The Right Honourable Pierre Elliott TRUDEAU (1919-2000 )
Politician, Writer, Constitutional Lawyer, Prime Minister of Canada 1968-1979, 1980-1984).
Born in Montréal QC to a French-Canadian businessman and a mother of Scottish ancestry, Trudeau trained in the law and became a journalist while being educating at Université de Montréal, Harvard, and the London School of Economics. He became a law professor in Montréal in the 1960s. During that time, he developed a public stance against those in Québec who were speaking out in favour of separation of that province from the rest of Canada.
Trudeau joined federal politics in 1967 and won the leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada the next year. By that time, he had already made a name for himself as Minister of Justice when he introduced legislation that eased divorce laws and liberalized laws respecting abortion, homosexuality, and lotteries.
After becoming Canada's fifteenth Prime Minister, he won his first federal election in 1968 and began two administrations as Prime Minister, 1968-1979 and 1980-1984, serving in that office longer than any other Prime Minister in the modern era, and longer than all Canadian Prime Ministers except Mackenzie King (1921-1926, 1926-1930, 1935-1948) and Sir John A. Macdonald (1867-1873, 1878-1891). Trudeau's time as Prime Minister featured several notable moments in Canadian history:
- "Trudeaumania" became a term to describe the extraordinary public appeal that Canadians had for Pierre Trudeau when he campaigned in and won his first federal election, in 1968.
- In 1969, the Canadian government passed the Official Languages Act, thereby making English and French both official languages in Canada, guaranteeing Canadians access to federal government services in either English or French, and making it law that federal employees who dealt with Canadians be able to speak both official languages.
- In 1970, the Front de Libération du Québec kidnapped two public figures and killed one of them. Trudeau responded to this crisis by declaring the War Measures Act, and suspending the normal rights of Canadian citizens.
- Trudeau's style as Prime Minister involved centralizing more power in the federal government and particularly in the Prime Minister's Office than had been the case before 1968. This change made the Canadian Prime Minister look more like a USAmerican President than had been the case, even though Prime Ministers are not elected separately, but are the leader of the political party that wins the most seats in the federal election.
- In 1980, Trudeau intervened personally during the campaign that led up to the province of Québec's referendum concerning whether Québec should consider separation from the rest of Canada.
- Largely an initiative of Trudeau, the Constitution Act of 1982 brought the country's constitution to Canada from Great Britain for the first time. The most significant parts of the Constitution Act were the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which prohibited discrimination against individuals based on their ethnicity, gender, religion, or sexuality, and the legal protection of the rights of minorities to their language and education in that language. Trudeau went ahead with the Constitution Act despite the opposition of the Province of Québec, which refused to agree to it.
- Although the Multiculturalism Act was not passed until 1987, three years after Trudeau had resigned as Prime Minister and retired from public office, his time as Prime Minister is responsible for the gradual redirection of Canada towards a public policy that encouraged Canadians to be loyal as citizens to Canada while celebrating their cultural heritage from wherever in the world they or their ancestors came. This initiative was seen as one way for Trudeau to oppose the demands of Québecois who thought of Canada as bi-cultural (English and French). A multicultural Canada could better represent the large percentage of Canadians who identified themselves as having several ethnic and cultural backgrounds in their families. Still, during Trudeau's time as Prime Minister, this initiative was not given federal funding at the higher levels it would receive in the late 1980s.
Trudeau also made Canada more interesting to other countries of the world because his charismatic and outspoken personality attracted the international media. As well, from time to time, he opposed USAmerican foreign policy. He tried without great success to by-pass the USA and open better relations between the richest countries of the world and those whose economies were developing.
During Trudeau's time as Prime Minister, Canada encountered two severe and lasting problems. The first was the creation of a huge national financial debt, which Canada still labours to eliminate. The second was alienation between the various regions of the country and the federal government in Ottawa.
Because Trudeau did not hide his contempt for his opponents, those who disagreed with him often felt the sting of his rhetoric. In particular, when the regions voiced particular interests, Trudeau denounced them if they seemed to threaten the power of the central federal government to dictate policy. Relations between the federal government and the provincial governments were at their worst while he was Prime Minister.
In the first decade of his retirement, Trudeau remained an authoritative and respected public voice in Canada. In the last several years of his life, he sought the obscurity that retirement offered, and was not often seen in public. Pierre Elliott Trudeau died in Montreal in September, 2000. He was one of the most influential Canadians of the twentieth century.