1919 - 2000
“Just watch me.” Canada's
15th Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau,
by Rit Nosotro
First Published:: 2003
Oct 1970 (War Measures Act invoked)
"Well, there's a lot of bleeding hearts around who just don't like to see people with helmets and guns. All I can say is go on and bleed. It's more important to keep law and order in this society than to be worried about weak-kneed people who don't like the looks of helmets." Pierre Trudeau Oct 1970 (War Measures Act invoked)
Pierre Elliott Trudeau was born in Montréal, QC, Canada on Oct 18, 1919. Trudeau’s father was a lawyer, wealthy business man and French. Trudeau’s mother was Scottish/English. He spent all of his younger years in Montréal and graduated from the University of Montreal with a Law Degree in 1943. At Harvard University he earned a Masters degree in Political Economy. Before taking a break from school to travel, Trudeau attended both the Ecole des Sciences Politiques in Paris and the London School of Economics.Trudeau then took a break from school and backpacked across Europe and Asia touring Germany, Hungary, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Thailand, China, Jerusalem as well as many other places. In Jerusalem the police arrested Trudeau for being an Israeli spy. Once Trudeau tried to canoe to Cuba.
In 1965, the federal Liberal party was looking for candidates from Quebec. Trudeau and friends, Jean Marchand and Gerard Pelletier, were invited to run in the federal election. Trudeau was the least known of the group nicknamed "the three wise men".
Trudeau was successfully elected to the House of Commons in 1965, Parliamentary Secretary to Prime Minister Pearson in 1966 and Minister of Justice in 1967. Trudeau fought for equality: equality between French and English cultures, wealthy and poor provinces, women and men in politics. Trudeau’s mandate included strengthening gun laws.
On April 6, 1968 Pierre Trudeau became the 20 Prime Minister of Canada winning a majority government. Trudeau started to build relationships with countries that were politically different. One of the first things Trudeau did was strengthen Canada’s relationship with the Soviet Union and China. He traveled to China in 1973 and the Soviet Union in 1971. Five months later, Premier Aleksei N. Kosygin of the Soviet Union visited Canada.
On October 5, 1970, James Cross, (member of Parliament) was kidnapped by the FLQ (Front de Liberation du Quebec) terrorists. A few days later, a second member was kidnapped. Trudeau enacted the War Measures Act. Mr. Cross was released but Quebec's Labour minister, Pierre Laporte, was murdered by the FLQ. The police arrested over 400 suspects in the case. It was during this time that Trudeau envoked the War Measures Act, not used since WWII.
Trudeau lived a flamboyant public life. He drove fast cars, dated Barbra
Streisand and had a “live- life- for- the- moment” personality.
Trudeau’s charisma and charm led to “Trudeaumania”.
Canadians were swept up by a young and handsome Prime Minister. He managed
to hide his love relationship with Margaret Sinclair, the daughter of
a well known Liberal in Vancouver, until their wedding on March 1971.
Trudeau and his wife had three children: Michel, Justin and Alexander.
Although Trudeau took mass as a Catholic, he fought against legislating
morality and instead imposed his own liberal views of contraception, abortion,
In the 1974 election the Liberal party’s main platform was to reduce unemployment. It was a tight election against the Conservative party but Trudeau remained Prime Minster of Canada. The Canadian economy rapidly grew and the cost of inflation caused hardship for many Canadians.
In May of 1974, the House of Commons passed a motion expressing “no-confidence” in Trudeau’s government. They called for an election on July of 1979 where the Liberals ended up wining a majority government in the House of Commons (with 141 out of 264 seats).
Trudeau was starting to get worried about how the US was influencing the Canadian economy and environment. There was a sharp increase in energy costs because of the decreasing petroleum reserves. In 1974 the Liberal government planned to reduce the amount of oil exported to the US, and terminate it completely by the 1980’s. The plan didn’t work because the Canadian economy was in a slouch. Over half of the manufacturing industries in Canada were owned by US companies.
In 1976, the Parti Québécois (political part that favoured separation from Canada) won control of the Québec’s Provencal government. Trudeau believed and fought for a one united Canada, Québec included.. The two cultures were much like his two parents at home: one English and the other French.
Sadly, Trudeau’s party was in a slump as was his marriage. Trudeau and Margaret separated in 1977 and later divorced in 1984. Pierre got full custody of the children.
In March 1979, Pierre called a general election for May 22. The Liberals were constantly blamed by the Conservative party for Canada’s economic troubles. The Conservative party won the election with 135 seats with leader Joe Clark. (The Liberals received 115 seats.) Trudeau resigned from politics and the Liberals party on November 11, 1979.
On December 31, 1979 the House of Commons ruled that they had “no confidence” in the Conservative party because the budget included a tax increase. Trudeau was back in politics and led the Liberals to a victory in February of 1980. Trudeau became Canada’s 17th Prime Minister.
The provinces of Quebec called a vote for May 20 to determine Quebec’s independence from Canada. Trudeau was instrumental in breaking up the vote.
Trudeau led Canadians towards full independence from Great Britain by the Constitution Act in 1982.
The Canadian economy was recovering, however employment and Trudeau’s popularity was decreasing at the same rate. On June 30, 1984 Trudeau resigned as Prime Minister of Canada. Trudeau served one of the longest terms as Prime Minister of Canada
Throughout his political career, Trudeau appointed women to government positions that had been traditionally held by men..
Trudeau lived a quiet life until the death of his son in November 1998. His son was skiing in British Columbia when an avalanche swept him into a lake where he died. The funeral was broadcast all over Canada.
After the death of his son, Trudeau’s health declined. Trudeau had Parkinson disease and died on September 28, 2000 of prostate cancer at the age of 80.
There has been much debate over Trudeau’s accomplishments and failures. Undoubtedly, Canada’s landscape would be much different without Trudeau’s passion to keep Quebec. We may be happy with his political decisions but not his personal ones. Regardless, Pierre Trudeau will always be remembered for his outspoken and innovative personality.
1Dooley David, "It all began with Trudeau", March 2004
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