On the night of April 6, 1968, after seven hours of voting, Canadians suddenly realized that their next Prime Minister would be Pierre Elliott Trudeau, a perfectly bilingual bachelor playboy who had flashed from obscurity to the most powerful position in the nation in one year. In fact, he had only been a member of Parliament since 1965 and did not enter the Cabinet until April 4, 1967, when he became Minister of Justice.
Trudeau’s victory was the result of a spectacular leadership convention conducted in American hullabaloo style. The nation watched on television as he defeated seven other strong contenders in the most fantastic political spectacle in Canadian history. One of them was Paul Martin who had been a member of Parliament for thirty-five years and who had often served as acting Prime Minister. The others were Robert Winters, Joseph Greene, Paul Hellyer, Allan MacEachern, Eric Kierans, and John Turner.
Trudeau’s election as leader of the Liberal Party meant that he would become Canada‘s fifteenth Prime Minister on April 20. Yet some of the most experienced political observers in Ottawa knew little about his background. Few Canadians know much about it today.
He was born in Montreal in 1919, son of wealthy lawyer Charles-Emile Trudeau and Grace Elliott. He studied law at the University of Montreal and political economy at Harvard, with further studies in Paris and London. Then he spent years travelling through most of the world.
Gradually Trudeau became active in Quebec politics and supported the socialist New Democratic Party in the general election of 1963. He attacked Liberal leader Lester Pearson for reversing his stand on nuclear arms for Canada, saying, “Power offered itself to Mr. Pearson; he had nothing to lose except his honour. He lost it, and his entire party lost it with him.”
Yet Trudeau became Liberal M.P. for a Montreal constituency in 1965. The Liberal party accepted him reluctantly, but they had to admit him to get the powerful Quebec Labor leader, Jean Marchand, to be a candidate.
The new Prime Minister’s flamboyant life style and eccentric manner in conducting government affairs soon attracted attention the world over. Many people for the first time sat up and took notice of Canada because of the man who took it upon himself to ignore the conventions of statesmanship. In 1971, at the age of 51, Trudeau became the first prime minister to wed while in office when he married 22-year-old Margaret Sinclair. On Christmas day of the same year a son was born to them. Justin Pierre Trudeau was the second child born to a prime minister during his term of office (see December 25th’s post).
There is so much “out there” about Mr. Trudeau. I don’t want to turn this post into a book, plus I know I can’t list all the places to click to. However, here’s a short list:
For a real simple timeline, go to Jean Chretien.net; there’s an interesting layout at Craig Marlatt’s Canada Info (while you are there, I suggest visiting the rest of his site – there’s lots of info there!; for an in-depth article, I suggest the Dictionary of Canadian Biography; there’s also the ever reliable Wikipedia; you can never go wrong with CBC Archives; I suggest visiting The Trudeau Foundation [The Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation promotes outstanding research in the humanities and social sciences, and fosters a fruitful dialogue between scholars and policymakers in the arts community, business, government, the professions, and the voluntary sector.]; you can find interesting details at Canadian Museum of Civilization. Don’t forget Google Canada.
- ‘Fuddle duddle’: PMO responds to Justin Trudeau’s ‘Just watch me’ with their own Pierre Trudeau quote (news.nationalpost.com)
- Pierre Trudeau refused cancer treatment rather than risk losing his mind to dementia: e-book (news.nationalpost.com)
- Faced with dementia, Pierre Trudeau rejected cancer treatment, e-book reveals (vancouversun.com)