Trudeau rose to prominence as a lawyer, intellectual, and activist in Quebec politics. In the 1960s he entered federal politics by joining the Liberal Party of Canada. He was appointed as Lester B. Pearson's Parliamentary Secretary and later became his Minister of Justice. Trudeau became a media sensation, inspiring "Trudeaumania", and took charge of the Liberals in 1968. From the late 1960s until the mid-1980s, his personality dominated the political scene to an extent never before seen in Canadian political life. Despite his personal motto, "Reason before passion", his personality and political career aroused polarizing reactions throughout Canada.
Admirers praise the force of Trudeau's intellect and salute his political acumen in preserving national unity against the Quebec sovereignty movement, suppressing a 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 Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Critics accuse him of arrogance, of economic mismanagement, and of unduly centralizing Canadian decision-making to the detriment of Quebec's culture and the economy of the Prairies. He retired from politics in 1984, and John Turner succeeded him.
His eldest son, Justin Trudeau, became the 23rd and current Prime Minister as a result of the 2015 federal election and is the first prime minister of Canada to be related to a former prime minister.
The Trudeau family can be traced to Marcillac-Lanville in France in the 16th century and to a Robert Truteau (1544–1589). In 1659 the first Trudeau to arrive in Canada was Étienne Trudeau or Truteau (1641–1712), a carpenter and home builder from La Rochelle.
Pierre Trudeau was born at home at 5779 Durocher Avenue, Outremont, Montreal, on October 18, 1919, to Charles-Émile "Charley" Trudeau, 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.; he remained close to both siblings for his entire life. The family had become quite wealthy by the time Trudeau was in his teens, as his father sold his prosperous gas station business to Imperial Oil. Trudeau attended the prestigious Collège Jean-de-Brébeuf (a private French Jesuit school), where he supported Quebec nationalism. Trudeau's father died when Pierre was 15 years old. This death hit him and the family very hard emotionally. Trudeau remained very close to his mother for the rest of her life.
According to long-time friend and colleague Marc Lalonde, the clerically influenced dictatorships of António de Oliveira Salazar in Portugal (the Estado Novo), Francisco Franco in Spain (the Spanish State), and Marshal Philippe Pétain in Vichy France were seen as political role models by many youngsters educated at elite Jesuit schools in Quebec. Lalonde asserts that Trudeau's later intellectual development as an "intellectual rebel, anti-establishment fighter on behalf of unions and promoter of religious freedom" came from his experiences after leaving Quebec to study in the United States, France and England, and to travel to dozens of countries. His international experiences allowed him to break from Jesuit influence and study French progressive Catholic philosophers such as Jacques Maritain and Emmanuel Mounier as well as John Locke and David Hume.
Trudeau earned his law degree at the Université de Montréal in 1943. During his studies, he was conscripted into the Canadian Army as part of the National Resources Mobilization Act. When conscripted, he decided to join the Canadian Officers' Training Corps, and he then served with the other conscripts in Canada, since they were not assigned to overseas military service until after the Conscription Crisis of 1944 after the Invasion of Normandy that June. Before this, all Canadians serving overseas were volunteers, and not conscripts.
Trudeau said he was willing to fight during World War II, but he believed that to do so would be to turn his back on the population of Quebec that he believed had been betrayed by the government of William Lyon Mackenzie King. Trudeau reflected on his opposition to conscription and his doubts about the war in his Memoirs (1993): "So there was a war? Tough ... if you were a French Canadian in Montreal in the early 1940s, you did not automatically believe that this was a just war ... we tended to think of this war as a settling of scores among the superpowers."
In an Outremont by-election in 1942 he campaigned for the anticonscription candidate Jean Drapeau (later the Mayor of Montreal), and he was thenceforth expelled from the Officers' Training Corps for lack of discipline. After the war Trudeau continued his studies, first taking a master's degree in political economy at Harvard University's Graduate School of Public Administration (now the John F. Kennedy School of Government). He then studied in Paris, France in 1947 at the Institut d'Études Politiques de Paris. Finally, he enrolled for a doctorate at the London School of Economics, but did not finish his dissertation.
Trudeau was interested in Marxist ideas in the 1940s and his Harvard dissertation was on the topic of Communism and Christianity. Thanks to the great intellectual migration away from Europe's fascism, Harvard had become a major intellectual centre in which he profoundly changed. Despite this, Trudeau found himself an outsider – a French Catholic living for the first time outside of Quebec in the predominantly Protestant American Harvard University. This isolation deepened finally into despair, and led to Trudeau's decision to continue his Harvard studies abroad.
In 1947 Trudeau travelled to Paris to continue his dissertation work. Over a five-week period he attended many lectures and became a follower of personalism after being influenced most notably by Emmanuel Mounier. He also was influenced by Nikolai Berdyaev, particularly his book Slavery and Freedom. Max and Monique Nemni argue that Berdyaev's book influenced Trudeau's rejection of nationalism and separatism. 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. This cemented Trudeau's belief that Keynesian economics and social science were essential to the creation of the "good life" in democratic society.
From the late 1940s through the mid-1960s, Trudeau was primarily based in Montreal and was seen by many as an intellectual. In 1949 he was an active supporter of workers in the Asbestos Strike. In 1956 he edited an important book on the subject, La grève de l'amiante, which argued that the strike was a seminal event in Quebec's history, marking the beginning of resistance to the conservative, Francophone clerical establishment and Anglophone business class that had long ruled the province. Throughout the 1950s, Trudeau, as the co-founder and editor of Cité Libre, a dissident journal that helped provide the intellectual basis for the Quiet Revolution, was a leading figure in the opposition to the repressive rule of Premier of Quebec Maurice Duplessis.
From 1949 to 1951 Trudeau worked briefly in Ottawa, 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. Despite these connections, when Trudeau entered federal politics in the 1960s he decided to join the Liberal Party of Canada rather than the CCF's successor, the New Democratic Party (NDP). Trudeau felt the federal NDP could not achieve power, expressed doubts about the feasibility of the centralizing policies of the party, and felt that the party leadership tended toward a "deux nations" approach he could not support.
In his memoirs, published in 1993, Trudeau wrote that during the 1950s he wanted to teach at the Université de Montréal, but was blacklisted three times from doing so by Maurice Duplessis, then-Premier of Quebec. 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 Quebec. 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.
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 Quebec 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. 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. Nevertheless, he was persuaded to join the party in 1965, together 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.
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.
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". Trudeau paraphrased the term from Martin O'Malley's editorial piece in The Globe and Mail on December 12, 1967. Trudeau also liberalized divorce laws, and clashed with Quebec Premier Daniel Johnson, Sr. during constitutional negotiations.
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.
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.
Trudeau soon called an election, for June 25. His election campaign benefited from an unprecedented wave of personal popularity called "Trudeaumania", 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. 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 Quebec 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 election the next day.
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, and substantially expanded the welfare state, with the establishment of new programmes.
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. 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.
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". This annoyed public opinion in Quebec, which believed that it challenged Quebec's claim of Canada as a country of two nations.
The first major policy failure of Trudeau's first term was the 1969 White Paper on Indians, which was promoted by new Department of Indian and Northern Affairs minister Jean Chrétien as part of Trudeau's push for classical liberal participatory democracy. The statement proposed the general assimilation of First Nations into the Canadian body politic through the elimination of the Indian Act and Indian status, the parcelling of reserve land to private owners, and the elimination of the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs. The White Paper prompted the first major national mobilization of Indian and Aboriginal activists against the Federal government's proposal, leading to Trudeau setting aside the legislation.
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 Quebec 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. 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.
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.
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. 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 Quebec, as well as regional vetoes for Western Canada and Atlantic Canada, within the new constitution. The agreement was acceptable to the nine predominantly-English speaking provinces, while Quebec's Premier Robert Bourassa requested two weeks to consult with his cabinet. After a strong backlash of popular opinion against the agreement in Quebec, Bourassa stated Quebec would not accept it.
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".
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.
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. 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. A campaign tour featuring Trudeau's wife and infant sons was popular, and NDP supporters scared of wage controls moved toward the Liberals.
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.
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. In September 1975 the popular Finance Minister John Turner resigned over a perceived lack of support in countervailing measures. 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.
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. 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.
Trudeau faced increasing challenges in Quebec, starting with bitter relations with Bourassa and his Liberal government in Quebec. After a rise in the polls after the rejection of the Victoria Charter, the Quebec 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 Quebec. 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.
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.
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, but aides felt the personal tensions left him uncharacteristically emotional and prone to outbursts.
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. 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.
After a series of defeats in by-elections in 1978, Trudeau avoided calling the 31st Canadian general election until the spring of 1979, only two months from the five-year limit provided under the British North America Act.
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.
Though winning the popular vote by four points, the Liberal vote was concentrated in Quebec 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.
However, before a leadership convention could be held, with Trudeau's blessing and Allan MacEachen's maneuvering in the house, the Liberals voted against Clark's government by supprting an NDP subamendment to the budget which stated that the House had no confidence in the budget (in Canada, budgets are items considered indirectly to be matters of confidence in the government, and their failure necessitates the fall of the government). Liberal support, along with NDP votes and a Social Credit abstention, led to the subamendment passing 139-133, resulting in the failure of the budget, the PC government's collapse, and a subsequent election. 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 Quebec sovereignty.
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.
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. Trudeau then took the unusual step of appointing Liberal Senators from Western provinces to Cabinet, in the 22nd Canadian Ministry.
The first challenge Trudeau faced upon re-election was the referendum on Quebec sovereignty, called by the Parti Québécois government of René Lévesque, the date of which (May 20, 1980) was announced when Parliament re-opened after the election. Trudeau immediately initiated federal involvement in the referendum, reversing the Clark government's policy of leaving the issue to the Quebec 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.
As the campaign began to pick up steam, and the Quebec Liberals struggled in the legislative debate, Trudeau and Lévesque became heavily involved, with Lévesque mocking Trudeau's English middle name and aristocratic upbringing. Trudeau dramatically intervened in the best-received speech of his career a week before the referendum, extolling the virtues of federalism, mocking the unclear nature of the referendum, and dramatically pointing out that his name was neither French nor English, but a Canadian name. Trudeau noted that English Canada would have to listen to the various issues prompted by the referendum, and he promised a new constitutional agreement should it decide to stay in Canada. The "No" side (that is, "No" to sovereignty) ended up receiving nearly 60% of the vote. Trudeau stated that night that he "had never been so proud to be a Quebecer and a Canadian".
Trudeau had attempted patriation of the constitution earlier in his tenure, most notably with the Victoria Charter, but ran into the combined force of provincial premiers on the issues of an amending formula, a court-enforced Charter of Rights, and a further devolution of powers to the provinces. After the victory in the Quebec referendum, Chrétien was immediately tasked with creating a constitutional settlement.
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, 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 Quebec government to the new constitution became a source of continued acrimony between the federal and Quebec governments, and would forever stain Trudeau's reputation amongst nationalists in the province.
The Canada Act, which included the Constitution Act, 1982 and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, was proclaimed by Queen Elizabeth II, as Queen of Canada, on April 17, 1982.
A series of difficult budgets by long-time loyalist Allan MacEachen in the early 1980s did not improve Trudeau's economic reputation. However, after tough bargaining on both sides, Trudeau did reach a revenue-sharing agreement on energy with Alberta Premier Peter Lougheed in 1982. Amongst the policies introduced by Trudeau's last term in office were an expansion in government support for Canada’s poorest citizens and the introduction of the National Energy Program (NEP), which created a firestorm of protest in the Western provinces and increased what many termed "Western alienation".
Trudeau's approval ratings slipped after the bounce from the 1982 patriation. Meanwhile, the Progressive Conservatives raced out to a substantial lead in opinion polls under new leader Brian Mulroney. By the beginning of 1984, it was obvious that the Liberals would be heavily defeated if Trudeau remained in office. On February 29, after what he described as a "long walk in the snow", Trudeau announced he would not lead the Liberals into the next election. He formally retired on June 30, ending his 15-year tenure as Prime Minister. Trudeau was succeeded as Liberal leader and Prime Minister by former cabinet minister John Turner, who had been out of politics for almost a decade.
Before handing power to Turner, Trudeau 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. 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." The Liberals never recovered from this. Combined with anger in Quebec at being left out of patriation, the Liberals were heavily defeated at the 1984 election, losing 95 seats in what was then the worst defeat of a sitting government at the federal level.
Trudeau joined the Montreal law firm Heenan Blaikie as counsel and settled in the historic Maison Cormier in Montreal following his retirement from politics. Though he rarely gave speeches or spoke to the press, his interventions into public debate had a significant impact when they occurred. Trudeau wrote and spoke out against both the Meech Lake Accord and Charlottetown Accord proposals to amend the Canadian constitution, arguing that they would weaken federalism and the Charter of Rights if implemented. His opposition to both Accords was considered one of the major factors leading to the defeat of the two proposals.
He also continued to speak against the Parti Québécois and the sovereignty movement with less effect.
Trudeau also remained active in international affairs, visiting foreign leaders and participating in international associations such as the Club of Rome. He met with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and other leaders in 1985; shortly afterwards Gorbachev met President Ronald Reagan to discuss easing world tensions.
He published his memoirs in 1993; the book sold hundreds of thousands of copies in several editions, and became one of the most successful Canadian books ever published.
In the last years of his life, he was afflicted with Parkinson's disease and prostate cancer, and became less active, although he continued to work at his law practice until a few months before his death at the age of 80. He was devastated by the death of his youngest son, Michel Trudeau, who was killed in an avalanche in November 1998.
Pierre Elliott Trudeau died on September 28, 2000, and was buried in the Trudeau family crypt, St-Rémi-de-Napierville Cemetery, Saint-Rémi, Quebec. His body lay in state in the Hall of Honour in Parliament Hill's Centre Block to allow Canadians to pay their last respects. Several world politicians, including former US President Jimmy Carter and Fidel Castro, attended the funeral. His son Justin delivered the eulogy during the state funeral which led to widespread speculation in the media that a career in politics was in his future. Eventually, Justin did enter politics, was elected to the House of Commons in late 2008, became the leader of the federal Liberal Party in April 2013, and was elected Prime Minister of Canada on October 19, 2015—the first time a father and his son have become prime ministers in Canada.
Trudeau was a Roman Catholic and attended church throughout his life. While mostly private about his beliefs, he made it clear that he was a believer, stating, in an interview with the United Church Observer in 1971: "I believe in life after death, I believe in God and I'm a Christian." Trudeau maintained, however, that he preferred to impose constraints on himself rather than have them imposed from the outside. In this sense, he believed he was more like a Protestant than a Catholic of the era in which he was schooled.
Michael W. Higgins, a former President of St. Thomas University, has researched Trudeau's spirituality and finds that it incorporated elements of three Catholic traditions. The first of these was the Jesuits who provided his education up to the college level. Trudeau frequently displayed the logic and love of argument consistent with that tradition. A second great spiritual influence in Trudeau's life was Dominican. According to Michel Gorges, Rector of the Dominican University College, Trudeau "considered himself a lay Dominican". He studied philosophy under Dominican Father Louis-Marie Régis and remained close to him throughout his life, regarding Régis as "spiritual director and friend". Another skein in Trudeau's spirituality was a contemplative aspect acquired from his association with the Benedictine tradition. According to Higgins, Trudeau was convinced of the centrality of meditation in a life fully lived. He took retreats at Saint-Benoît-du-Lac, Quebec and regularly attended Hours and the Eucharist at Montreal's Benedictine community.
Although never publicly theological in the way of Margaret Thatcher or Tony Blair, nor evangelical, in the way of Jimmy Carter or George W. Bush, Trudeau's spirituality, according to Michael W. Higgins, "suffused, anchored, and directed his inner life. In no small part, it defined him."
Described as a "swinging young bachelor" when he became prime minister in 1968, Trudeau dated Hollywood star Barbra Streisand in 1969 and 1970. They had a serious romantic relationship, although (contrary to one published report) there was no express marriage proposal.
On March 4, 1971, while Prime Minister, he quietly married Margaret Sinclair at St. Stephen's Catholic church in North Vancouver. Contrary to his publicized exploits, Trudeau was an intense intellectual with intense work habits and little time for family or fun, and she felt trapped and bored in the marriage, feelings that were exacerbated by her retroactively diagnosed bipolar depression. After three children, 23rd and current Prime Minister Justin (born 1971), Alexandre (Sacha, born 1973), and Michel (1975–1998), the couple separated in 1977 and were finally divorced in 1984.
When his divorce was finalized in 1984, Trudeau became the first Canadian Prime Minister to become a single parent as the result of divorce. In 1984, Trudeau was romantically involved with Margot Kidder (a Canadian actress famous for her role as Lois Lane in Superman: The Movie and its sequels) in the last months of his prime-ministership and after leaving office. In 1991, Trudeau became a father again, with Deborah Coyne, to his first and only daughter, named Sarah. Deborah Coyne later stood for the leadership of the federal Liberal Party in 2013, the same election that Trudeau's son Justin won, at which she came in fifth.
Trudeau began practising the Japanese martial art judo sometime in the mid-1950s when he was in his mid-thirties, and by the end of the decade he was ranked ikkyū (brown belt). Later, when he travelled to Japan as Prime Minister, he was promoted to shodan (first-degree black belt) by the Kodokan, and then promoted to nidan (second-degree black belt) by Masao Takahashi in Ottawa before leaving office. Trudeau began the night of his famous "walk in the snow" before announcing his retirement in 1984 by going to judo with his sons.
Trudeau remains well regarded by many Canadians. However, the passage of time has only slightly softened the strong antipathy he inspired among his opponents. Trudeau's charisma and confidence as Prime Minister, and his championing of the Canadian identity are often cited as reasons for his popularity. His strong personality, contempt for his opponents and distaste for compromise on many issues have made him, as historian Michael Bliss puts it, "one of the most admired and most disliked of all Canadian prime ministers". "He haunts us still", biographers Christina McCall and Stephen Clarkson wrote in 1990. Trudeau's electoral successes were matched in the 20th century only by those of Mackenzie King. In all, Trudeau is undoubtedly one of the most dominant and transformative figures in Canadian political history.
Trudeau's most enduring legacy may lie in his contribution to Canadian nationalism, and of pride in Canada in and for itself rather than as a derivative of the British Commonwealth. His role in this effort, and his related battles with Quebec on behalf of Canadian unity, cemented his political position when in office despite the controversies he faced—and remain the most remembered aspect of his tenure afterwards.
Some consider Trudeau's economic policies to have been a weak point. Inflation and unemployment marred much of his tenure as prime minister. When Trudeau took office in 1968 Canada had a debt of $18 billion (24% of GDP) which was largely left over from World War II, when he left office in 1984, that debt stood at $200 billion (46% of GDP), an increase of 83% in real terms. However, these trends were present in most western countries at the time, including the United States.
Though his popularity had fallen in English Canada at the time of his retirement in 1984, public opinion later became more sympathetic to him, particularly in comparison to Brian Mulroney.
Many politicians still use the term "taking a walk in the snow", the line Trudeau used to describe his decision to leave office in 1984. Other popular Trudeauisms frequently used are "just watch me", the "Trudeau Salute", and "Fuddle Duddle".
Maclean's 1997 and 2011 scholarly surveys ranked him twice as the fifth best Canadian prime minister.
One of Trudeau's most enduring legacies is the 1982 patriation of the Canadian constitution, including a domestic amending formula and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It is seen as advancing civil rights and liberties and has become a cornerstone of Canadian values for most Canadians. It also represented the final step in Trudeau's liberal vision of a fully independent and nationalist Canada based on fundamental human rights and the protection of individual freedoms as well as those of linguistic and cultural minorities. Court challenges based on the Charter of Rights have been used to advance the cause of women's equality, re-establish French school boards in provinces such as Alberta and Saskatchewan, and to mandate the adoption of same-sex marriage all across Canada. Section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982, has clarified issues of aboriginal and equality rights, including establishing the previously denied aboriginal rights of Métis. Section 15, dealing with equality rights, has been used to remedy societal discrimination against minority groups. The coupling of the direct and indirect influences of the charter has meant that it has grown to influence every aspect of Canadian life and the override (notwithstanding clause) of the charter has been infrequently used.
Canadian conservatives claim the constitution has resulted in too much judicial activism on the part of the courts in Canada. It is also heavily criticized by Quebec nationalists, who resent that the 1982 amendments to the constitution were never ratified by any Quebec government and the constitution does not recognize a constitutional veto for Quebec.
Bilingualism is one of Trudeau's most lasting accomplishments, having been fully integrated into the Federal government's services, documents, and broadcasting (not, however, in provincial governments, except for Ontario, New Brunswick, and Manitoba). While official bilingualism has settled some of the grievances Francophones had towards the federal government, many Francophones had hoped that Canadians would be able to function in the official language of their choice no matter where in the country they were.
However, Trudeau's ambitions in this arena have been overstated: Trudeau once said that he regretted the use of the term "bilingualism", because it appeared to demand that all Canadians speak two languages. In fact, Trudeau's vision was to see Canada as a bilingual confederation in which all cultures would have a place. In this way, his conception broadened beyond simply the relationship of Quebec to Canada.
On October 8, 1971, Pierre Trudeau introduced the Multiculturalism Policy in the House of Commons. It was the first of its kind in the world, and was then emulated in several provinces, such as Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and other countries most notably Australia, which has had a similar history and immigration pattern. Beyond the specifics of the policy itself, this action signalled an openness to the world and coincided with a more open immigration policy that had been brought in by Trudeau's predecessor Lester B. Pearson.
In the last years of his tenure he ensured both the National Gallery of Canada and the Canadian Museum of Civilization had proper homes in the national capital region. The Trudeau government also implemented programs which mandated Canadian content in film, and broadcasting, and gave substantial subsidies to develop the Canadian media and cultural industries. Though the policies remain controversial, Canadian media industries have become stronger since Trudeau's arrival.
Trudeau's posthumous reputation in the Western Provinces is notably less favourable than in the rest of English-speaking Canada, and he is sometimes regarded as the "father of Western alienation". To many westerners, Trudeau's policies seemed to favour other parts of the country, especially Ontario and Quebec, at their expense. Outstanding among such policies was the National Energy Program, which was seen as unfairly depriving western provinces of the full economic benefit from their oil and gas resources, in order to pay for nationwide social programs, and make regional transfer payments to poorer parts of the country. Sentiments of this kind were especially strong in oil-rich Alberta where unemployment rose from 4% to 10% following passage of the NEP. Estimates have placed Alberta's losses between $50 billion and $100 billion because of the NEP.
More particularly, two incidents involving Trudeau are remembered as having fostered Western alienation, and as emblematic of it. During a visit to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan on July 17, 1969, Trudeau met with a group of farmers who were protesting the Canadian Wheat Board. The widely remembered perception is that Trudeau dismissed the protesters' concerns with "Why should I sell your wheat?" – however, he had asked the question rhetorically and then proceeded to answer it himself. Years later, on a train trip through Salmon Arm, British Columbia, he "gave the finger" to a group of protesters through the carriage window – less widely remembered is that the protesters were shouting anti-French slogans at the train.
Trudeau's legacy in Quebec is mixed. Many credit his actions during the October Crisis as crucial in terminating the Front de libération du Québec (FLQ) as a force in Quebec, and ensuring that the campaign for Quebec separatism took a democratic and peaceful route. However, his imposition of the War Measures Act—which received majority support at the time—is remembered by some in Quebec and elsewhere as an attack on democracy. Trudeau is also credited by many for the defeat of the 1980 Quebec referendum.
At the federal level, Trudeau faced almost no strong political opposition in Quebec during his time as Prime Minister. For instance, his Liberal party captured 74 out of 75 Quebec seats in the 1980 federal election. Provincially, though, Québécois twice elected the pro-sovereignty Parti Québécois. Moreover, there were not at that time any pro-sovereignty federal parties such as the Bloc Québécois. Since the signing of the Constitutional Act of Canada in 1982 and until 2015, the Liberal Party of Canada had not succeeded in winning a majority of seats in Quebec. Trudeau was disliked by the Quebecois nationalists.
Trudeau made a number of contributions throughout his career to the intellectual discourse of Canadian politics. Trudeau was a strong advocate for a federalist model of government in Canada, developing and promoting his ideas in response and contrast to strengthening Quebec nationalist movements, for instance the social and political atmosphere created during Maurice Duplessis' time in power. Federalism in this context can be defined as "a particular way of sharing political power among different peoples within a state...Those who believe in federalism hold that different peoples do not need states of their own in order to enjoy self-determination. Peoples ... may agree to share a single state while retaining substantial degrees of self-government over matters essential to their identity as peoples". As a social democrat, Trudeau sought to combine and harmonize his theories on social democracy with those of federalism so that both could find effective expression in Canada. He noted the ostensible conflict between socialism, with its usually strong centralist government model, and federalism, which expounded a division and cooperation of power by both federal and provincial levels of government. In particular, Trudeau stated the following about socialists:
[R]ather than water down ... their socialism, must constantly seek ways of adapting it to a bicultural society governed under a federal constitution. And since the future of Canadian federalism lies clearly in the direction of co-operation, the wise socialist will turn his thoughts in that direction, keeping in mind the importance of establishing buffer zones of joint sovereignty and co-operative zones of joint administration between the two levels of government
Trudeau pointed out that in sociological terms, Canada is inherently a federalist society, forming unique regional identities and priorities, and therefore a federalist model of spending and jurisdictional powers is most appropriate. He argues, "in the age of the mass society, it is no small advantage to foster the creation of quasi-sovereign communities at the provincial level, where power is that much less remote from the people."
Trudeau's idealistic plans for a cooperative Canadian federalist state were resisted and hindered as a result of his narrowness on ideas of identity and socio-cultural pluralism: "While the idea of a 'nation' in the sociological sense is acknowledged by Trudeau, he considers the allegiance which it generates—emotive and particularistic—to be contrary to the idea of cohesion between humans, and as such creating fertile ground for the internal fragmentation of states and a permanent state of conflict". This position garnered significant criticism for Trudeau, in particular from Quebec and First Nations peoples on the basis that his theories denied their rights to nationhood. First Nations communities raised particular concerns with the proposed 1969 White Paper, developed under Trudeau by Jean Chrétien.
Trudeau chose the following jurists to be appointed as justices of the Supreme Court of Canada by the Governor General:Bora Laskin (March 19, 1970 – March 17, 1984; as Chief Justice, December 27, 1973)
Joseph Honoré Gérald Fauteux (as Chief Justice, March 23, 1970 – December 23, 1973; appointed a Puisne Justice December 22, 1949)
Brian Dickson (March 26, 1973 – June 30, 1990; as Chief Justice, April 18, 1984)
Jean Beetz (January 1, 1974 – November 10, 1988)
Louis-Philippe de Grandpré (January 1, 1974 – October 1, 1977)
Willard Zebedee Estey (September 29, 1977 – April 22, 1988)
Yves Pratte (October 1, 1977 – June 30, 1979)
William McIntyre (January 1, 1979 – February 15, 1989)
Antonio Lamer (March 28, 1980 – January 6, 2000)
Bertha Wilson (March 4, 1982 – January 4, 1991)
Gerald Le Dain (May 29, 1984 – November 30, 1988)
The following honours were bestowed upon him by the Governor General, or by Queen Elizabeth II herself:Trudeau was made a member of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada on April 4, 1967, giving him the style "The Honourable" and post-nominal "PC" for life.
He was styled "The Right Honourable" for life on his appointment as Prime Minister on April 20, 1968.
Trudeau was made a Companion of Honour in 1984.
He was made a Companion of the Order of Canada (post-nominal "CC") on June 24, 1985.
He was granted arms, crest, and supporters by the Canadian Heraldic Authority on December 7, 1994.
Other honours include:The Canadian news agency Canadian Press named Trudeau "Newsmaker of the Year" a record ten times, including every year from 1968 to 1975, and two more times in 1978 and 2000. In 1999, CP also named Trudeau "Newsmaker of the 20th Century." Trudeau declined to give CP an interview on that occasion, but said in a letter that he was "surprised and pleased." In informal and unscientific polls conducted by Canadian Internet sites, users also widely agreed with the honour.
In 1983–84, he was awarded the Albert Einstein Peace Prize, for negotiating the reduction of nuclear weapons and Cold War tension in several countries.
The Pierre Elliott Trudeau High School in Markham, Ontario, is named in his honour.
Collège Pierre-Elliott-Trudeau in Winnipeg, Manitoba, is also named in his honour.
Pierre Elliott Trudeau elementary school in Oshawa, Ontario.
Pierre Elliott Trudeau elementary school in Blainville, Québec.
Pierre Elliott Trudeau elementary school in Gatineau, Québec.
École élémentaire Pierre-Elliott-Trudeau in Toronto, Ontario.
Pierre Elliot Trudeau French Immersion Public School in St. Thomas, Ontario.
In 2001, the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation was established as a living memorial by his family, friends, and colleagues.
The Montréal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport (YUL) in Dorval, Montreal was renamed in his honour, effective January 1, 2004.
In 2004, viewers of the CBC series The Greatest Canadian voted Trudeau the third greatest Canadian.
The government of British Columbia named a peak in the Cariboo Mountains Mount Pierre Elliott Trudeau, on June 10, 2006. The peak is located in the Premier Range, which has many peaks named for British Columbian premiers and Canadian prime ministers.
Trudeau was awarded a 2nd dan black belt in judo by the Takahashi School of Martial Arts in Ottawa.
Trudeau was ranked No.5 of the first 20 Prime Ministers of Canada (through Jean Chrétien in a survey of Canadian historians. The survey was used in the book Prime Ministers: Ranking Canada's Leaders by Jack Granatstein and Norman Hillmer.
In 2009 Trudeau was posthumously inducted into the Q Hall of Fame Canada, Canada's Prestigious National LGBT Human Rights Hall of Fame, for his pioneering efforts in the advancement of human rights and equality for all Canadians.
University of Alberta in Edmonton in 1968
University of Khartoum in Khartoum, Sudan, in 1969
Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, in 1968
Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, in 1974
University of Ottawa in Ottawa, Ontario, in (LL.D) 1974
Keio University in Tokyo, Japan, in 1976 (LL.D)
University of Notre Dame du Lac in Notre Dame, Indiana, in 1982
St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, in 1982
University of British Columbia, in Vancouver in 1986
University of Macau in Macau, China, in 1987 (LL.D)
Université de Montréal in Montreal, Quebec, in 1987
University of Toronto in Toronto, Ontario (LL.D), on 31 March 1991.
Trudeau was appointed a Companion of the Order of Canada on June 24, 1985. His citation reads:
Lawyer, professor, author and defender of human rights this statesman served as Prime Minister of Canada for fifteen years. Lending substance to the phrase "the style is the man," he has imparted, both in his and on the world stage, his quintessentially personal philosophy of modern politics.
Through hours of archival footage and interviews with Trudeau himself, the documentary Memoirs details the story of a man who used intelligence and charisma to bring together a country that was very nearly torn apart.
Trudeau's life is depicted in two CBC Television mini-series. The first one, Trudeau (with Colm Feore in the title role), depicts his years as Prime Minister. Trudeau II: Maverick in the Making with Stéphane Demers as the young Pierre, and Tobie Pelletier as him in later years) portrays his earlier life.
The 1999 documentary film Just Watch Me: Trudeau and the '70s Generation explores the impact of Trudeau's vision of Canadian bilingualism through interviews with eight young Canadians.
He was the co-subject along with René Lévesque in the Donald Brittain-directed documentary mini-series The Champions.Memoirs. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1993. ISBN 0-7710-8588-5
Towards a just society: the Trudeau years, with Thomas S. Axworthy, (eds.) Markham, Ont.: Viking, 1990.
The Canadian Way: Shaping Canada's Foreign Policy 1968–1984, with Ivan Head
Two innocents in Red China. (Deux innocents en Chine rouge), with Jacques Hébert 1960.
Against the Current: Selected Writings, 1939–1996. (À contre-courant: textes choisis, 1939–1996). Gerard Pelletier (ed)
The Essential Trudeau. Ron Graham, (ed.) Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, c1998. ISBN 0-7710-8591-5
The asbestos strike. (Grève de l'amiante), translated by James Boake 1974
Pierre Trudeau Speaks Out on Meech Lake. Donald J. Johnston, (ed). Toronto: General Paperbacks, 1990. ISBN 0-7736-7244-3
Approaches to politics. Introd. by Ramsay Cook. Prefatory note by Jacques Hébert. Translated by I. M. Owen. from the French Cheminements de la politique. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1970. ISBN 0-19-540176-X
Underwater Man, with Joe MacInnis. New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1975. ISBN 0-396-07142-2
Federalism and the French Canadians. Introd. by John T. Saywell. 1968
Conversation with Canadians. Foreword by Ivan L. Head. Toronto, Buffalo: University of Toronto Press 1972. ISBN 0-8020-1888-2
The best of Trudeau. Toronto: Modern Canadian Library. 1972 ISBN 0-919364-08-X
Lifting the shadow of war. C. David Crenna, editor. Edmonton: Hurtig, c1987. ISBN 0-88830-300-9
Human rights, federalism and minorities. (Les droits de l'homme, le fédéralisme et les minorités), with Allan Gotlieb and the Canadian Institute of International Affairs