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Pierre Trudeau

The Rt. Hon. Pierre Elliott Trudeau
First Term:April 20 1968 - June 4 1979
Second Term:March 3 1980 - June 30 1984
Predecessor:Lester Pearson
Successors:Joe Clark, John Turner
Date of Birth:Monday, October 18, 1919
Place of Birth:Montreal, Quebec
Spouse:Margaret Trudeau
Political Party:Liberal

Pierre Philippe Yves Elliott Trudeau (October 18, 1919 - September 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.

Born in Montreal, Quebec, Pierre Trudeau was a flamboyant, charismatic, controversial intellectual. A politically cunning politician, he led Canada through some of its most tumultuous times. An energetic figure, he wore sandals in the House of Commons, dated celebrities like Barbra Streisand, Liona Boyd, and Margot Kidder, repeatedly used obscenity to insult his opponents, and once did a pirouette behind the back of Queen Elizabeth II.

As minister of justice under Lester B. Pearson, he was responsible for removing laws against sodomy from the Criminal Code of Canada, famously remarking, "The state has no business in the bedrooms of the nation." 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.

In 1968 he was elected as the Liberal Party's new leader, and thus prime minister in a somewhat surprising vote. Many prominent, long-serving Liberals had been running, including Paul Martin, Sr, but much vote splitting occurred, and Trudeau emerged the leader. Some questioned if he was perhaps too liberal and radical for the nation's top job, which led to some initial alienation from the party's conservative wing.

He became leader espousing participatory democracy as a means of making Canada a Just Society. His apparently sincere 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 did vigorously defend the newly implemented universal health care and regional development programs as means of making society more just.

In 1971 the bachelor prime minister married Vancouver socialite Margaret Sinclair, a woman who at 22 was less than half Trudeau's age. They would have three children before a well-publicized divorce in 1977.

As prime minister, he declared a brief period of martial law in Quebec using the War Measures Act in 1970 to deal with the October Crisis when terrorist cells in Quebec from the Front de Libération du Québec (FLQ) kidnapped James Cross, the British High Commissioner, then kidnapped and murdered Quebec Cabinet Minister, Pierre Laporte. Although the action has been highly controversial since the incident, most of the public, including most Quebeckers, appeared to support the prime minister's vigorous response to the terrorist crisis. This included Trudeau's confident approach to the situation typified when he was asked how far he would go to stop the terrorists. He replied "Just watch me."

Trudeau wanted to give Canada a greater role on the world's stage, and made many diplomatic visits to foreign nations. He became the first western leader to visit Communist China, where he was greeted with much fanfare. Over the years Trudeau forged many close personal relationships with fellow world leaders, including Fidel Castro, Jimmy Carter, and Michael Manley.

Trudeau also wanted to make Canada less dependent on the United States. He instituted a Foreign Investment Review Board to approve (and disapprove) foreign investment and attempted to improve commercial relations with Europe. His relationship with American president Richard Nixon was strained at best. Nixon detested what he perceived as Trudeau's elitist snobbery and socialist policies, and on the White House tapes once famously described the prime minister as "that asshole."

In the 1979 election Trudeau's government fell to the Progressive Conservatives led by Joe Clark. A few months later Clark suffered a humiliating vote of non-confidence and Trudeau easily defeated him in the next election. In 1984 after taking a famous "long walk in the snow" Trudeau agreed to step down as prime minister, ending his almost unbroken 16 year rule of Canada.

He was a long-time member of the Club of Rome.

Pierre Elliott Trudeau died on September 28, 2000 and is buried in the Trudeau family crypt, St-Remi-de-Napierville Cemetery, Saint-Remi, Quebec.

A plan to rename Mount Logan, Canada's tallest mountain, for Mr. Trudeau was considered, but ultimately rejected. Instead, it was announced on August 21, 2003 that Montreal Dorval International Airport would be renamed Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport in his honour.

Many Canadians, particularly in western Canada, disliked Mr. Trudeau and his policies . This is because Mr. Trudeau's policies were considered to be biased toward Ontario and Quebec, and left out Alberta and British Columbia. As well, his flashing of an obscene hand gesture to British Columbian protesters is particularly resented [1]. One particularly unpopular policy in the west was the National Energy Program. His imposition of the War Measures Act is still remembered by many, especially in Quebec, as an attack on democracy.

Many people consider Trudeau's economic policies to be a disaster. Inflation and unemployment marred much of his term and he left the country with a large debt and an ever increasing deficit. However, it should be noted that these trends were marked in almost all western countries at the time, and the role Prime Minister Trudeau played in them is debated.

His promise to implement participatory democracy came to naught. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms was weakened when the Supreme Court ruled that it did not apply to the common law, and its notwithstanding clause has been used to circumvent its provisions. Despite the Charter Canadians are still subject to double jeopardy and the presumption of guilt in libel law, and the Supreme Court has taken a lenient view of what constitutes reasonable grounds for suspending the rights guaranteed by the Charter. The Charter does appear, however, to have clarified issues of aboriginal rights; it has, for example, been used to establish the previously denied aboriginal rights of Métis.

Another point is the Mirabel International Airport debacle, which resulted in Montreal's Mirabel airport. The airport is located far from Montreal, cost a great deal of money, was built on expropriated farm land, and has since been closed to passenger traffic. Some see it as symbolic of many Trudeau polices: ambitious, costly, and ultimately ineffective.

Finally, his policies to provide a more rewarding role for Quebec in Confederation and to make Canada less dependent on the United States were manifestly unsuccessful – Quebec almost left Confederation in 1995, and Canada now has a free trade agreement with the United States. Many Canadians therefore regard him as a man of great ambitions which failed.

Nevertheless, Mr. Trudeau is highly regarded and considered a great Canadian leader by a great many Canadians. In particular, although it is sometimes viewed as a political move to distract the population from the weak economy, many believe that his creation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in the 1982 constitution has had a profoundly positive effect on the nation. It is seen as advancing civil rights and liberties and has become, the notwithstanding clause aside, for many Canadians a deeply respected institution. Mr. 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. The massive show of grief across the country when he died is proof of his profound impact on the Canadian consciousness.

Prime Minister of Canada
Preceded by:
Lester Pearson
First leadership (1968-1979) Followed by:
Joe Clark
Preceded by:
Joe Clark
Second leadership (1980-1984) Followed by:
John Turner

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