau's reign as leader could be done after just one term. The climate in 1972 wasn't likely to be receptive to Trudeau's nationalistic views which he was quick to re-use for his campaign in 1972.
One of his opportunities to promote himself was by using the 1972 Summit Series to his advantage. Nothing unites the country like hockey. Trudeau would be at the party atmosphere of the opening game for the ceremonial puck drop. He also took the rare opportunity to weigh in with his own opinion about something completely out of his political reach. He championed the popular public notion that the NHL should allow Bobby Hull to join Team Canada.
Trudeau's plan to be seen with Team Canada wasn't expected to be a major role in the election. It was little more than just a photo-posing opportunity. But when Team Canada found themselves heroically fighting for their hockey lives the nation rallied around them unlike any non-war event in the nation's history. And when Paul Henderson completed the comeback in Moscow, a sense of unparalleled nationalism swept across the country from sea to sea to sea.
Nothing could have been better for Trudeau. The nationalistic atmosphere had returned. Could it help Trudeau and his Liberal government stay in power?
Ultimately Trudeau would retain power. However he lost his majority government and clung to power with the slimmest of minorities. Trudeau's Liberals held 109 seats, while the Conservatives, led by the charisma-lacking Bob Stanfield, had 107 seats. (Note: Stanfield also attempted to use Team Canada to his advantage.
So the question is did the return to overwhelming Canadian nationalism courtesy of Paul Henderson and Team Canada allow Trudeau - who would go onto establish himself as perhaps the most popular leader in Canadian history - to stay in power?
The answer to that question is probably not. It is an interesting theory I have, but not being a political expert I have been unable to find another source that suggests such a thing.