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Pierre Trudeau

15th Prime Minister of Canada

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Pierre Elliott Trudeau

15th Prime Minister of Canada
In office
March 3, 1980 – June 30, 1984
MonarchElizabeth II
Governor General
DeputyAllan MacEachen
Preceded byJoe Clark
Succeeded byJohn Turner
In office
April 20, 1968 – June 4, 1979
MonarchElizabeth II
Governor General
DeputyAllan MacEachen (1977–1979)
Preceded byLester B. Pearson
Succeeded byJoe Clark
Leader of the Opposition
In office
June 4, 1979 – March 3, 1980
Preceded byJoe Clark
Succeeded byJoe Clark
Leader of the Liberal Party
In office
April 6, 1968 – June 16, 1984
Preceded byLester B. Pearson
Succeeded byJohn Turner
Minister of Justice
Attorney General of Canada
In office
April 4, 1967 – July 5, 1968
Prime MinisterLester B. Pearson
Preceded byLouis Cardin
Succeeded byJohn Turner
Member of the Canadian Parliament
for Mount Royal
In office
November 8, 1965 – June 30, 1984
Preceded byAlan Macnaughton
Succeeded bySheila Finestone
Personal details
Joseph Philippe Pierre Yves Elliott Trudeau

(1919-10-18)October 18, 1919
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
DiedSeptember 28, 2000(2000-09-28) (aged 80)
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Resting placeSaint-Rémi Cemetery, Saint-Rémi, Québec
Political partyLiberal (after 1965)
Other political
Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (prior to 1965)
m. 1971; div. 1984)
Children4, including Justin, Alexandre and Michel
EducationLaw (LL.B., 1943)
Political economy (M.A., 1945)
Alma mater
Military service
Branch/serviceCanadian Army
Years of service1943–1945
RankOfficer Cadet
UnitCanadian Officers' Training Corps

Joseph Philippe Pierre Yves Elliott Trudeau PC CC CH QC FRSC (/ˈtrd, trˈd/ TROO-doh, troo-DOH, French: [pjɛʁ tʁydo]; October 18, 1919 – September 28, 2000), mostly referred to as simply Pierre Trudeau, or by the initials PET,[1][2][3] was a Canadian politician who was the 15th prime minister of Canada and leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, between 1968 and 1984, with a brief period as Leader of the Opposition, from 1979 to 1980. His tenure of 15 years and 164 days makes him Canada's third longest-serving Prime Minister, behind William Lyon Mackenzie King and John A. Macdonald.

Trudeau rose to prominence as a lawyer, intellectual, and activist in Québec politics. He joined the Liberal Party and was elected to the Canadian Parliament in 1965, quickly being appointed as Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson's Parliamentary Secretary. In 1967, he was appointed Minister of Justice. Trudeau's outgoing personality caused a media sensation, inspiring "Trudeaumania", and helped him to win the leadership of the Liberal Party in 1968, when he was appointed Prime Minister of Canada.

From the late 1960s until the early 1980s, Trudeau's personality dominated the political scene to an extent never before seen in Canadian political life. After his appointment as Prime Minister, he won the 1968, 1972 and 1974 elections, before narrowly losing in 1979. He won a fourth election victory shortly afterwards, in 1980, and eventually retired from politics shortly before the 1984 election.

Despite his personal motto, "Reason before passion",[4] his personality and political career aroused polarizing reactions throughout Canada during his time in office. Admirers praised what they consider to be the force of Trudeau's intellect[5] and his political acumen, maintaining national unity over the Quebec sovereignty movement, suppressing a Québec terrorist crisis, fostering a pan-Canadian identity, and in achieving sweeping institutional reform, including the implementation of official bilingualism, patriation of the Constitution, and the establishment of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.[6] Critics accused him of arrogance, of economic mismanagement, and of unduly centralizing Canadian decision-making to the detriment of the culture of Québec and the economy of the Prairies.[7]

His eldest son, Justin Trudeau, became the 23rd and current Prime Minister, following the 2015 election and 2019 election, and is the first prime minister of Canada to be a descendant of a former prime minister.[8]

Pierre Trudeau Intro articles: 23

Early life

The Trudeau family can be traced to Marcillac-Lanville in France in the 16th century and to a Robert Truteau (1544–1589).[9][10] In 1659, the first Trudeau to arrive in Canada was Étienne Trudeau or Truteau (1641–1712), a carpenter and home builder from La Rochelle.[11]

Pierre Trudeau was born at home at 5779 Durocher Avenue, Outremont, Montreal, Canada, on October 18, 1919,[12]:8[13] to Charles-Émile "Charley" Trudeau (1887–1935), a French-Canadian businessman and lawyer, and Grace Elliott, who was of mixed Scottish and French-Canadian descent. He had an older sister named Suzette and a younger brother named Charles Jr. Trudeau remained close to both siblings for his entire life. Trudeau attended the prestigious Collège Jean-de-Brébeuf (a private French Jesuit school), where he supported Québec nationalism. Trudeau's paternal grandparents were French-speaking Quebec farmers.[4] His father, Charles-Émile Trudeau, had acquired a chain of gas stations, some "profitable mines, the Belmont amusement park in Montreal and the Montreal Royals, the city's minor-league baseball team" by the time Trudeau was fifteen.[4] When his father died in Orlando, Florida, on April 10, 1935, Trudeau and each of his siblings inherited $5,000, a considerable sum at that time, which meant that he was financially secure and independent.[14]:24 His mother, Grace, "doted on Pierre"[14]:25 and he remained close to her throughout her long life.[15] After her husband died, she left the management of her inheritance to others and spent a lot of her time with work for the Roman Catholic Church and other charities, travelling frequently to New York, Florida, Europe, and Maine, sometimes with her children.[14]:25 Already in his late teens, Trudeau was "directly involved in managing a large inheritance."[14]:25

Pierre Trudeau Early life articles: 12

Early education

From the age of six until twelve, Trudeau attended the primary school, Académie Querbes, in Outremont, where he became immersed in the Catholic religion. The school which was for both English and French Catholics, was an exclusive school with very small classes and he excelled in mathematics and religion.[14]:25–27 From his earliest years, Trudeau was fluently bilingual which would later prove to be a "big asset for a politician in bilingual Canada."[16] As a teenager, he attended the Jesuit French-language Collège Jean-de-Brébeuf, a prestigious secondary school known for educating elite francophone families in Québec.[14]:27[17]

In his seventh and final academic year, 1939–1940, Trudeau focused on winning a Rhodes Scholarship. In his application he wrote that he had prepared for public office by studying public speaking and publishing many articles in Brébeuf. His letters of recommendations praised him highly. Father Boulin, who was the head of the college, said that during his seven years at the college (1933–1940), Trudeau had won a "hundred prizes and honourable mentions" and "performed with distinction in all fields".:65 Trudeau graduated from Collège Jean-de-Brébeuf in 1940 at the age of twenty-one.[14]:47

Trudeau did not win the Rhodes Scholarship. He consulted a number of people on his options including Henri Bourassa, the economist Edmond Montpetit, and Father Robert Bernier, a Franco-Manitoban. Following their advice, he chose a career in politics, and a degree in law at the Université de Montréal.:73

Pierre Trudeau Early education articles: 5

The Second World War

In his obituary, The Economist described Trudeau as "parochial as a young man", who "dismissed the second world war as a squabble between the big powers, although he later regretted "missing one of the major events of the century".[16] In his 1993 Memoir, Trudeau wrote that the outbreak of World War II in September 1939 and his father's death were the two "great bombshells" that marked his teenage years.[18]:37 In his first year at university, the prime topics of conversation were the Battle of France, the Battle of Britain, and the London blitz.[18]:32 He wrote that in the early 1940s, when he was in his early twenties, he thought, "So there was a war? Tough. It wouldn't stop me from concentrating on my studies so long as that was possible..[I]f you were a French Canadian in Montreal [at that 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 war as a settling of scores among the superpowers."[18]:32

Young Trudeau was opposed to overseas conscription[18]:32 and in 1942, he campaigned for the anti-conscription candidate Jean Drapeau (later the Mayor of Montreal) in Outremont.[18]:34 Trudeau described a speech he heard in Montreal by Ernest Lapointe,[18]:32–35 who was then Prime Minister William Mackenzie King's top adviser on issues relating to Quebec and French-speaking Canada. Lapointe had been a Liberal MP during the 1917 conscription crisis, in which the Canadian government had deployed up to 1,200 soldiers to suppress the Quebec City anti-conscription Easter Riots in March and April 1918. In a final and bloody conflict, soldiers fired on the crowds. At least five men were killed by gunfire and there were over 150 casualties and $300,000 in damage.[19]:504[20]:60 In 1939, it was Lapointe who helped draft the Liberal's policy against conscription for service overseas. Lapointe was aware that a new conscription crisis would destroy national unity that Mackenzie King had been trying to build since the end of World War 1.[21] Trudeau never forgave Lapointe for "lying" and breaking his promise. His criticisms of King's war time policies, such as "suspension of habeas corpus", the "farce of bilingualism and French-Canadian advancement in the army. The forced "voluntary enrolment", was scathing.[22]:191

As a university student Trudeau joined the Canadian Officers' Training Corps (COTC). They trained at the local armoury in Montreal during the school term and undertook further training at Camp Farnham each summer.[18]:34 Although the National Resources Mobilization Act was enacted in 1940, preparing the way for conscription to serve overseas, there was no conscription until the Conscription Crisis of 1944 in response to the Invasion of Normandy in June 1944.

Pierre Trudeau The Second World War articles: 15


Trudeau continued his full-time studies in law at the Université de Montréal while in the COTC, during the war, from 1940 until his graduation in 1943.

Following his graduation in 1943, Trudeau articled for a year, and in the fall of 1944, began his master's in political economy at what is now called Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government and was then known as the Graduate School of Public Administration. In his Memoir, he admitted that it was at Harvard's "super-informed environment", that he realized the "historic importance" of the war and that he had "missed one of the major events of the century in which [he] was living.[18]:37 Harvard had become a major intellectual centre as facism in Europe led to the great intellectual migration to the United States. 978-0676975222[23]

Trudeau's Harvard dissertation was on the topic of Marxism, communism and Christianity.[24] At Harvard, a predominantly Protestant American university, Trudeau who was French Catholic, and who for the first time was living outside the province of Quebec, felt like an outsider. [25] As his sense of isolation deepened,[22]:137 in 1947, he decided to continue his work on his Harvard dissertation in Paris, France.[26] He studied at the Institut d'Études Politiques de Paris. The Harvard dissertation remained unfinished when Trudeau entered a doctoral program to study under the socialist economist Harold Laski at the London School of Economics (LSE).[27] This cemented Trudeau's belief that Keynesian economics and social sciences were essential to the creation of the "good life" in a democratic society.[28] He did not finish his LSE dissertation.[29] Over a five-week period he attended many lectures and became a follower of personalism after being influenced most notably by Emmanuel Mounier.[30] He also was influenced by Nikolai Berdyaev, particularly his book Slavery and Freedom.[31] Max and Monique Nemni argue that Berdyaev's book influenced Trudeau's rejection of nationalism and separatism.[31]

In the summer of 1948, Trudeau embarked on world travels to find a sense of purpose.[22]:176 At the age of twenty-eight, he travelled to Poland where he visited Auschwitz, then Czechoslovakia, Austria, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Turkey, the Middle East, including Jordan and southern Iraq.[22]:176–179 Although he was very wealthy, Trudeau traveled with a back pack in "self-imposed hardship".[16] He used his British passport instead of his Canadian passport in his travels through Pakistan, India, China, and Japan, often wearing local clothing to blend in.[22]:180–190 According to The Economist, when Trudeau returned to Canada in 1949 after an absence of five years, his mind was "seemingly broadened" from his studying at Harvard, the Institut d'Études Politiques, and the LSE and his travels. He was "appalled at the narrow nationalism in his native French-speaking Quebec, and the authoritarianism of the province's government.[16]

Pierre Trudeau Education articles: 12

Quiet Revolution

Beginning while Trudeau was travelling overseas, a number of events took place in Quebec that were precursors to the Quiet Revolution in Quebec. These include the 1948 Refus global, the publication of Les insolences du Frère Untel, the 1949 Asbestos Strike, and the 1955 Richard Riot. Artists and intellectuals in Quebec signed the Refus global on August 9, 1948 in opposition to the repressive rule of Premier of Quebec Maurice Duplessis and the decadent "social establishment" in Quebec, including the Catholic Church.[32][33] When he returned to Montreal in 1949, Trudeau quickly became a leading figure opposing Duplessis' rule. Trudeau actively supported the workers in the Asbestos Strike who opposed Duplessis in 1949. Trudeau was the co-founder and editor of Cité Libre, a dissident journal that helped provide the intellectual basis for the Quiet Revolution. In 1956 he edited an important book on the subject, La grève de l'amiante, which argued that the asbestos miners' strike of 1949 was a seminal event in Québec's history, marking the beginning of resistance to the conservative, Francophone clerical establishment and Anglophone business class that had long ruled the province.[22]:289,292

Pierre Trudeau Quiet Revolution articles: 10


Because of his labour union activities in Asbestos, Trudeau was blacklisted by Premier Duplessis and he was unable to teach law at the Université de Montréal.[16] He surprised his closest friends in Quebec when he became a civil servant in Ottawa in 1949. He worked for the federal government until 1951 in the Privy Council Office of the Liberal Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent as an economic policy advisor. He wrote in his memoirs that he found this period very useful later on, when he entered politics, and that senior civil servant Norman Robertson tried unsuccessfully to persuade him to stay on.

His progressive values and his close ties with Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) intellectuals (including F. R. Scott, Eugene Forsey, Michael Kelway Oliver and Charles Taylor) led to his support of and membership in that federal democratic socialist party throughout the 1950s.[34]

An associate professor of law at the Université de Montréal from 1961 to 1965, Trudeau's views evolved towards a liberal position in favour of individual rights counter to the state and made him an opponent of Québec nationalism. He admired the labour unions, which were tied to the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), and tried to infuse his Liberal party with some of their reformist zeal. By the late 1950s Trudeau began to reject social democratic and labour parties, arguing that they should put their narrow goals aside and join forces with Liberals to fight for democracy first.[35] In economic theory he was influenced by professors Joseph Schumpeter and John Kenneth Galbraith while he was at Harvard. Trudeau criticized the Liberal Party of Lester Pearson when it supported arming Bomarc missiles in Canada with nuclear warheads.[36]

He was offered a position at Queen's University teaching political science by James Corry, who later became principal of Queen's, but turned it down because he preferred to teach in Québec.[37] During the 1950s he was blacklisted by the United States and prevented from entering that country because of a visit to a conference in Moscow, and because he subscribed to a number of left-wing publications. Trudeau later appealed the ban and it was rescinded.

Pierre Trudeau Career articles: 19

Political career

Trudeau after being nominated to represent the riding of Mount Royal, June 6, 1965

In 1965, Trudeau joined the Liberal party, along with his friends Gérard Pelletier and Jean Marchand. These "three wise men" ran successfully for the Liberals in the 1965 election. Trudeau himself was elected in the safe Liberal riding of Mount Royal, in western Montreal. He would hold this seat until his retirement from politics in 1984, winning each election with large majorities. His decision to join the Liberal Party of Canada rather than the CCF's successor, the New Democratic Party (NDP) was partly based on his belief that the federal NDP could not achieve power. He also doubted the feasibility of the centralizing policies of the party. He felt that the party leadership tended toward a "deux nations" approach he could not support.[38]

Upon arrival in Ottawa, Trudeau was appointed as Prime Minister Lester Pearson's parliamentary secretary, and spent much of the next year travelling abroad, representing Canada at international meetings and bodies, including the United Nations. In 1967 he was appointed to Pearson's cabinet as Minister of Justice.[39]

Pierre Trudeau Political career articles: 7

Justice minister and leadership candidate

Prime Ministers all: (l-r) Trudeau, future leaders John Turner and Jean Chrétien, and Trudeau's predecessor, Lester B. Pearson

As Minister of Justice, Trudeau was responsible for introducing the landmark Criminal Law Amendment Act, an omnibus bill whose provisions included, among other things, the decriminalization of homosexual acts between consenting adults, the legalization of contraception, abortion and lotteries, new gun ownership restrictions as well as the authorization of breathalyzer tests on suspected drunk drivers. Trudeau famously defended the segment of the bill decriminalizing homosexual acts by telling reporters that "there's no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation", adding that "what's done in private between adults doesn't concern the Criminal Code".[40] Trudeau paraphrased the term from Martin O'Malley's editorial piece in The Globe and Mail on December 12, 1967.[40][41] Trudeau also liberalized divorce laws, and clashed with Québec Premier Daniel Johnson, Sr. during constitutional negotiations.

Trudeau at the Liberal convention after winning the leadership

At the end of Canada's centennial year in 1967, Prime Minister Pearson announced his intention to step down, and Trudeau entered the race for the Liberal leadership. His energetic campaign attracted massive media attention and mobilized many young people, who saw Trudeau as a symbol of generational change. Going into the leadership convention, Trudeau was the front-runner and a clear favourite with the Canadian public. However, many Liberals still had reservations given that he joined the Liberal Party in 1965 and that his views, particularly those on divorce, abortion, and homosexuality, were seen as radical and opposed by a substantial segment of the party. During the convention, prominent Cabinet Minister Judy LaMarsh was caught on television profanely stating that Trudeau wasn't a Liberal.[42]

Nevertheless, at the April 1968 Liberal leadership convention, Trudeau was elected as the leader on the fourth ballot, with the support of 51% of the delegates. He defeated several prominent and long-serving Liberals including Paul Martin Sr., Robert Winters and Paul Hellyer. As the new leader of the governing Liberals, Trudeau was sworn in as Prime Minister two weeks later on April 20.

Pierre Trudeau Justice minister and leadership candidate articles: 9

Prime Minister, 1968–79

First and second governments, 1968–74

Trudeau soon called an election, for June 25. His election campaign benefited from an unprecedented wave of personal popularity called "Trudeaumania",[1][43][44] which saw Trudeau mobbed by throngs of youths. Trudeau's main national opponents were PC leader Robert Stanfield and NDP leader Tommy Douglas, both popular figures who had been Premiers, respectively, of Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan (albeit in Trudeau's native Québec, the main competition to the Liberals was from the Ralliement créditiste, led by Réal Caouette). As a candidate Trudeau espoused participatory democracy as a means of making Canada a "Just Society". He defended vigorously the newly implemented universal health care and regional development programmes, as well as the recent reforms found in the Omnibus bill.

On the eve of the election, during the annual Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day parade in Montreal, rioting Québec sovereignists threw rocks and bottles at the grandstand where Trudeau was seated, chanting "Trudeau au poteau!" (Trudeau – to the stake!). Rejecting the pleas of his aides that he take cover, Trudeau stayed in his seat, facing the rioters, without any sign of fear. The image of the defiant Prime Minister impressed the public, and he handily won the 1968 election the next day.[45][46]

Domestic affairs

Trudeau's first government implemented many procedural reforms to make Parliament and the Liberal caucus meetings run more efficiently, significantly expanded the size and role of the Prime Minister's office,[47] and substantially expanded social-welfare programs.[48][49][50][51]

Bilingualism and multiculturalism

Trudeau's first major legislative push was implementing the majority of recommendations of Pearson's Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism via the Official Languages Act, which made French and English the co-equal official languages of the federal government.[52] More controversial than the declaration (which was backed by the NDP and, with some opposition in caucus, the PCs) was the implementation of the Act's principles: between 1966 and 1976, the francophone proportion of the civil service and military doubled, causing alarm in some sections of anglophone Canada that they were being disadvantaged.[53][54]

Trudeau's Cabinet fulfilled Part IV of the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism's report by announcing a "Multiculturalism Policy" on October 8, 1971. This statement recognized that while Canada was a country of two official languages, it recognized a plurality of cultures – "a multicultural policy within a bilingual framework".[55] This annoyed public opinion in Québec, which believed that it challenged Québec's claim of Canada as a country of two nations.[56]

The 1999 National Film Board (NFB) documentary featuring young Canadians including the writer John Duffy, focused on how Trudeau's efforts to create a bilingual Canada affected them in the 1970s.[57]

October Crisis

Trudeau's first serious test came during the October Crisis of 1970, when a Marxist group, the Front de libération du Québec (FLQ) kidnapped British Trade Consul James Cross at his residence on October 5. Five days later Québec Labour Minister Pierre Laporte was also kidnapped. Trudeau, with the acquiescence of Premier of Quebec Robert Bourassa, responded by invoking the War Measures Act which gave the government sweeping powers of arrest and detention without trial. Trudeau presented a determined public stance during the crisis, answering the question of how far he would go to stop the violence by saying "Just watch me". Laporte was found dead on October 17 in the trunk of a car. The cause of his death is still debated.[58] Five of the FLQ members were flown to Cuba in 1970 as part of a deal in exchange for James Cross' life, although they eventually returned to Canada years later, where they served time in prison.[59]

Although this response is still controversial and was opposed at the time as excessive by parliamentarians like Tommy Douglas and David Lewis, it was met with only limited objections from the public.[60]

Constitutional affairs

After consultations with the provincial premiers, Trudeau agreed to attend a conference called by British Columbia Premier W. A. C. Bennett to attempt to finally patriate the Canadian constitution.[61] Negotiations with the provinces by Minister of Justice John Turner created a draft agreement, known as the Victoria Charter, that entrenched a charter of rights, bilingualism, and a guarantee of a veto of constitutional amendments for Ontario and Québec, as well as regional vetoes for Western Canada and Atlantic Canada, within the new constitution.[61] The agreement was acceptable to the nine predominantly-English speaking provinces, while Québec's Premier Robert Bourassa requested two weeks to consult with his cabinet.[61] After a strong backlash of popular opinion against the agreement in Québec, Bourassa stated Québec would not accept it.[62]

World affairs

In foreign affairs, Trudeau kept Canada firmly in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), but often pursued an independent path in international relations. He established Canadian diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China, before the United States did, and went on an official visit to Beijing. He was known as a friend of Fidel Castro, the leader of Cuba.

Trudeau was the first world leader to meet John Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono on their "tour for world peace". Lennon said, after talking with Trudeau for 50 minutes, that Trudeau was "a beautiful person" and that "if all politicians were like Pierre Trudeau, there would be world peace".[63]

Trudeau in his office in Ottawa with U.S. President Richard Nixon on April 14, 1972

1972 election

In the federal election of 1972, the Liberals won a minority government, with the New Democratic Party led by David Lewis holding the balance of power.

Requiring NDP support to continue, the government would move to the political left, including the creation of Petro-Canada.

1974 election

In May 1974 the House of Commons passed a motion of no confidence in the Trudeau government, defeating its budget bill after Trudeau intentionally antagonized Stanfield and Lewis.[64] The election of 1974 focused mainly on the current economic recession. Stanfield proposed the immediate introduction of wage and price controls to help end the increasing inflation Canada was currently facing. Trudeau mocked the proposal, saying to a newspaper reporter that it was the equivalent of a magician saying "Zap! You're frozen", and instead promoted a variety of small tax cuts to curb inflation.[65] A campaign tour featuring Trudeau's wife and infant sons was popular, and NDP supporters scared of wage controls moved toward the Liberals.[66]

The Liberals were re-elected with a majority government with 141 of the 264 seats, prompting Stanfield's retirement. The Liberals won no seats in Alberta, though, where Peter Lougheed was a vociferous opponent of Trudeau's 1974 budget.[67]

Third government, 1974–79

While popular with the electorate, Trudeau's promised minor reforms had little effect on the growing rate of inflation, and he struggled with conflicting advice on the crisis.[68] In September 1975 the popular Finance Minister John Turner resigned over a perceived lack of support in countervailing measures.[69] In October 1975, in an embarrassing about-face, Trudeau and new Finance Minister Donald Macdonald introduced wage and price controls by passing the Anti-Inflation Act. The breadth of the legislation, which touched on many powers traditionally considered the purview of the provinces, prompted a Supreme Court reference that only upheld the legislation as an emergency requiring Federal intervention under the British North America Act. During the annual 1975 Christmas interview with CTV, Trudeau discussed the economy, citing market failures and stating that more state intervention would be necessary. However, the academic wording and hypothetical solutions posed during the complex discussion led much of the public to believe he had declared capitalism itself a failure, creating a lasting distrust among increasingly neoliberal business leaders.[70]

Trudeau continued his attempts at increasing Canada's international profile, including joining the G7 group of major economic powers in 1976 at the behest of U.S. President Gerald Ford.[39] On July 14, 1976, after long and emotional debate, Bill C-84 was passed by the House of Commons by a vote of 130 to 124, abolishing the death penalty completely and instituting a life sentence without parole for 25 years for first-degree murder.[71]

Trudeau faced increasing challenges in Québec, starting with bitter relations with Bourassa and his Liberal government in Québec. After a rise in the polls after the rejection of the Victoria Charter, the Québec Liberals had taken a more confrontational approach with the Federal government on the constitution, French language laws, and the language of air traffic control in Québec.[72] Trudeau responded with increasing anger at what he saw as nationalist provocations against the Federal government's bilingualism and constitutional initiatives, at times expressing his personal contempt for Bourassa.[72]

Partially in an attempt to shore up his support, Bourassa called a surprise election in 1976 that resulted in René Lévesque and the Parti Québécois (PQ) winning a majority government. The PQ had chiefly campaigned on a "good government" platform, but promised a referendum on independence to be held within their first mandate. Trudeau and Lévesque had been personal rivals, with Trudeau's intellectualism contrasting with Lévesque's more working-class image. While Trudeau claimed to welcome the "clarity" provided by the PQ victory, the unexpected rise of the sovereignist movement became, in his view, his biggest challenge.[73]

As the PQ began to take power, Trudeau faced the prolonged failure of his marriage, which was covered in lurid detail on a day-by-day basis by the English language press. Trudeau's reserve was seen as dignified by contemporaries and his poll numbers actually rose during the height of coverage,[74] but aides felt the personal tensions left him uncharacteristically emotional and prone to outbursts.[75]

In 1976, Trudeau, succumbing to pressure from the Chinese government, issued an order barring Taiwan from participating as China in the 1976 Montreal Olympics, although technically it was a matter for the IOC.[76] His action strained relations with the United States – from President Ford, future President Carter and the press – and subjected Canada to international condemnation and shame.[77][76]

As the 1970s wore on, growing public exhaustion towards Trudeau's personality and the country's constitutional debates caused his poll numbers to fall rapidly in the late 1970s.[78] At the 1978 G7 summit, he discussed strategies for the upcoming election with West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, who advised him to announce several spending cuts to quell criticism of the large deficits his government was running.[79]

After a series of defeats in by-elections in 1978, Trudeau waited as long as he could to call a statutory general election in 1979. He finally did so in 1979, only two months from the five-year limit provided under the British North America Act.[4]

Relations with United States

Relations deteriorated on many points in the Nixon years (1969–74), including trade disputes, defence agreements, energy, fishing, the environment, cultural imperialism, and foreign policy. They changed for the better when Trudeau and President Jimmy Carter (1977–81) found a better rapport. The late 1970s saw a more sympathetic American attitude toward Canadian political and economic needs, the pardoning of draft evaders who had moved to Canada, and the passing of old sore points such as Watergate and the Vietnam War. Canada more than ever welcomed American investments during the "stagflation" (high inflation and high unemployment at the same time) that hurt both nations in the 1970s.[80]

Pierre Trudeau Prime Minister, 1968–79 articles: 70

Defeat and opposition, 1979–80

In the election of 1979, Trudeau and the Liberals faced declining poll numbers and the Joe Clark–led Progressive Conservatives focusing on "pocketbook" issues. Trudeau and his advisors, to contrast with the mild-mannered Clark, based their campaign on Trudeau's decisive personality and his grasp of the Constitution file, despite the general public's apparent wariness of both. The traditional Liberal rally at Maple Leaf Gardens saw Trudeau stressing the importance of major constitutional reform to general ennui, and his campaign "photo-ops" were typically surrounded by picket lines and protesters. Though polls portended disaster, Clark's struggles justifying his party's populist platform and a strong Trudeau performance in the election debate helped bring the Liberals to the point of contention.[81]

Though winning the popular vote by four points, the Liberal vote was concentrated in Québec and faltered in industrial Ontario, allowing the PCs to win the seat-count handily and form a minority government. Trudeau soon announced his intention to resign as Liberal Party leader and favoured Donald Macdonald to be his successor.[82]

However, before a leadership convention could be held, with Trudeau's blessing and Allan MacEachen's manoeuvring in the house, the Liberals supported an NDP subamendment to Clark's budget stating that the House had no confidence in the budget. In Canada, as in most other countries with a Westminster system, budget votes are indirectly considered to be votes of confidence in the government, and their failure automatically brings down the government. Liberal and NDP votes and Social Credit abstentions led to the subamendment passing 139–133, thereby toppling Clark's government and triggering a new election for a House less than a year old. The Liberal caucus, along with friends and advisers persuaded Trudeau to stay on as leader and fight the election, with Trudeau's main impetus being the upcoming referendum on Québec sovereignty.[83]

Trudeau and the Liberals engaged in a new strategy for the February 1980 election: facetiously called the "low bridge", it involved dramatically underplaying Trudeau's role and avoiding media appearances, to the point of refusing a televised debate. On election day Ontario returned to the Liberal fold, and Trudeau and the Liberals defeated Clark and won a majority government.[84]

Pierre Trudeau Defeat and opposition, 1979–80 articles: 8

Prime Minister, 1980–84

Prime Minister Trudeau in 1980

As a result of the February 18, 1980 Canadian federal election, the 32nd Canadian Parliament was controlled by a Liberal Party majority, led by Prime Minister Trudeau and the 22nd Canadian Ministry.

The Liberal victory in 1980 highlighted a sharp geographical divide in the country: the party had won no seats west of Manitoba. Trudeau, in an attempt to represent Western interests, offered to form a coalition government with Ed Broadbent's NDP, which had won 22 seats in the west, but was rebuffed by Broadbent out of fear the party would have no influence in a majority government.[85]

The first challenge Trudeau faced upon re-election was the May 20, 1980 Quebec referendum on Québec sovereignty, called by the Parti Québécois government under René Lévesque. Trudeau immediately initiated federal involvement in the referendum, reversing the Clark government's policy of leaving the issue to the Québec Liberals and Claude Ryan. He appointed Jean Chrétien as the nominal spokesman for the federal government, helping to push the "Non" cause to working-class voters who tuned out the intellectual Ryan and Trudeau. Unlike Ryan and the Liberals, he refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of the referendum question, and noted that the "association" required consent from the other provinces.[86]

In the debates in the legislature during the campaign leading up to the referendum Lévesque said that Trudeau's middle name was Scottish, and that Trudeau's aristocratic upbringing proved that he was more Scottish than French.[87] A week prior to the referendum, Trudeau delivered one of his most well-known speeches, in which he extolled the virtues of federalism and questioned the ambiguous language of the referendum question. He described the origin of the name Canadian.[87] Trudeau promised a new constitutional agreement should Québec decide to stay in Canada, in which English-speaking Canadians would have to listen to valid concerns made by the Quebecois.[88] On May 20, sixty percent of Quebecers voted to remain in Canada. Following the announcement of the results, Trudeau said that he "had never been so proud to be a Quebecer and a Canadian".[88]

In their first budget, delivered in October 1980 by Trudeau's long-time loyalist, Finance Minister Allan MacEachen, the National Energy Program was introduced. It became one of the Liberal's most contentious policies. The NEP was fiercely protested by the Western provinces. The western provinces blamed the devastating oil bust of the 1980s on the NEB which led to what many termed "Western alienation". Peter Lougheed, then Premier of Alberta entered into tough negotiations with Trudeau and they reached a revenue-sharing agreement on energy in 1982.[39]

This first budget, was one of a series of unpopular budgets delivered in response to the oil shock of 1979 and the ensuing severe global economic recession which began at the start of 1980.[89][90] In his budget speech, MacEachen said that the global oil price shocks—in 1973 and again in 1979—had caused a "sharp renewal of inflationary forces and real income losses" in Canada and in the industrial world...They are not just Canadian problems ... they are world-wide problems."[91] Leaders of developed countries raised their concerns at the Venice Summit, at meetings of Finance Ministers of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).[91] The Bank of Canada wrote that there was a "deeply troubling air of uncertainty and anxiety" about the economy.[91][92][93][94]

Amongst the policies introduced by Trudeau's last term in office were an expansion in government support for Canada's poorest citizens.[95]

Patriation of the constitution

In 1982 Trudeau succeeded in repatriating the Constitution.[4] The British Parliament passed an act ceding to the Canadian federal government, full responsibility for amending Canada's national charter.[4] Earlier in his tenure, he had met with opposition from the provincial governments, most notably with the Victoria Charter. Provincial premiers were united in their concerns regarding an amending formula, a court-enforced Charter of Rights, and a further devolution of powers to the provinces. In 1980, Chrétien was tasked with creating a constitutional settlement following the Québec referendum in which Quebecers voted to remain in Canada.[88]

After chairing a series of increasingly acrimonious conferences with first ministers on the issue, Trudeau announced the intention of the federal government to proceed with a request to the British parliament to patriate the constitution, with additions to be approved by a referendum without input from provincial governments. Trudeau was backed by the NDP, Ontario Premier Bill Davis, and New Brunswick Premier Richard Hatfield and was opposed by the remaining premiers and PC leader Joe Clark. After numerous provincial governments challenged the legality of the decision using their reference power, conflicting decisions prompted a Supreme Court decision that stated unilateral patriation was legal, but was in contravention of a constitutional convention that the provinces be consulted and have general agreement to the changes.

After the court decision, which prompted some reservations in the British parliament of accepting a unilateral request,[96] Trudeau agreed to meet with the premiers one more time before proceeding. At the meeting, Trudeau reached an agreement with nine of the premiers on patriating the constitution and implementing the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, with the caveat that provincial legislatures would have the ability to use a notwithstanding clause to protect some laws from judicial oversight. The notable exception was Lévesque, who, Trudeau believed, would never have signed an agreement. The objection of the Québec government to the new constitution became a source of continued acrimony between the federal and Québec governments, and would forever stain Trudeau's reputation amongst nationalists in the province.

The Canada Act, which included the Constitution Act, 1982 and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, was proclaimed by Queen Elizabeth II, as Queen of Canada, on April 17, 1982.


By 1984, the Progressive Conservatives held a substantial lead in opinion polls under their new leader Brian Mulroney, and polls indicated that the Liberals faced all-but-certain defeat if Trudeau led them into the next election.

On February 29, 1984, a day after what he described as a walk through the snowy streets of Ottawa, Trudeau announced he would not lead the Liberals into the next election. He was frequently known to use the term "walk in the snow" as a trope; he claimed to have taken a similar walk in December 1979 before deciding to take the Liberals into the 1980 election.[97]

Trudeau formally retired on June 30, ending his 15-year tenure as Prime Minister. He was succeeded by John Turner, a former Cabinet minister under both Trudeau and Lester Pearson. Before handing power to Turner, Trudeau took the unusual step of appointing Liberal Senators from Western provinces to his Cabinet. He advised Governor General Jeanne Sauvé to appoint over 200 Liberals to patronage positions. He and Turner then crafted a legal agreement calling for Turner to advise an additional 70 patronage appointments. The sheer volume of appointments, combined with questions about the appointees' qualifications, led to condemnation from across the political spectrum.[98] However, an apparent rebound in the polls prompted Turner to call an election for September 1984, almost a year before it was due.

Turner's appointment deal with Trudeau came back to haunt the Liberals at the English-language debate, when Mulroney demanded that Turner apologize for not advising that the appointments be canceled—advice that Sauvé would have been required to follow by convention. Turner claimed that "I had no option" but to let the appointments stand, prompting Mulroney to tell him, "You had an option, sir–to say 'no'–and you chose to say 'yes' to the old attitudes and the old stories of the Liberal Party."[99]

In the 1984 election, Mulroney won the largest majority government (by total number of seats) in Canadian history. The Liberals, with Turner as leader, lost 95 seats–at the time, the worst defeat of a sitting government at the federal level. In the 1993 Canadian federal election, the Progressive Conservatives faced a larger defeat, when cut to two seats.

Pierre Trudeau Prime Minister, 1980–84 articles: 30