Pierre Elliott Trudeau Biography

He was loved. He was hated. But no matter what your opinion of Pierre Elliott Trudeau, he changed the face of Canadian politics forever.

On Thursday September 28, 2000, Trudeau passed away at the age of 80. He suffered from Parkinson's disease but the official cause of death was prostate cancer.

Trudeau was considered flamboyant and enthusiastic. Many people in Canada feel he was one of the best Prime Ministers the country has ever known. He served the country for 16 years - longer than any other Prime Minister, with the exception of John A. MacDonald (Canada's first) and McKenzie King(during WWII.)

Pierre Elliott Trudeau was born in Montreal, Quebec on October 18, 1919. His father died when he was still a teenager. His mother, who died in 1973, was bilingual and spoke both English and French in the presence of her children.

Trudeau attended the London School of Economics, the Jesuit College Jean-de-Brebeuf, Harvard and McGill. He graduated with honors and was called to the bar of Quebec in 1944. He first appeared in Canadian society in 1949, when he supported the union during the famous Asbestos Strike. Years later he edited a book on the subject.

From 1950 to 1951, Trudeau served as advisor to the Privy Counsel in Ottawa. He then returned to Quebec to fight for social change. He opposed Maurice Duplessis' Union Nationale at this time.

Trudeau opposed conscription of soldiers during WWII. He did not fight in the war. Later, this would come back to haunt him. His opponents used it against him when he entered politics.

Trudeau loved adventure. For many years he dabbled in politics and writing. In 1961, he joined the staff at the University of Montreal as a professor of Constitutional law.

In 1965, Trudeau was elected to the Commons in Montreal's Mount Royal riding. In 1967, he was appointed Justice Minister in the Liberal government of Lester B. Pearson. He impressed the people of Canada with bills to relax laws on homosexuality and abortion. One of Trudeau's most famous quotes had to do with homosexuality. He stated, "The State has no place in the bedrooms of the Nation."

Trudeau was elected Leader of the Liberal Party when Lester B. Pearson retired in December 1967. On April 20, 1968, Pierre Elliott Trudeau was sworn in as Canada's 15th Prime Minister. He was the youngest man to hold that office in the history of Canada. On July 3, just three days after taking power, Trudeau dissolved Parliament and called a June election. Trudeaumania hit Canada with a vengeance. On Election Day, the people of Canada voted Trudeau back into power. It was the first majority government Canada had seen since 1958. Trudeau was young, fresh and he appealed to the Canadian people. He was the country's most eligible bachelor. Women swarmed around him. His trademark was a fresh, red rose in his lapel each morning.

The biggest challenge that Trudeau faced in his career came just two years after he had taken office. Two factions of the FLQ (Front de Liberation de Quebec) kidnapped Quebec Labor Minister Pierre LaPorte and British Trade Commissioner James Cross. Trudeau pulled no punches. He invoked the War Measures Act, which allowed police to arrest without a warrant. Canadian troops were sent into the streets of Ottawa and Montreal. LaPorte was found dead. James Cross was eventually released.

The decisions made by Trudeau at that time are highly debated to this day, although 70% of Canadian people who were born baby boomers still believe he did the right thing. But the Canadian people were disillusioned. Some felt the country had made a mistake electing such a young man to the country's highest office. In 1972, the Conservatives came close to regaining control of Canada at the polls. They won 107 seats to Trudeau's 109. Once again, Canada was ruled by a minority government.

In 1974, a federal election was called. Canadians stood behind Trudeau and gave him yet another majority government.

Trudeau believed in federalism. In 1973, he spoke of his reason for entering politics. "One was to make sure that Quebec wouldn't leave Canada through separatism and the other was to make sure that Canada didn't shove them out through narrow-mindedness."

When Trudeau took power, he was a bachelor. In 1971, he married Margaret Sinclair. She stayed behind the scenes and the couple was blessed with three sons: Justin, Sacha and Michel.

In 1979, a federal election was on the agenda again. Trudeau gave it his all but after 16 years of Liberal government, Canadians wanted change. They gave the Tories (Conservatives) only a minority government.

On November 21, 1979, Trudeau announced his resignation. But Conservative Leader Joe Clark lost his minority government by a non-confidence motion. The Liberal Party called back Trudeau and the Liberals were successful in acquiring a majority government. Trudeau was Prime Minister of Canada once more. His top priority was the Quebec referendum of 1980, followed by Constitutional reform. Trudeau's attempt to re-write the Canadian Constitution was successful. Trudeau retired from politics in 1984, after a walk through Ottawa's streets in a raging blizzard.

Trudeau continued to practice law in Quebec after his resignation. In July 2000, Parkinson's disease forced him to give up his work.

Trudeau never fully recovered from the death of his son, Michel, who was killed by a British Columbia avalanche in 1998. Michel's body was swept into a frigid lake by the snow and was never recovered.

When Justin and Sacha Trudeau announced their father's passing on September 28, 2000, the people of Canada went into deep mourning. Flags were lowered to half-mast and the Nation wept. Dignitaries from around the world attended Trudeau's funeral. Fidel Castro, who seldom leaves Cuba, was in attendance and an honorary pallbearer along with former US President Jimmy Carter and Trudeau's former adversary, Joe Clark, among others.

Canada's leaders knew that there would be a huge turnout to view Trudeau as he lay in State in the Hall of Honor in Ottawa. Little did they realize the masses that would stand in line for up to five hours to stand for a few minutes in front of the flag-draped coffin.

On Monday October 2, Trudeau's body was loaded on a train. Justin and Sacha accompanied it to Montreal where it lay in State until the funeral on Tuesday. Thousands of people lined Montreal's streets on Monday and when the body of the former Prime Minister arrived at Montreal's City Hall, the crowd burst into cheers. Trudeau laid in State in the Hall of Honor until Tuesday morning when he was moved to Notre Dame Basilica for the funeral.

At the funeral, many dignitaries gave eulogies but when an emotional Justin Trudeau began to speak, the crowd paid special attention. Justin spoke of a man who taught his children to respect people of every race, color and creed - a man who, though strict, showed his family what the word "father" really meant. Pierre Trudeau would have been proud of his eldest son, who left the podium and broke into tears, his head laid against his father's coffin. Canada is proud of Justin Trudeau, who at moments during his speech sounded much like the man who fathered him. I am sure Canada will hear more from this young man in the future.

The Trudeau family suffered an unbearable loss on September 28, 2000, as did the Nation of Canada. Pierre Elliott Trudeau, meant different things to many people. Prime Minister, statesman, author, journalist, lawyer, outdoorsman, intellectual and professor.

Pierre Trudeau, the man who fought for unity within the borders of Canada, for peace with every country in the world and for the rights and freedom of all. You touched the lives of so many, Pierre. You will never be forgotten.

© High Speed Ventures 2011