Pierre Elliott Trudeau

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In 1659, the first of the Trudeau family would arrive in New France, beginning the line of the family that would produce two prime ministers. Etienne Trudeau arrived on Sept. 7 of that year, and by 1663 was a master-carpenter. He and his wife would have 14 children, with most staying in the area.

Over the course of the next 200 years, the Trudeau family would have a growing impact on what would be Canada. Solime Cardinal Trudeau would become the mayor of Saint-Constant, Quebec and his son Joseph Trudeau would work as a farmer in Quebec. Joseph was semi-literate, but his wife Malvina was the daughter of a mayor and she pushed for her sons to have a good education. Thanks to that, her son, Charles-Emile Trudeau would become a notable lawyer and built a fortune by building gas stations around Montreal and creating the Automobile Owners’ Association. By 1932, that association had 15,000 members that used the 30 stations of Trudeau, which he would sell for $1 million. Ironically, Charles-Emile was a strong supporter of the Conservative Party, the party his son would oppose his entire life.

Trudeau’s mother, Grace Elliott was born into a prosperous Montreal family to Phillip Elliot, an Anglican Loyalist descendant and Sarah-Rebecca Sauve, a French-Canadian Roman Catholic. Grace would attend a convent school and was then placed in the Dunham Ladies College. Bilingual, she spoke and wrote in French, but typically preferred to use English. As a result, the Trudeau home would use English for the most part, rather than French.

To Grace and Joseph, Pierre Elliott Trudeau was born on Oct. 18, 1919. In the family, Trudeau would have a sister Suzette and a brother Charles Jr., both of whom he would remain close to for the rest of his life.

The family was well off thanks to the wealth of Charles-Emile, who also owned the Montreal Royals, the minor-league baseball team that Jackie Robinson would play for in the 1940s. The family lived in an unpretentious home, but also had a maid and chauffeur. Until 1968, when he moved into 24 Sussex Drive, Trudeau would always see that house as his building.

Trudeau’s father Charles was quite skilled when it came to investing, but he also had his rough edges and would often gamble well into the night. He would often go between winning big and losing big, and the family remembered his long absences. At the same time, when he was home, he was an affectionate father who doted on Pierre, while also demanding of him in reaching his potential.

Sadly, the family would be struck by tragedy when Charles-Emile died from pneumonia in 1935 while in Orlando, Florida. Pierre, and each of his two siblings, would inherit $5,000, or nearly $100,000 today. Considering it was The Great Depression, that was no small amount for a 16-year-old to have. The hard living of his father would have a noticeable impact on Pierre, who for the rest of his life did not gamble, disdained smoking, rarely drank and would avoid wild parties. For the rest of his life though, he always had pride in his father and his success in business.

As a boy, Trudeau would attend primary school, where he excelled in mathematics and religion. From an early age, he was also fluent in both English and French. His upbringing was often at odds with his classmates. In class he cheered at the result of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham and challenged what he saw as patriots in Quebec, as well as students who attacked bilingualism. The students would often call him Americanized and Anglicized, and Trudeau would write in his diary that he was proud of his English blood.

In his teen years, Trudeau would attend the College Jean-de-Brebeuf, a prestigious secondary school used by the elite Francophone families in Quebec. As a teenager, Trudeau had more money than most families in Canada did, and he would often take long canoe trips through the Canadian shield or drive his motorcycle in a wild manner. He was also generous, buying his classmates books, records, and concert tickets that they could not afford.

In his final academic year, Trudeau put his efforts into obtaining a Rhodes Scholarship. In his application, he wrote that he wanted to get into public office, and he studied public speaking. He also received letters of recommendations from several individuals.

Father Boulin, the head of the school, would write that during his time in the school, Trudeau had won, quote:

“hundreds of prizes and honourable mentions and performed with distinction in all fields.”

Despite this, Trudeau would not receive the Rhodes Scholarship he desired. At this point, he decided to start looking at his options for his future and on the advice of various individuals, including former MP Henri Bourassa, he decided he wanted to pursue a career in politics, beginning with earning a degree in law.  

Trudeau would attend the Universite de Montreal from 1940 to 1943. Later in life, he would write that the death of his father and the outbreak of the Second World War were the two great bombshells that marked his teenage years.

He would write in his early 20s, quote:

“So, there was a war? Tough. It would not stop me from concentrating on my studies so long as that was possible. If there were a French Canadian in Montreal at the time, you did not automatically believe that this was a just war. In Montreal in the early 1940s, we still knew nothing about the Holocaust, and we tended to think of this as a settling of scores among the superpowers.”

Trudeau was heavily opposed to conscription, as were most in Quebec at the time, and he would campaign for Jean Drapeau, who ran on an anti-conscription platform.

As a student, Trudeau would join, reluctantly, the Canadian Officers’ Training Corp, training at a local armoury during the school term and getting further training at Camp Farnham each summer.

In his opposition to conscription, he would take the streets to oppose the plebiscite on April 27, 1942. In November, during the federal by-election in his area, he gave a fiery speech against conscription, and called for revolution. A lot of this was because he was being heavily influenced by Father Hertel, who was renowned for his writings and who encouraged Pierre to read philosophers like Jacques Maritain.

Soon enough, the revolutionary spirit for Trudeau began to wane. He was pressed by Father Hertel to take on the editorship of the nationalist journey that promoted the idea of Quebec independence. At this point, Trudeau found that he did not agree with that notion and his relationship with Father Hertel would slowly fade in time.

Trudeau would article in law from 1943 to 1944 following his graduation from university. He had found law boring to study, but he still finished at the top of his class. He was also looking for a change of scenery and that would result in his attending of Harvard University to gain his master’s in political economy. It was there that he began to see the war in a different light, saying later in life that he saw the historic importance and that he had, quote:

“Missed one of the major events of the century in which I was living.”

Influenced by his teachers, many who had left Europe as the Nazis took over, he began to change his views. He would become intrigued by liberal and democratic traditions and the separation of the spiritual from the secular in public life. He would write, quote:

“The spiritual will have the decisive voice in education, consultative in action.”

In his dissertation at Harvard, Trudeau would write it on the topic of Marxism, communism, and Christianity but he would pause his work on it due to his feelings of isolation attending a primarily Protestant university as a French Catholic. In 1947, he decided to work on his dissertation in Paris, and while there he attended the Institut d’Eduted Politques de Paris. His dissertation would remain unfinished as Trudeau then moved on to the London School of Economics to enter the doctoral program. While he did not finish his dissertation for the School of Economics, his time there cemented in him the belief that social sciences and Keynesian economics were essential to creating a good life in a democratic society.

After attending three schools, and still wondering about his future, Trudeau decided to travel the world to find his purpose. He justified the trip as research for his thesis, but there is no evidence he worked on the topic. He would travel to Poland and visit Auschwitz, then throughout Eastern Europe, into the Middle East and down into Iraq. In Jordan, he was thrown in jail as a suspected Jewish spy, and in Iraq he eluded thieves who wanted to relieve him of his items. Using his British passport rather than his Canadian passport, he visited Pakistan, India, China, and Japan, wearing clothes that helped him blend into the society he was visiting. In Shanghai, he was able to get out of the country before it fell to the Communist Army of Chairman Mao. He would return to China in a couple decades though, but we will get to that.

Trudeau returned to Quebec in 1949 after being gone for five years, feeling that his mind had been broadened. Upon his return, he found himself appalled at the nationalism in Quebec and the authoritarianism of the province’s government.

He would write that coming back to Quebec and see that it was at, quote:

“A turning point in its entire religious, political, social and economic history.”

He would find himself becoming a leading figure in opposition of Maurice Duplessis, the premier of Quebec, who he felt led a repressive rule over the province through the domination of the Catholic Church. Trudeau would support the workers during the Asbestos Strike, wearing a beard and marching in shorts and a head cloth with the strikers. The miners would call him St. Joseph and he was arrested by the police and soon returned to Montreal. The strike would have a long impact on Trudeau.

Due to his support of the strikers, he was blacklisted by the government and could not teach law at the Universite de Montreal. Instead, he became a civil servant in 1949, impressing his boss with his devotion to working long hours. At the same time, his socialist ideals and his criticism of Cold War alliances did not endear him to others in Ottawa. Typically, Trudeau would work the week in Ottawa and spend the weekend in Montreal. In 1950 began to work for the federal government in the Privy Council Office of Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent.

In the summer of 1951, he wrote an anonymous attack on the Canadian involvement in the Korean War and quit his job and returned to Montreal.

Around this same time, he would co-found and edit Cite Libre, a journal that provided an intellectual basis for the growing Quiet Revolution in the province. His influence on the publication was immense from the start and he would write about functional politics, and he urged Quebec to open itself to the world. He would tell Quebec to, quote:

“borrow the functional discipline from architecture, to throw to the winds those many prejudices with which the past has encumbered the present and to build for the new man. Better yet, let us consider them null and void. Let us be coolly intelligent.”

While the publication was only printed on an irregular basis, the government still saw its editors as dangerous and subversive. Even Father Hertel would even write a savage attack on an article Trudeau had written and the article was condemned by the Archbishop of Montreal.

Throughout the 1950s, Trudeau was blacklisted by the United States and could not enter the country because he visited a conference in Moscow, and he subscribed to publications that were seen as left-wing by the government.

As the decade went on, Trudeau would remain consistent in his dislike of the Cold War, and his belief there was a middle way between the fervor of anti-communism and the stern communism of the Soviets. He continued to believe that Francophones had to strengthen the technical, scientific, and social science sectors of the society. He would often look disdainfully on the provincial government, calling the provincial government corrupt and socially regressive, and the federal government ignoring the French even though it had a Francophone leader in Louis St. Laurent.

One thing could be said of Trudeau, he had harsh views for both the French and English. He would write, quote:

“Historically, French Canadians have not really believed in democracy for themselves and English Canadians have not really wanted it for others.”

When Duplessis died in 1959, it was clear that times were slowly beginning to change in Quebec, allowing Trudeau new opportunities in his career choices.

From 1961 to 1965, Trudeau served as the Associate Professor of Law at the Universite de Montreal. During this time, Trudeau would often speak of his admiration for labour unions, his dislike of Quebec nationalism. In 1962, Trudeau was leaning towards joining the Liberal party and turning to federal politics at the urging of Jean Marchand, but he would soon decide against this due to Lester Pearson supporting the Bormac missiles on Canadian soil. He would call Pearson a, quote:

“Defrocked prince of peace.”

On Sept. 10, 1965, Trudeau made the decision to run for the House of Commons, choosing the Mount Royal riding. Many of those close to Trudeau were not only shocked but angered at this decision. His colleagues at Cite Libre would write their disapproval in the pages of the publication, and in articles published elsewhere.

While campaigning, he would state his views on nationalism when he said, quote:

“I believe a constitution can permit the co-existence of several cultures and ethnic groups with a single state.”

In the federal election that year, he picked up 55.6 per cent of the vote, beginning his long career in Parliament. As for why he chose the Liberal Party, considering he did criticize it previously, it was because he did not believe the Federal NDP, who more aligned with his beliefs, would be able to achieve power.

In his first term in Parliament, Lester B. Pearson offered Trudeau the role as parliamentary secretary, which he refused. Marchand then told him he had made a mistake, and Trudeau would accept the position. He would spend much of his first year travelling, representing Canada at international meetings and at the United Nations.

In 1967, Trudeau was appointed to the high-profile post of Minister of Justice. In that role, he was given the responsibility of introducing the landmark Criminal Law Amendment Act. While many in the party were hesitant about Trudeau taking on this portfolio since they believed he had a playboy lifestyle, he quickly impressed them with his strong work ethic and discipline. This act would have an immense impact on Canada that lasts to this day. The act would decriminalize homosexual acts between consenting adults, contraception would be legalized, as would abortion, lotteries. New restrictions would be put on gun ownership, and breathalyzer tests were authorized.

In one famous interview, Trudeau would defend the act, stating, quote:

“There’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation. What’s done in private between adults doesn’t concern the criminal code.”

At the end of 1967, Prime Minister Pearson announced he was going to step down as leader, and Trudeau, only two years into his Parliamentary career, entered the race for leadership. He came to the decision while on vacation in Tahiti, where he had met Margaret Sinclair, the daughter of a former Liberal cabinet minister. More on her later. Even this choice to run as leader was not taking lightly by Trudeau, who enjoyed having the privacy that was important to him. In the end, Trudeau felt that due to the issues of bilingualism and biculturalism, and the growing unrest in Quebec, Canada was going to go through its greatest crisis, and he had no time to step aside from that, thus he chose to run.

While many may have thought that Trudeau did not have a chance as a new MP, they were very wrong. The growing base of young voters saw Trudeau as energetic and innovative, and Trudeau received a great deal of media coverage, making him the front-runner with the Canadian public. For many, Trudeau was a generational change.

Newfoundland Premier Joey Smallwood would say quote:

“Pierre is better than Medicare, the lame have only to touch his garments to walk again.”

Pearson, who Trudeau often disagreed with, would help Trudeau raise his profile in English Canada by sending him on a tour of the provincial capitals.

Within the Liberal Party, the view of Trudeau was mixed. Many had issues with what they felt were radical views on abortion, divorce, and homosexuality. Judy LaMarsh, an important member of the Liberal Party, was accidently caught on camera saying that Trudeau was not a Liberal, with some profanity mixed in. Many voters saw Trudeau as a swinging bachelor, and he would go on to date Barbara Streisand in 1969.

On the first ballot, Trudeau would pick up 31.8 per cent of the vote, followed by 40.8 per cent in the second ballot. On the third ballot, he had 44.6 per cent of the vote. On the fourth ballot, he would go up against Robert Winters, who would die the following year, and John Turner, a future prime minister himself. In that ballot, Trudeau won with 51.1 per cent of the vote, becoming the 15th Prime Minister of Canada. On April 20, 1968, Trudeau was sworn in as prime minister. Thus, began his time in office that was only exceeded by Sir John A. Macdonald and Sir Wilfrid Laurier.

Trudeau would not waste any time, calling an election for June 25 to capitalize on a Liberal party that was seeing its popularity increase thanks to Trudeau. During the campaign, Trudeaumania gripped the country as young people began to rally around him as a nonconformist, who had charm and good looks. Unlike many prime ministers, he was often stopped in the street to sign autographs and take pictures. His opponent Robert Stanfield quickly found himself falling behind as Trudeau captured the minds of the nation. Trudeau would go to campaign stops and not kiss babies, but beautiful women. He would be photographed doing jackknife dives off a diving board clad in only a European speedo. With his trim and fit body, honed by years of Judo and canoeing, Canadians saw a prime minister who was unlike any they had seen in their lifetime.

One of the most notable incidents that cemented his legacy with young people at the time occurred on the Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day, June 24, in Montreal. Seated for the parade in the grandstand, Quebec separatists began to throw rocks and bottles at him. While his aides took cover and told him to do the same, Trudeau stayed seated without moving. The incident could not have come at a better time. Many in Canada saw Trudeau as showing courage, and the election was the next day. In that election, Trudeau’s Liberals took 131 seats, up from 27, and gained the Liberals their first majority since the days of Louis St. Laurent. In Quebec, he captured 56 of 74 seats. In his riding, Trudeau won by a landslide with 90 per cent of the vote, 36,000 more votes than the next challenger.

In choosing his cabinet, Trudeau was commended for having the strongest-ever Francophone presence. MPs from Quebec filled roles in national defense, secretary of state, industry, trade and commerce and forestry.

In 1969, Trudeau implemented the Official Languages Act, which officially made Canada a bilingual nation. This move was widely criticized in Western Canada and in other areas of English Canada. It would be at this moment that Trudeau would begin to face western alienation, an issue that has only grown. The implementation of the act would see the francophone proportion of the civil service and military double by 1976, which made some anglophones feel disadvantaged.

One of the biggest challenges that Trudeau would face in his time in office came only two years into his first term. The October Crisis erupted in 1970, and I covered this in detail on my podcast so find that episode on my website for an in-depth look at it. In the crisis, British diplomat James Cross and Quebec cabinet minister Pierre Laporte were kidnapped by the FLQ, who were a militant branch of the Quebec independence movement. To deal with the crisis, Trudeau invoked the War Measures Act, the only time it had ever been invoked during peacetime and it gave the government sweeping powers for arrest, detention and censorship. Sadly, Laporte would be murdered before he could be found, while Cross would be released and returned to England. For Trudeau, many questioned his use of the War Measures Act and its impact on democracy in Canada. The entire event would lead to the iconic interview with CBC in which Trudeau said “Just Watch Me” when asked how far he would go.

The use of the War Measures Act was highly controversial, and Trudeau’s decision would become part of his legacy for the rest of his life, while increasing his detractors and opponents. In his memoirs he would defend the action as the only way to keep the situation from descending into chaos. When writing about his comment of Just Watch Me, he stated that it was an indication of his determination to maintain the rule of law in Canada.

Among Canadians though, the actions of Trudeau were generally seen favourable, 87 per cent were favourable to it in a poll done after the crisis.

On Feb. 16, 1971, there was a minor scandal in the House of Commons when opposition MPs accused Trudeau of saying F-off during a debate. When asked about the matter, the press asked, quote:

“What were you thinking, when you moved your lips?”

Trudeau would respond, quote:

“What is the nature of your thoughts gentlemen, when you say fuddle duddle or something like that. God you guys.”

Years later in 2015, Justin Trudeau would state that his father did not say fuddle duddle, but in fact said the F-word.

On Oct. 8, 1971, Trudeau and Parliament would officially recognize Canada as having two official languages, and a multicultural policy within a bilingual framework.

In international affairs, Trudeau would keep Canada in NATO, but he reduced the military commitment of Canada and he pushed Canada to have an independent path in international relations. One controversial move was opening diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China, which happened before the United States did. He would also make an official visit to the country. While the United States had an embargo against Cuba, Trudeau would become a friend of Fidel Castro. When John Lennon and Yoko Ono came to Canada on their tour of world peace in 1969, Trudeau would meet with the couple, the first world leader to do so, at the Centre Block on Parliament Hill. The three would meet for 51 minutes behind closed doors. When Lennon was asked about the meeting, he would state, quote:

“We spent about 50 minutes together, which was longer than he had spent with any head of state. If all politicians were like Mr. Trudeau, there would be world peace.”

Not every world leader was a fan of Trudeau. President Nixon had a profound dislike of Trudeau, while Trudeau barely concealed his distrust of the American foreign policy.

Trudeau also protested apartheid in South Africa, declaring an arms embargo against the country in 1970. He would follow that up when he withdrew from a trade assistance program in 1979 that eliminated the preferential tariff that South Africa had since 1932.

In 1971, Trudeau married Margaret Sinclair, the woman he had met years previous while debating becoming the leader of the Liberal Party. Pierre and Margaret instantly became the most famous couple in Canada. Together, the couple would have three sons, Alexandre, Michel and Justin, someone who I will be doing an episode on down the line.

Trudeau would go through his second election in 1972, but by this point Trudeaumania was over and it would show in the polls. The Liberals lost 38 seats, falling to 109, while the Conservatives rose 34 to 107. In his riding, Trudeau had 80.6 per cent of the vote. This gave Trudeau a minority government operating on the thinnest of lines. The Liberals campaigned on the slogan of “The Land is Strong” with television ads showing the scenery of Canada. The slogan was widely mocked, and there were several issues on the campaign. As a result, it was felt that the Liberal campaign was one of the worst managed in decades. With the minority government, the Liberals need the support of the NDP, which pushed the party to the left. This coalition in Parliament would lead to the creation of Petro-Canada. With the oil reserves of Alberta mostly controlled by American corporations, the company was created by the Liberals and NDP as it was felt the corporations were geared to American markets, not Canadian and brought no benefit to Canadians.

In May of 1974, Parliament was dissolved due to a motion of no confidence after the Liberals budget bill was defeated. Trudeau knew the opposition would not support the bill, and with its failure, the election he wanted would be triggered. In that election, the main issue was the economic recession in Canada. The campaign in 1974 would differ greatly from 1972 and Trudeau was joined on the campaign trail with his family. In the July 8 election, the Liberals regained 32 seats, finishing with 141, while the Conservatives fell to 95. This gave Trudeau a majority government again. One telling sign from this election was that the party gained no seats in Alberta, as Premier Peter Lougheed was an opponent of the 1974 budget. This would be a trend that would continue for the next four decades in federal politics with Alberta. The win would see Robert Stanfield resign as the leader of the Conservative Party, bringing in a man named Joe Clark.

With Trudeaumania long gone, many praised the victory by Trudeau. The Globe and Mail would write that the election was a tribute, quote:

“Not to Trudeaumania but to the work, effort and energy that he put into his campaign.”

The election would come at a great personal cost for Trudeau though. His wife Margaret would write, quote:

“My rebellion started in 1974.”

She added that after she had campaigned so well for Trudeau and travelled with him on the election circuit, quote:

“Something in me broke. I felt that I had been used.”

In his third term, Trudeau brough in wage and price controls to deal with inflation, something he had promised not to do originally. The Anti-Inflation Act was unpopular in many provinces, who felt that it was the role of the provinces, not the federal government to implement such measures.

Trudeau also increased the profile of Canada on the world stage by joining the G7 at the request of President Gerald Ford.

On July 14, 1976, after over a decade with a de facto ban on capital punishment, Canada banned the death penalty. The bill would be passed 130 to 124 and featured a long debate in the House of Commons. Capital punishment would remain in place in the military for crimes such as spying for the enemy.

The federal government relationship with Quebec would not improve during the third term of Trudeau, and he began to show anger towards the nationalist attitude he perceived in Quebec over issues such as bilingualism. He also did not get along at all with Premier Bourassa. When Bourassa lost the 1976 provincial election to Rene Levesque, it did not improve matters as Trudeau and Levesque were rivals and Levesque and his Parti Quebecois had a mandate of hosting a referendum on independence.

For Trudeau, this was a difficult time as his marriage continued to fail. The English press covered it in detail, and Trudeau saw his poll numbers increase, but his aides stated he was often emotional and prone to outbursts during this time. Trudeau and Margaret would separate in 1976. For Margaret, she found that Trudeau spent most of his time working and had little time for his family. She would feel trapped and bored in the marriage as a result.

That same year, Canada was about to host its first Olympics, being held in Montreal. Trudeau would ban Taiwan from participating in the Olympics due to pressure from China. The decision was met with wide condemnation from the United States, the IOC and even in Canada.

While there were hiccups in his relationship with the United States, Trudeau had a much better relationship with Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter than he did with Nixon.

On May 7, 1977, an incident would occur that has become one of the most famous images of Trudeau in history. After meeting with Queen Elizabeth II and several leaders at Buckingham Palace. As the Queen walked away, Trudeau did a spin with his arm extended in the air. A photo was taken of the incident and it became international news when it was printed. The photographer had caught the photo by chance, after seeing the prime minister staring at his feet and then do a spin, shrug his shoulders, and walk off to join the others at dinner. In 1979, Doug Ball asked Trudeau at a campaign stop if he was drunk, and Trudeau responded, quote:

“No, no. I had a couple of drinks in there, but I wasn’t drunk.”

Knowing his numbers were down, Trudeau would wait as long as he could to call an election, which he did in 1979, two months shy of the five-year limit imposed by the British North America Act.

The campaign was not a good one for the Liberals and Trudeau was often surrounded by picket lines and protestors at photo-ops. While the Conservatives were ahead in the polls, many felt that Trudeau was a better leader than Clark. The Liberal party decided to capitalize on the image of Trudeau, having him take on an image of almost a gunslinger, having him stand, quote:

“alone, feet apart, thumbs hooked under his belt, with no podium or speaker’s text, appearing to think on his feet and ready to take on all comers.”

On May 22, 1979, the Liberals lost 19 seats and fell to 114, while the Conservatives rose 38 seats to 136. Joe Clark was the new Prime Minister of Canada and the 11 years in power came to an end for Trudeau, albeit briefly. Most of the Liberal support had come from Quebec, where they took 67 seats, which disagreements or not, was always a Liberal stronghold. In the west, the Liberals took only three seats, two of which were in Manitoba.

On Nov. 21, Trudeau announced his resignation as leader of the party, stating to the press quote:

“I’m kind of sorry I won’t have you to kick around anymore.”

That may have been where the story of Trudeau ended but only three weeks after this announcement, the Conservatives’ budget bill was defeated in the House of Commons and a general election was called automatically. Persuaded to stay on as leader, Trudeau would run in another election. The campaign would be run differently this time, with the party underplaying Trudeau’s role and keeping media appearances to a minimum, including not having a televised debate.

On Feb. 18, 1980, Trudeau’s Liberals took 33 seats, while the Conservatives fell 33 seats, giving the Liberals a majority government and Trudeau was back in power. In that election Ontario went back to the Liberals, while no seat west of Manitoba was won by the Liberals. In Quebec, Trudeau took 74 of 75 seats.

In his victory speech he would say, quote:

“Well, welcome to the 1980s.”

He would end his speech by quoting Robert Frost, saying quote:

“But I have promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep.”

During this term in office, Trudeau would deal with many things.

First, the Quebec Referendum was held over the issue of separating from Canada. Trudeau immediately got the federal government involved, and appointed Jean Chretien as the spokesman for the No side as he would appeal more to working class voters. Rene Levesque stated that Trudeau was more Scottish than French. In response, Trudeau gave a speech in which he praised the virtues of federalism and questioned the language of the referendum question. He also promised a new constitutional agreement if Quebec stayed in Canada.

He would say, quote:

“I was told that no more than two days ago, Mr. Levesque was saying that part of my name is Elliott, and since Elliott is an English name, it was perfectly understandable that I was for the No side because, really, you see, I was not much of a Quebecer as those who are going to vote Yes. That, my dear friends, is what contempt is.”

Trudeau was able to keep Canada united, a milestone for him in his lifelong quest against separatism, with 60 per cent of voters choosing No. This event would inspire Trudeau to accomplish one of his biggest goals, a Canadian constitution.

Trudeau would say later, that he had never, quote:

“been so proud to be a Quebecer and a Canadian.”

At this same time, the United States was being led by the conservative Ronald Reagan, and while Trudeau and Reagan differed in their philosophies, they got along well. They would often go skiing together. That being said, Trudeau found Reagan difficult to take seriously, often treating him like a nice but dull student in their meetings together.

Trudeau would get down to work on the new constitution, but first he would implement the National Energy Program, one of the biggest government interventions in the economy since the Second World War. This program proved to be highly controversial and reviled in Western Canada and much like the Conscription Crisis of 1917 decimated Conservative support in Quebec for 50 years, the National Energy Program has done the same for Liberal support in Western Canada. Eventually, Alberta and the federal government reached a revenue-sharing agreement on energy in 1982. The damage in the west had been done though.

In 1982, the British Parliament passed an act ceding to the Canadian government the responsibility for amending the national charter. Trudeau would then chair several conferences with the premiers in the hopes of winning provincial support. He was able to get the NDP, the Ontario premier and the New Brunswick premier on his side, but the Progressive Conservatives and the remaining premiers opposed him.

Unable to gain provincial agreement on a new constitution, he went to Parliament with a unilateral federal initiative to patriate the British North America Act to Canada, along with an amending formula and an entrenched Charter of Rights and Freedoms. What followed was one of the biggest federal-provincial battles in Canadian history. The provincial governments would challenge the legality of the decision, which would result in a Supreme Court decision that upheld the decision of the federal government, but it was agreed that the provinces had to be consulted more. Trudeau then agreed to met with the premiers, and was able to reach an agreement with all the premiers except for Quebec, in which provincial governments could use the notwithstanding clause to protect some laws.

On April 17, 1982, the Canada Act, which included the Constitution Act of 1982 and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, was proclaimed by Queen Elizabeth II. The new constitution would also entrench minority language and education rights, and a charter of individual rights.

There were other bright spots in this term in office. Trudeau was able to persuade the leaders of both eastern and western bloc nations to negotiate a nuclear weapons reduction and to lower the tensions of the Cold War. For this action, he was awarded the Albert Einstein Peace Prize.

On the other side of the missile debate, his government allowed the United States to test cruise missiles in the country, which was widely opposed in Canada.

The economy continued to suffer during the early 1980s and inflation, high unemployment and large deficits were hurting the support of Trudeau. At the same time, Brian Mulroney was emerging as a popular leader of the Progressive Conservatives.

On Feb. 29, 1984, after stating he went for a walk in the snowy streets of Ottawa, Trudeau made the decision to announce his intention to retire. On June 30, 1984, left office, ending his 15 years in power. He would be replaced by John Turner.

The same year he retired from politics, Trudeau and Margaret were divorced and Trudeau became the first prime minister to become a single parent as a result of divorce. In 1984, he would date Margot Kidder for a brief time.

For the most part, Trudeau had a quiet retirement but would come out to speak on certain issues including his opposition to the Meech Lake Accord and the Charlottetown Accord. His speech regarding the Charlottetown Accord on Oct. 1, 1992 is credited with turning English Canada against the accord in the 1992 referendum. He would meet Mikhail Gorbachev in 1985.

In 1991, he became a father again with Deborah Margaret Coyne, who he had dated for years. Sarah Coyne, Trudeau’s only daughter, was born to the relationship.

In 1993, he published his memoirs, which became one of the most successful Canadian books ever published. In 1996 he published Against The Current, a collection of his writings from 1939 to 1996.

Tragedy would strike the Trudeau family in 1998 when his son Michel died in an avalanche.

During his later years, he would suffer from Parkinson’s disease and prostate cancer, and would leave his law practice in 2000.

On Sept. 28, 2000, after battle prostate cancer, Trudeau passed away at his home in Montreal. His funeral was attended by Jean and Aline Chretien, Jimmy Carter and Fidel Castro. His body would lay in state in the Centre Block of Parliament. His son Justin would give an emotional eulogy and many speculated that his son would follow his father into federal politics. As it turned out, that is what happened. In 2013, his son was elected leader of the Liberal Party and in 2015, became prime minister.

Today, Trudeau is regarded well by most Canadians. He has been called one of the most admired and most disliked of all Canadian prime ministers. In the west, he is called the father of Western alienation and many in places like Alberta felt that the policies he implemented favoured the east. Things were not helped when on a train trip in British Columbia, Trudeau gave the finger to a group of protestors outside of his train window. What is often forgotten is that the protestors were shouting anti-French slogans, rather than protesting alienation. In Quebec, his legacy is mixed due to the imposing of the War Measures Act, which was seen by an attack on democracy by many in Quebec.

The most enduring legacy of Trudeau is his contributions to Canadian nationalism and Canadian pride as more than just part of the British Commonwealth. There have been criticisms over the economic policies of Trudeau. When he came to power in 1968, the national debt was $18 billion, mostly left from the Second World War. By 1984, the debt was $200 billion. This trend was not unusual for western countries though. For the Indigenous, the Trudeau government attempted to abolish the Indian Act and eliminate Indian status, which was strongly opposed by the Indigenous of Canada. As a result, political activism of the Indigenous rose sharply in the 1970s.

In 1969, he would say, quote:

“We can go on treating the Indians as having special status. We can go on adding bricks of discrimination around the ghetto in which they live and at the same time perhaps helping them preserve certain cultural traits and certain ancestral rights but I don’t think that we should encourage the Indians to feel that their treaties should last forever within Canada, so that they be able to receive their twine or their gunpowder.”

On the other side of things, the Constitution Act of 1982 included Indigenous rights, and set out to improve education and economic development among the Indigenous.

The War Measures Act has been gone since the 1980s, but the use of it in 1970 still lingers over the legacy of Trudeau and there have been calls for his son, Justin Trudeau, to apologize for its use during the October Crisis.

While there were issues, there are many reasons why Trudeau is rated so highly among many Canadians. During his time in office, British Columbia experienced a boom as new markets were found for its minerals and the Roberts Bank, one of the largest ocean coal depots was built near Vancouver to send the province’s coal to Japan. In Saskatchewan, uranium and potash prices hit premiums that would bring in huge amounts of money. Ironically, Alberta would benefit greatly in the 1970s under Trudeau, when high oil prices brought a huge land and construction boom into the province. In the United Nations, Canada began to play a more active role, while also reaffirming its fishing rights and its sovereignty over the Arctic islands. Trudeau also moved Canada into the metric system over the course of the 1970s, a move that was highly controversial for the time but has helped Canada become more in line with the rest of the world, rather than with the United States.

In 1997 and 2011, Maclean’s ranked Trudeau as the fifth greatest prime minister in history. From 1968 to 1975, Trudeau was the Canadian Press Newsmaker of the Year every year, and two more times in 1978 and 2000. No other person has had the honour ten times, as Trudeau has. In 1999, he was named the Newsmaker of the 20th Century. Several schools are named for Trudeau, as is the airport in Montreal. In 2004, he was voted the third greatest Canadian in history in the CBC series The Greatest Canadian. In a poll done in 2020 to find the top prime minister since 1968, 33 per cent chose Trudeau, double the next closest of Stephen Harper, and far ahead of his son, Justin, who had 15 per cent.

Information comes from Canadian Encyclopedia, CTV, CBC, Biographi, Brittanica, Wikipedia, Canada Archives, The Government of Canada, Collections Canada, The Toronto Sun, Abby News,

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