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Pierre Trudeau

The Rt. Hon. Pierre Elliott Trudeau
Pierre Trudeau

Pierre Elliott Trudeau



First term

April 20, 1968–June 4,1979

Second term

March 3, 1980–June 30, 1984


Lester Bowles Pearson


Joe Clark

John Napier Turner

Date of birth

October 18, 1919

Place of birth

Montreal, Quebec

Date of death

September 28, 2000


Margaret Sinclair



Political party


The Right Honourable Joseph Philippe Pierre Yves Elliott Trudeau PC, CC, CH (October 18, 1919September 28, 2000) was the fifteenth Prime Minister of Canada from April 20, 1968 to June 3, 1979, and from March 3, 1980 to June 30, 1984. He was also the first Canadian prime minister born in the 20th century.

Trudeau was a charismatic figure who dominated the Canadian political scene, arousing passionate reactions. "He haunts us still", one biography begins. Admirers praise the force of Trudeau's intellect. They salute his political acumen in preserving national unity and bringing into force the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Detractors fault Trudeau for arrogance. They deplore economic policies that left the country with a huge national debt and criticize him for increasing a sense of political alienation in Western provinces. But few would dispute the assertion that Trudeau was a towering figure who helped re-define Canada.

A clever (some would say "cunning") politician, he led Canada through some of its most tumultuous times. He was often controversial. He wore Sandals in the House of Commons, dated celebrities such as Barbra Streisand, Kim Cattrall, Liona Boyd, and Margot Kidder, occasionally used obscenities to insult his opponents, and did a pirouette behind the back of Queen Elizabeth II on May 7, 1977. As prime minister, he patriated the Canadian Constitution from the British Parliament to Canada and incorporated in it the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.


Early life and career

Born in Montreal, Trudeau earned a law degree at the University of Montreal, and a master's in political economy at Harvard. During his attendance at the University of Montreal, Trudeau was conscripted into the Canadian Officers Training Corps under the wartime National Resources Mobilization Act of 1940 which saw him serving in the home guard while volunteers saw combat. Although willing to become involved in the war, he felt getting involved would be turning his back on a Quebec population he believed was betrayed by the Mackenzie King government. In a 1942 Outremont by-election he campaigned for the Quebec anti-conscription candidate Jean Drapeau (see Conscription Crisis of 1944) and was eventually expelled from the Officers' Training Corps for lack of discipline.

He then attended the École des Sciences Politiques in Paris and spent a year at the London School of Economics.

From the late 1940s through the mid-1960s Trudeau was primarily a Montreal-based intellectual. In 1949 he was an active supporter of workers in the Asbestos Strike. In 1956 he edited an important book on the subject (La grève de l'amiante), which argued that the strike was a seminal event in Quebec's history marking the beginning of resistance to the conservative, francophone clerical establishment and anglophone business class that had long ruled the province. Throughout the 1950s Trudeau was a leading figure in the opposition to the repressive rule of Maurice Duplessis as the founder and editor of Cité Libre, a dissident journal that helped provide the intellectual basis for the Quiet Revolution.

Trudeau had been sympathetic to Marxist ideas in the 1940s, and in the 1950s and early 1960s was a supporter of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation. However, his views evolved towards a liberal position in favour of individual rights counter to the state and made him an opponent of Quebec nationalism. Trudeau criticized the Liberals under Lester Pearson when they supported arming Bomarc nuclear missiles in Canada with nuclear warheads. Nevertheless, he was persuaded to join the party in 1965 with his friends Gérard Pelletier and Jean Marchand. The "three wise men" ran for the Liberals and were elected in 1965 with Trudeau being appointed two years later to Pearson's cabinet as minister of justice.

Justice minister

As justice minister Pierre Trudeau was responsible for removing laws against homosexuality from the Criminal Code of Canada, famously remarking, "The state has no business in the bedrooms of the nation." He also liberalized divorce laws and clashed with Quebec Premier Daniel Johnson, Sr., during constitutional negotiations.

At the end of Canada's centennial year in 1967, Prime Minister Pearson announced his intention to step down. Trudeau was persuaded to run for the Liberal leadership and ran an energetic campaign that mobilized and inspired many youths who had been influenced by the 1960s counterculture and saw Trudeau as a symbol of generational change.

At the April 1968 Liberal leadership convention Trudeau emerged victorious on the final ballot, defeating several prominent, long-serving Liberals including Paul Martin, Sr., Robert Winters and Paul Hellyer. Some wondered if he was too liberal and radical for the nation's top job, and his views led to some initial alienation from the party's conservative wing. However, he benefited from an unprecedented wave of personality popularity called Trudeaumania which saw Trudeau mobbed by throngs of youths. A significant moment in the 1968 federal election occurred during the annual Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day parade when rioting Quebec separatists threw rocks and bottles at the bandstand where Trudeau was seated. Defying his aides' pleas to take cover, Trudeau stayed in his seat fearlessly facing up to the rioters. The image of the young politician showing such courage impressed the Canadian populace and he handily won the election the next day.

Prime minister

As prime minister, Trudeau espoused participatory democracy as a means of making Canada a "Just Society." His desire for greater citizen involvement in government appears to have been frustrated by lack of support within his party, and he later opposed greater involvement for citizens in representative democracy. He vigorously defended the newly implemented universal health care and regional development programs as means of making society more just.

During the October Crisis of 1970, when FLQ terrorists kidnapped Quebec Labour Minister, Pierre Laporte (who was later murdered) and British Trade Consul James Cross, Trudeau responded by invoking the War Measures Act which put the nation under temporary martial law. Although this response is still controversial and was opposed as excessive by figures like Tommy Douglas, it was met with only limited objections from the public. Trudeau presented a determined public stance during the crisis, answering the question of how far he would go to stop the terrorists with "Just watch me!" Five of the FLQ terrorists were flown to Cuba in 1970 as part of a deal in exchange for James Cross' life, but all members were eventually arrested (the five flown to Cuba not until after they returned to Canada, years later).

In 1971 the bachelor prime minister married Vancouver socialite Margaret Sinclair, a woman who at 22 was less than half Trudeau's age. They had three children and enjoyed enormous press coverage before their well-publicized legal separation in 1977. Their divorce was finalized in 1984.

In the election of 1972, Trudeau's Liberal Party won with a minority government, with the New Democratic Party holding the balance of power. In the election of 1974, Trudeau was re-elected with a majority government. Trudeau's government policy of bilingualism was one of several issues in both elections.

Defeat and opposition

In the election of 1979 Trudeau's government was defeated by the Progressive Conservatives, led by Joe Clark, who formed a minority government. Trudeau announced his intention to resign as Liberal Party leader; however, before a leadership convention could be held Clark's government was defeated in the Canadian House of Commons by a Motion of No Confidence and the party persuaded Trudeau to stay on as leader and fight the election. Trudeau defeated Clark in the February 1980 election winning a majority government.

Return to power

Trudeau's final term in office had two highly significant events for Canada. First, the federalist victory in the 1980 Quebec referendum, Quebec's first referendum on independence, called by Parti Québécois premier René Lévesque. Secondly, Trudeau's likely most enduring legacy, was the successful 1982 patriation of the Constitution of Canada and the additional Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Quebec refused to agree to the new constitution, the source of continued acrimony between Quebec City and Ottawa.

On February 29, 1984 (a leap day), after a famous "long walk in the snow", Trudeau decided to step down as prime minister, ending his 16-year rule of Canada.

Final years

In retirement Trudeau rarely gave speeches or spoke to the press. However, his interventions into public debate had a significant impact when they occurred. Trudeau wrote and spoke out against both the Meech Lake Accord and the Charlottetown Accord arguing that they would weaken federalism and the Charter of Rights if implemented. His opposition was a critical factor leading to the defeat of the two proposals. He also spoke out against Jacques Parizeau and the Parti Québécois with less effect. In his final years Trudeau commanded respect in English Canada but was regarded with suspicion in Quebec due to his role in the 1982 constitutional deal which was seen to have excluded the province. Trudeau also remained active in international affairs visiting foreign leaders and participating in international associations such as the Club of Rome.

In the last years of his life Trudeau was afflicted with Parkinson's disease and became less active though he continued to work at his law office until a few months before his death. He was devastated by the death of his youngest son, Michel Trudeau, who was killed in an avalanche in November 1998.


Main article: Death and state funeral of Pierre Trudeau

Pierre Elliott Trudeau died on September 28, 2000, and is buried in the Trudeau family crypt, St-Remi-de-Napierville Cemetery, Saint-Remi, Quebec. He is survived by his ex-wife Margaret, his sons Justin Trudeau and Alexandre "Sacha" Trudeau, a journalist, and his daughter, Sarah, whom he fathered with Deborah Coyne. During the funeral services, Justin delivered an emotional yet articulate eulogy [1] that led to wide speculation that a career in politics was in his future.

Honours and awards

Effective 2004January 1 Montreal Dorval International Airport was renamed Montreal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport (YUL).

A plan to rename Mount Logan, Canada's highest mountain, for Trudeau was considered, but ultimately rejected. A plan is under consideration to name a mountain in British Columbia's Cariboo Range for the prime minister. The peak is located in the "Premier Range," many of which are named for British and Canadian prime ministers.[2]

Viewers of the "Greatest Canadians" CBC-TV series voted Trudeau the third greatest Canadian in 2004.

Over the years, the Canadian news agency, Canadian Press (CP), bestowed Pierre Trudeau the following awards:

  • Newsmaker of the Year a record 10 times
    • Trudeau received the award a record eight straight years: 1968-1975 and again in 1978 and 2000.
    • The outpouring of grief across the country when he died not only demonstrated his profound impact on the Canadian consciousness, but also contributed to his being chosen Newsmaker of the Year in 2000, the only time the award was made posthumously [3].
  • Newsmaker of the 20th Century
    • Trudeau declined to give an interview with the CP when given the honour, but said in a letter to the CP that he was "surprised and pleased." [4]
    • Informal Canadian Internet polls agreed with the CP vote. [5]


Many Canadians, particularly in western Canada, disliked Trudeau and his policies. This is because Trudeau's policies were thought by many westerners to favour Ontario and Quebec, at the expense of Alberta and British Columbia. On a visit to Winnipeg, Manitoba he quipped: "Why should I sell the Canadian farmers' wheat?" (This was actually in the context of a longer comment in which he answered his own question, but is rarely remembered as such.)

One particularly unpopular policy in the West was the National Energy Program. His imposition of the War Measures Act, on the written request of the Premier of Quebec and the Mayor of Montreal, which received general support at the time, is remembered by some, especially in Quebec, as an attack on democracy. Though his popularity had fallen in English Canada at the time of his retirement in 1984, public opinion later became much more sympathetic to him, particularly in comparison to his successor, Brian Mulroney.

Some people consider Trudeau's economic policies to have been a weak point. Inflation and unemployment marred much of his term and, when he left office, the national debt and deficit were at all time high levels. However, these trends were present in most western countries at the time, they continued after he left office, and the role Trudeau played in them is debatable.

The value of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms continues to be debated in some quarters. The Supreme Court has ruled that the Charter does not apply to common law, although it ruled that the common law must be applied in such a way that it is in the spirit of the Charter, and its notwithstanding clause has occasionally been used (by Quebec for a few years after its enactment) to circumvent its provisions. The Supreme Court has described situations in which charter rights can be superseded and withdrawn. Canadians remain subject to double jeopardy, in the sense that the Crown retains the right to appeal acquittals (a right upheld by the Supreme Court in 1988 as consistent with the Charter), and Canadian libel laws still do not incorporate a presumption of innocence. The Trudeau government did remove the right of courts to substitute a conviction for an acquittal on appeal (the so-called Morgentaler amendment) in 1975, but the Charter does not provide further protections against double jeopardy.

The Charter and Section 35 of the Constitution Act of 1982 have clarified issues of aboriginal rights. For example, it has been used to establish the previously denied aboriginal rights of Métis. The Charter has also been used to extend the rights of women, gays and lesbians, and minorities. Hundreds of federal and provincial statutes were rewritten in order to comply with the Charter and many others have been struck down as unconstitutional. Most notably the law restricting abortion was struck down in 1989 and in 2003 Canadian courts ruled that restrictions against same-sex marriage were unconstitutional. There is as much controversy when the courts interpret Charter rights broadly as there is when the courts restrict or qualify them. Overall the Charter receives wide public support in Canada.

Cultural legacy

Few outside the museum community recall the tremendous efforts Trudeau made, in the last years of his tenure, to see to it that the National Gallery of Canada and the Canadian Museum of Civilization finally had proper homes in the National capital. The Trudeau government also implemented programs which helped develop the Canadian film industry.

Legacy with respect to Quebec

Trudeau's legacy in Quebec is mixed. Nationalist Quebecers have often portrayed his policy of bilingualism not as an exercise in establishing equity but as an exercise in the assimilation of the French into a monolithic anglophone Canada.

On the other hand, many credit his actions during the October Crisis as crucial in terminating the FLQ as a force in Quebec and ensuring that the campaign for Quebec separatism took a democratic and peaceful route. Trudeau is also credited by many for defeat of the 1980 Quebec referendum. In the debates between Trudeau and Levesque Canadians were treated to a contest between two highly intelligent, articulate and bilingual politicians who, despite being bitterly opposed, were each committed to the democratic process.


Official bilingualism has been integrated into all levels of the federal government and the civil service to the extent that virtually all government services are provided in both official languages, anywhere in the country. However, the only officially bilingual provincial government is New Brunswick.

While official bilingualism has settled some of the grievances francophones had towards the federal government, many francophones had hoped that Canadians would be able to function in the official language of their choice no matter where in the country they were. Bilingualism did not bring about the fully bilingual and bicultural nation desired by many. Nor has the original target that half of all high school graduates be bilingual been met. However, Trudeau's ambitions in this arena have been overstated; Trudeau once said that he regretted the use of the term "bilingualism," because it appeared to demand that all Canadians speak two languages. In fact, Trudeau's vision was to see Canada as a bilingual confederation in which all cultures would have a place. This is described in the following way in his epitaph:

... Never wavering from his vision of Canada as a strong united federation with equality among provinces and guaranteed rights for individuals, Trudeau was determined to secure a full and equal place for all Canadians in a bilingual, multicultural Canada.

This was not the vision of Quebec separatists nor even many moderate Quebec nationalists (as noted above). Bilingualism was also opposed by some English-Canadians, particularly in western Canada who saw it as either a waste of money or as "French being rammed down [their] throats" and a threat to their rights. The Reform Party of Canada initially reflected this sentiment with its opposition to bilingualism. However, anti-bilingual feelings have faded as the fears of opponents have failed to be realized and the Reform Party's successors have reconciled themselves to the policy.

Despite the opposition to the policy, the number of bilingual Canadians has increased in the past thirty years and federal government language services vastly improved across the country. As well, one can receive English or French language radio and television almost anywhere in Canada, something that was not the case prior to official bilingualism. Moreover, Canada is now one of the most multicultural countries in the world – and this is as true in large urban centres in Quebec as elsewhere across the country.

Constitutional legacy

Trudeau's most enduring legacy is the 1982 Canadian constitution. Many hail his creation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in the 1982 constitution as having had a profoundly positive effect on the nation. It is seen as advancing civil rights and liberties and, notwithstanding clause aside, has become for many Canadians a deeply respected institution.

Nevertheless, the patriation of the constitution created a strong feeling (Trudeau would call it a myth) of Quebec being left out of Confederation. This grievance was exacerbated by the failures of the Meech Lake and Charlottetown Accords which Trudeau, though no longer in office, helped to defeat. The failure of the two accords revived long-dormant support for separatism in Quebec, eventually leading to the extremely close 1995 Quebec referendum on sovereignty, nearly bringing about the very result that Trudeau had so passionately opposed.


While Pierre Trudeau had no viable political opposition in Quebec at the federal level in his time (for instance, his Liberal party captured 74 out of 75 Quebec seats in the 1980 federal election), Quebecers characteristically hedged their bets by twice electing the diametrically opposed, pro-sovereignty Parti Québécois at the provincial level (note that at the time there was no pro-sovereignty federal party like today's Bloc Québécois). Thus his legacy within Quebec is somewhat mixed, and he is seen by many Quebecers, particularly in the media, academic and political establishments as a vendu (sellout). While his reputation has grown in English Canada since his retirement in 1984, it has not improved in Quebec.

Trudeau remains well regarded by many Canadians. The passage of time has softened some of the strong antipathy he inspired among his opponents, although the naming of the airport after him still generated some controversy. aaaaa

Trudeau is seen by many as embodying the spirit of his age: youth, ambition, and anti-conformism. His energy, charisma, and confidence as prime minister are often cited as reasons for his popularity even though a large number of Canadians disapproved of his policies.

|- style="text-align: center;" | width="30%" |Preceded by:
Joe Clark | width="40%" style="text-align: center;" |Prime Minister of Canada
1980 – 1984 | width="30%" |Succeeded by:
John Turner

|- style="text-align: center;" | width="30%" |Preceded by:
Lester Pearson | width="40%" style="text-align: center;" |Liberal Leader
1968-1984 | width="30%" |Succeeded by:
John Turner

|- style="text-align: center;" | width="30%" |Preceded by:
Alan Macnaughton | width="40%" style="text-align: center;" |Member of Parliament for Mount Royal
1965-1984 | width="30%" |Succeeded by:
Sheila Finestone

See also

External links

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