Wednesday, November 27, 2013


"We're a different people from you, and we're a different people partly because of you. Living next to you is in some ways like sleeping with an elephant." - Pierre Trudeau 

One of the interesting aspects of living in Niagara County, NY was that you could watch the television stations from Canada. In 1968, the news was horrible every single day it seemed in the United States. There was the Tet offensive, the murders of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King,  and even in grade school you could sense that things were seeming to fall apart, and the country seemed on the verge of some sort of nervous breakdown. 

At the same time, there was a different energy on the Canadian stations. For the  phenomenon of Trudeau mania was sweeping Canada.  The formerly staid old country, was infatuated with a flashy bachelor, who was modern in dress, a bit of a ladies man, and who in three years went from an obscure law professor to parliament member, to prime minister.  It was not just the rose he wore in his lapel that made him seem refreshingly different, it was the truths he uttered 45 years ago. One famous thought was that "the state has no business in the bedrooms of the nation." 

Trudeau's style clashed with the tired and defeated men in Washington. He opposed the Vietnam War and welcomed draft dodgers,  got along with Castro, and had no issues with the Soviet Union.  He established Canada's separate identity as opposed to the  energy sucking neighbor down South. Even at a young age, it was amazing to see him meeting with and hitting it off with John and Yoko. "Did you find him to be a beautiful person?" Lennon was asked. "I think he is," John replied. .

Eventually though, the winds of dissent experienced throughout the world touched Canada. Unlike the situation in the US, where the issue was based on skin color., it was the clash between the dual Anglophone and Francophone cultures , that was centered in the province of Quebec. Domestically Trudeau fought to keep Canada from fracturing. In 1970, he was forced to authorize police raids and the suspension of civil liberties in Quebec, after separatists affiliated withterrorist cells of the Front de libération du Québec (FLQ) murdered Pierre Laporte, a Quebec provincial minister, and kidnapped The British diplomat, James Cross. This classic soundbite was vintage Trudeau, a man that never backed down from a challenge and had zero tolerance for fools. 

TRUDEAU: There's 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's more important to keep law and order in this society than to be worried about weak- kneed people who don't like the looks of...
CBC REPORTER: At any cost? At any cost? Would you go w? How far would you extend that?
TRUDEAU: Well, just watch me. 

Ten years later, Quebec under the leadership of the Parti Quebecois held a referendum on independence. Led by his great rival, Rene Levesque, Trudeau led the fight against 1980's vote and decisively won. Born of a marriage between a Francophone father and Anglophone mother, his belief was that by attempting to make the nation truly bilingual,  the interests of Quebec were still best served by remaining in Canada. 

Canadians also faced sky-high interest rates as well as "stagflation" and high unemployment in the 1970's, Many blamed Trudeau's economic policies for the issue, and he was often accused of ignoring day to day domestic affairs.  It is hard to conceive, that the Canadian constitution was still under British control until the early 1980's. In the process of "repatriating" the constitution,  he inserted a Canadian bill of rights. Called the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, it changed the system into something like the American by strengthening the judiciary. And that made a big impact on minorities, gays and lesbians, native peoples, handicapped, women that all felt their rights enhanced from where they were before.  

Pierre Trudeau was one of the first politicians  to leverage being a celebrity, merging the spotlight of office with popular culture. He leveraged it in a calculated way, and in a way that many would try to imitate after him, at least until his marriage to a woman thirty years younger imploded in a very public way in the late seventies. Those who knew him best, realized that his dating Barbara Streisand, KimCattrall, and Margot Kidder, was only a public persona. It was the mask that he had on for the cameras. For essentially he was an intellectual- a very, very intelligent man.  He attended Harvard and studied with the best minds in political economy of the era. Having studied government for many years before going into politics in his mid forties, he knew what he had to do. He was adept at creating his own imagery, "working the camera" in order to look terrific, such as the iconic shot of him executing a pirouette behind the back of Queen Elizabeth.  He was a complex and always very interesting public figure.

His successor Jean Chrétien summed up his friend's career, " Pierre Trudeau's motto was reason over passion. But it was his passion for Canada that defined him. It was his dream of a just society that captured the imagination of the country and made the entire world sit up and take notice. " He had a tremendous impact on the Canadian consciousness.  He touched his voters, and they connected with his vision of a multicultural, bilingual Canada that had a very generous  social welfare system, a very good country that made them feel proud.