Down On The Town
by Alexander Oolo
Canada mourns - in all its native lands
Our nation’s 15th and 17th Prime Minister, The Right Honourable Joseph Phillippe Pierre Yves Elliott Trudeau, has been taken from us.
Born October 18th, 1919 in Montreal, Trudeau died at home September 28, 2000. He was 80 years young. Trudeau’s surviving two sons, Justin (29) and 27Alexandre (Sasha, 27), advised the nation of their beloved father’s passing.
Just recently, on September 7, did they shock a totally unprepared Canadian public when releasing a statement that described Trudeau as ailing and receiving medical attention at his Montreal residence.
That his death comes as such a collective shock is only natural. Any one who will remember Canada’s most brilliant, charismatic and gallant Statesman will inevitably do so in terms of his ageless personality and endless vitality. His sharp wit and history shaping words, his iconic gestures and antics bear witness to that.
Who could ever forget one-liners like, "There is no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation" (Dec. 22, 1967), or, "Well, just watch me" (Oct. 13, 1970), both times invoking revolutionary measures and results.
There are countless images we have of this master in the craft of politics: i.e., when Trudeau wore a most Maguesque costume to a Grey Cup game, but especially when he completed a carefree pirouette behind the back of Queen Elizabeth II.
It was during these public ‘performances’, and there were many during the absolute rule of Canada’s true First Knight (between 1968 and 1979 and again from 1980 to 1984), when the country received a rare glimpse into the actually ultra-private P.E.T, namely, a man who prized being loyal to his own self - above all else.
And so, despite having experienced mind changes and making also wrong calls during his time in office, Mr. Trudeau certainly never did so when it came to remaining true to his core convictions, his issues, his vision for a strong, united Canada.
The road map toward developing such discipline was based on a life-long path of learning, while initially being raised in an English and French speaking household where he would have separate discussions, English with his mother, French with his father. Milestones in Trudeau’s education started with the tough regime of a Jesuit upbringing, followed by the University of Montreal, Harvard, Ecole des sciences politiques & La Sorbonne (Paris), and the London School of Economics; he was called to the bar in 1943, receiving his law MA in 1945.
His immense education and a year of extensive global travel years before he had to as Prime Minister must have gifted Trudeau with his vast knowledge base and broad cross-cultural outlook. It certainly honed and sharpened his superior intellectual capacity. Academically and politically speaking, Trudeau was and still is beyond compare to any P.M. since Confederation in 1867.
Soon all this spelled out in Pierre Elliott becoming a social activist. In 1950 he co-founded Cite libre, a reform-minded magazine opposed to the despotic Quebec premier Maurice Duplessis. In the process, he picked up a reputation as a radical and a socialist, though the values he espoused were closer to those of liberalism and democracy.
While teaching and publishing as a law professor at the University of Montreal Trudeau made his way past Quebec’s Quiet Revolution following a Liberal victory in the 1960 Quebec election. It was during these years, leading into the mid-1960’s, when he became a sharp critic of the contemporary Québec nationalism and argued for a Canadian Federalism in which English and French Canada would find a new, permanent equality.
Following a 1965 recruitment by the federal Liberals Trudeau became elected as MP for Montreal’s Mount Royal riding (Nov. 8). One year later he was named parliamentary Secretary to Prime Minister Lester Pearson only to be appointed Minister of Justice in the following.
It was a banner year as Canada proudly celebrated its 100 years of Confederation and was host to the world at EXPO ‘67.
Trudeau of course gained national attention for his introduction of divorce law reform and for Criminal Code amendments liberalizing the laws on abortion, homosexuality, and public lotteries. He also established a reputation as a defender of a strong, centralized Canada.
And then it all began; P. E. Trudeau won the Liberal leadership convention of 1968, for which he initially had to be prompted to contest for in the first place.
"I will use all my strength to bring about a just society to a nation living in a tough world" (April 7), he said at an Ottawa news conference the day after his victory.
By the time June 25 came around Trudeau’s Liberals were swept to a majority government. And Canada? Canada was swept by "Trudeaumania" and moved indeed Towards a Just Society (Trudeau’s timeless Manifesto and a must-read).
The electorate never saw anything like it. Its new leader was a fully bilingual Quebecer, debonair, dashing and a bachelor. His unique demeanour, his down-to-earth personality, throwing Frisbees, jumping on trampolines, racing cars, it was all so new and exciting and young.
And Pierre Elliott Trudeau, who became the first P.M. to be born in the 20th century and so very much reflected the new vitality of the late 1960’s, set out to realize his vision.
Canada always first in his heart, his very first order of business was just that - to combine English and French Canadians. The old differences between Upper and Lower Canada, Ontario and Quebec, the English, the French, it had to be laid to rest, once and for all.
He believed that the "national government stood a better chance protecting the French language than a French only Quebec on its own." And so, on Sept. 7, 1969, his government’s Official Languages Act received Royal Assent. Canada became a bilingual country.
And then, when the Peace, Order and Good Government of Canada was threatened by terrorist acts from Quebec separatists, the so-called FLQ crisis (members of the Front de Libertation du Quebec started bombing, kidnapped and murdered), Trudeau, rightfully so, suspended civil liberties and invoked the 1970 War Measures Act.
"Yes, well there are 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, but it is more important to keep law and order in the society than to worry about weak-kneed people..."
The man who later became famous for his gunslinger pose, the man who automatically evoked sycophancy – from friend or foe alike - whenever people were in his present time, cleaned house.
With Trudeau it was Canadians who should become ‘masters in their own house’ and not Separatists.
And so it went on upon being re-elected. First the metric system came to our fair land and brought us up to par with the majority of a trading world.
Then a Multicultural Act was brought on to allow Canadians to preserve their source of heritage and still grow into full-fledged proud Canadians.
By the time 1979/80 came along, one of the strangest and most exciting times in Canadian politics, Trudeau’s government had changed and reformed much of Canada’s oftentimes archaic fabric and legislation.
Nevertheless, Joe Clark’s Conservatives took the ‘79 election (May 22) and formed a minority government. Trudeau had barely enough time to state his intention to resign from politics (Nov. 21) when Clark failed on a non-confidence vote in the House of Commons (December 13).
Trudeau, ever audacious, having taken several pages right out of Niccolo Maciavelli’s The Prince in his time, was always spot-on in his read of the public and political fortune.
Enter Trudeau, doing a full reversal only to now announce (Dec. 18) his full intention to lead his Liberals into the February election of 1980.
Not surprisingly Trudeau won by a majority and got to say his also famous, "Well, welcome to the 1980’s"!
That gave Pierre Elliott just a mere 3 months to stare down a new Separatist threat, the 1980 Quebec Referendum (May 20). History of course shows he did, as Quebecers voted 60-40 to reject a mandate to negotiate sovereignty association.
It truly was Trudeau’s finest hour, in particular when he addressed the nation via a live television broadcast. No other Canadian before and after him has ever mustered a more superior usage of rhetoric and pure magic.
Undoubtedly, Mr. Trudeau’s greatest gift to the nation was the patriation of Canada’s Constitution of 1982, albeit with a not altogether strong enough amendment formula. It was proclaimed April 17.
Canada became a nation on its own terms, and, in the process received Trudeau’s famous Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The proclamation was preceded by 4 grueling days of endless negotiation, when Trudeau (an unforgiving taskmaster) and 8 of the Premiers agreed on a constitutional deal but without the consent from Quebec’s Premier, the late Rene Levesque (Nov. 5, 1981).
By the time it was all said and done Pierre Elliott Trudeau announced his retirement from office (Feb. 29, 1984), stepping officially down as Prime Minister, June 30, 1984. He went on to practice law at the Montreal firm of Heenan Blaikie.
But Trudeau’s influence over the nation really never waned, especially during the corrupt Mulroney years.
It was in fact Mr. Trudeau who galvanized the forces against the Charlottetown and Meech Lake Accord that would have given Quebec specific powers to guarantee it having one leg up on the rest of Canada.
Surely enough, on March 30, 1988, the master came out of political retirement and spent six hours (!) speaking against the proposed Meech Lake Constitutional Accord before a Senate committee.
"I think we have to realize that Canada is not immortal; but, if it is going to go, let it go with a bang rather than a whimper."
Meech Lake basically died as the deadline for its ratification ran out by June 23, 1990.
It became the Achilles heel for the Tories losing out to the Liberals in the following federal election.
Over the years Pierre Elliott published his memoirs, but he did not really come into the public eye until November of 1998 when the youngest of the three Trudeau sons, Michel, drowned tragically after being caught in an avalanche in Kokanee Lake, B.C.
A true Canadian (Pierre loved the outdoors and was an avid wilderness canoeist), Trudeau shared his love of our land with his love for his three sons (Justin, Sacha and Michel) and his wife Margaret whom he married at age 52. They separated 1977, divorced in 1984, with Trudeau retaining custody of his boys.
Ultimately, it came to no ones surprise when friends close to Canada’s best known elder statesman (Trudeau was named Canada’s newsmaker of the 20th century, based on a Press-Broadcast News poll taken among its top decision makers, Dec. 20, 1999) peg the beginning of Trudeau decline on Michel’s tragic death.
What then is the legacy of the Trudeau era?
It cannot but be a sum total of all the above plus all his other accomplishments on behalf of Canada.
Nevertheless, there are, in this writer’s respective opinion, three living legacies, that remain with us in terms of his influences on our every-day agenda as a nation and beyond.
They are the Charter, Multiculturalism, and Canada’s place in the world.
Trudeau lives on in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The charter basically exists to safeguard rights and freedoms, be they of a citizen, or even a province for that matter, basically all persons and bodies of organization. It puts the onus on the law, the ultimate being the highest, the Supreme Court of Canada to meet out decisions on developments and changes in response to an ever changing world surrounding us and influencing our needs in it.
It therefore is to take the burden from a more binding, constrictive House of Commons where decisions concerning society are merely debated on and then passed on.
The realm of the court provides a more fluid, more organic environment. In it issues of any kind can be easier presented and undergo a far more thorough examination, in form of trial and prove.
It perfectly reflects what Trudeau stood for as a politician and citizen, namely, knowing that life is prone to change and that government must serve us in sustaining that change, be they issues or laws or legislation.
As an instrument for change the Charter has more than proven itself going right back to 1988 when it was invoked for the first time to decide on the controversial Morgenthaler case. Ever since then a steady flow of cases has assisted our legislative bodies and therefore us.
Trudeau’s bold leadership on multiculturalism has been the most undervalued of his political marathon while in power. In a nutshell, it prepared us for a New World, in essence for the global village.
It has taught us to see the world as it is. It could be said that Canada’s multicultural mosaic, Trudeau’s vision, with its different ethnic groups thriving and respecting each other in harmony is a microcosm of global things to come. Or, Canada in its present form is the very blue print into which the globe is inevitably progressing towards.
If that is the case, and it so as Canada is designated as the most multicultural country in the world, then Trudeau’s seeds planted will guarantee that our growth as a people and expansion as humans will truly be the best in this world.
Trudeau had also a profound effect on shaping what Canada is to us and what we mean to the world.
With him at our helm we not only became a country but also developed an actual conscience of nationhood.
In essence, he identified us as a nation – who we are, why we are, what we are. To have accomplished that within a people is an absolute sign of greatness.
Moreover, building on the diplomatic legacy left by Pearson, Trudeau traveled the world over on behalf of Canadians. And so, he made us known as an entity, marketed us as a viable and attractive trading partner and made us into the most liked people – all over the world.
In fact, it has been documented throughout his entire career, wherever Trudeau went with his disarming charisma & personality, his incredible knowledge of different cultures and his nothing but perfect preparedness, world leaders paid attention to him, and thus Canada.
Having left such a legacy behind was invaluable, is timeless and will last from here until Canada’s 200th anniversary in 2067.
It is because of all this, his love and passion for and relentless service to Canada and his humanity for the entire world, notwithstanding his political credo of Ration over Passion, that our nation indeed lost a great friend and, in a way, a father of 20th century Re-Confederation.
And since he was such a perfect example of a citizen of the world, it is no wonder that the entire world mourns with Canada. Even the Security Council of the United Nations gave our Pierre, the long ago retired statesman, one-minute of silence.
Always true to his self, never backing down from a confrontation or good fight, he is to be remembered as a true chevalier of politics. His principles always visible he never abandoned them once. Pure in his ethics, morals and values, he was one-of-a-kind.
Well done, thou good and faithful servant.
"Pierre Trudeau", so Prime Minister Jean Chrétien about his mentor and friend, "the embodiment of the dream of a just society, has left us. He is gone but his unfinished work remains - our country, Canada."
Pierre Elliott Trudeau, in my books, was Canada and a nobler Canadian never walked amongst us. Let it be said that we will strive to build on his legacy.
"We peer so suspiciously at each other that we cannot see that we Canadians are standing on a mountaintop of human wealth, freedom and privilege." Dec. 31, 1980, New Year’s message.
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