Pierre Elliott Trudeau (1919-2000), 15th prime minister of Canada (1968-1979, 1980-1984). Trudeau became prime minister on April 20, 1968, succeeding Lester B. Pearson, who had resigned as leader of the Liberal Party and as prime minister earlier that month. Soon after taking office, Trudeau called a general election and won a majority in Parliament.
Trudeau initially attracted wide praise for his outspoken manner and his youthful lifestyle. Among some segments of the population his popularity was so strong that it came to be known as “Trudeaumania.” Until his marriage in 1971 to Margaret Sinclair, the daughter of a prominent Vancouver Liberal, his social life also drew much public attention. He and his wife had three sons; they separated in 1977 and were divorced in 1984.
Politically, Trudeau was a federalist, asserting the authority of the federal government over the provincial governments and defending the unity of Canada against regional interests. He also sought to prevent the cultural and economic domination of Canada by the United States, though without taking steps that would antagonize the U.S. government.
In time Trudeau's early popularity waned, and in the election of 1972 the Liberals narrowly lost their parliamentary majority. Trudeau remained prime minister in a minority government. He was criticized for many of his policies, especially his promotion of bilingualism and his war of wages and price controls to fight inflation; however he again won a large majority in the election of 1974. In 1979 his government was defeated, largely as a result of economic problems, and Trudeau resigned. He was called back to head his party when the Conservative government fell in 1980. Trudeau won the next election and remained prime minister until he retired in 1984.
Trudeau was born Joseph Philippe Pierre Ives Elliott Trudeau in Montréal, Québec, in 1919. He was the youngest of the three children of Charles-Emile Trudeau, a lawyer and businessman. Trudeau grew up in a bilingual household. After his primary schooling, he entered the Jesuit classical school, Collège Jean-de-Brébeuf, where he was a top student. He received his bachelor's degree in 1938 and went on to the Université de Montréal, where he studied law; he became a lawyer in 1943. He did postgraduate work in political science, law, and economics at Harvard, the London School of Economics, and the University of Paris.
|III||EARLY POLITICAL CAREER|
During the 1950s Trudeau practiced law in Québec, where he was active in labor and civil liberties cases. From 1949 to 1951 he served as an economic and legal adviser to the Privy Council, or secretariat to the national cabinet.
Trudeau developed a political philosophy centered on the need for individual liberty and social justice. It led him to support a strike of asbestos miners; he addressed large groups of miners, participated in their demonstrations, and acted as legal adviser to the unions. He was editor of a detailed study of the strike, La Grève de l’amiante (“The Asbestos Strike,” 1956). Trudeau was also involved in several other important strikes in the 1950s, advising, making speeches, or writing articles on behalf of the strikers. At the same time he became increasingly opposed to the authoritarian policies of Québec's premier, Maurice Duplessis.
Trudeau was a founder of the review Cité Libre (“Free City”), which was established in 1950 and became the leading publication attacking Duplessis and his party, the Union Nationale. Trudeau was also a leader in the formation of the Rassemblement, a group devoted to fighting Duplessis by arousing public opinion against him. It provided much of the intellectual basis for the revived Québec Liberal Party, which defeated the Union Nationale in 1960.
Cité Libre emphasized concern for the individual and held that economic opportunities should be equal for all, so that each person could develop freely. It defended freedom of thought, speech, and religion, and advocated nonsectarian schools. It opposed nationalism as being divisive, and it argued that the nation-state was outdated because modern conditions required international organization.
According to Trudeau, aspirations to make Québec a separate nation were wrong and the province should instead seek its fulfillment within the Canadian federal system. The ideal state for Cité Libre was democratic, socialist, federal, and pacifist.
|A||Trudeau and the Liberals|
Trudeau remained outside the Liberal Party through the early 1960s, even though he was closer in views to that party than to any of the other Canadian parties. He had supported the Québec Liberals against the Union Nationale, but when the administration of Québec premier Jean Lesage espoused a policy of French Canadian nationalism, Trudeau withdrew his support.
Trudeau also opposed the national Liberal Party of Prime Minister Lester Pearson because he opposed Pearson's acceptance of U.S. nuclear weapons for Canada. Also, Trudeau thought the national Liberal Party lacked commitment to the maintenance of federalism in Canada. He felt the Pearson administration had given too much independence to the provinces, thereby upsetting the balance of the constitution.
In 1965, however, Trudeau and two associates—Jean Marchand, a labor leader, and Gérard Pelletier, a journalist—decided that they could be more effective in bringing about change if they worked within the governing Liberal Party. They entered the party at a time when the Liberals lacked strong French-Canadian leaders at the federal level. Marchand became the Québec lieutenant of Prime Minister Pearson and a member of the cabinet. Trudeau became Parliamentary secretary to the prime minister.
|B||Minister of Justice|
In 1967, Trudeau became minister of justice, a critically important post at a time when the constitution was under attack by Québec nationalists. Early in 1968 he played the leading role in the federal-provincial constitutional conference, in which he defended a balanced federal system with strong but equal provinces and declared that the homeland of French Canadians was not Québec but all of Canada. He therefore advocated equal language rights, or bilingualism for French Canadians outside Québec.
As minister of justice, Trudeau introduced sweeping changes in the criminal code to liberalize the laws on abortion, homosexuality, and divorce, despite the conservative views of many Canadian clergy.
After the resignation of Lester Pearson as leader of the Liberal Party, Trudeau was chosen as his successor, and on April 20, 1968, he became prime minister. He called a general election and showed himself to be a brilliant campaigner, projecting an image of youthful charm and vitality. He argued for a united Canada with equal rights for French- and English-speaking citizens and opposed special status for any province. The voters gave him a substantial majority over Robert Stanfield's Conservative opposition. Entering office with great authority, he formed Canada's first majority government since Prime Minister John Diefenbaker's landslide victory a decade earlier.
Trudeau's administration officially recognized the People's Republic of China, established diplomatic relations with the Vatican, and reduced Canada's role in the military establishment of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), a regional defense alliance centered in Europe. His main concern, however, was to undercut the appeal of the Québec separatists. He therefore sponsored the Official Languages Act, guaranteeing bilingual federal facilities wherever at least 10 percent of the population spoke the minority language.
The separatist issue reached a crisis in October 1970, when an extremist organization in Québec kidnapped a British diplomat and killed a Québec minister. Québec's premier requested intervention by the army and the declaration of a wartime emergency. Trudeau complied, and 465 people, much of Québec's French Canadian elite, were arrested. The terrorists were soon caught and tried, but the issue quickly changed from that of preventing terrorism to that of preserving democratic political processes. French Canadians continued to resent the humiliation of their elite by the federal government, and the separatist Parti Québécois gained steadily in strength, finally coming to power in Québec in 1976.
Nationally, meanwhile, Trudeau's government declined in popularity and lost its majority in the general election of 1972. Economic problems—inflation, unemployment, and the falling value of the Canadian dollar, along with ever-increasing U.S. influence in the Canadian economy—had undermined confidence in the Liberal administration. However, the persistent weakness of the Conservatives and the New Democrats, a democratic socialist coalition consisting mainly of the old Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), helped to keep the Trudeau government in power. Also, many Canadians saw the Liberals as the only party able to keep the country together after the separatist victory in Québec in 1976.
In the 1974 election Trudeau regained a majority, partly by opposing the Conservative policy of stopping inflation by means of wage and price controls. When, however, a year later, the victorious Liberals introduced wage and price controls, the government's credibility suffered. And when, after lifting the controls, inflation and unemployment returned, the Liberals faced an uphill battle just when a new general election was imminent.
During the 1979 campaign, Trudeau attempted to rally the nation once again around Canadian unity, but the economic issues were overriding. No party won a majority of seats in the election, but the Conservatives won the most seats, and in June their leader, Joe Clark, became prime minister. In December, however, Clark's budget that consisted mainly of a large increase in the gasoline tax was put to a vote of confidence, a vote in Parliament on whether or not the members support the prime minister on his policies. Clark lost the vote and resigned, and in elections in February 1980 Trudeau and the Liberals returned to office with a majority.
While promising to resign before the next election, Trudeau stayed on as prime minister for four more years, sustained by parliamentary majority. The hard times continued. Inflation and unemployment were even higher than in the United States, and the fortunes of the Canadian economy were closely tied to those of the U.S. economy. Unable to improve economic conditions, Trudeau turned to the constitution. He successfully led a “no” campaign in a referendum called by Québec on the “sovereignty-association” issue, which would have allowed Québec to enjoy the economic advantages of being part of Canada while technically being independent. He then proposed constitutional changes that would end the role of the British Parliament in amending the Canadian constitution, introduce equalization payments to the poorer provinces for the provision of public services, guarantee rights to native peoples, and provide a charter of rights and freedoms for all Canadians. Eight of the ten provinces rejected the proposals. But Trudeau mobilized public opinion by conceding extra rights to certain interest groups and finally won the assent of all the English-speaking provinces. Québec refused its assent.
The last major issue tackled by Trudeau was the energy question. In 1980 he announced a national energy program that would fix oil and gas prices, claim more oil and gas revenue for the federal government, and increase Canadian ownership of the oil and gas industries. The program led to conflict between the federal government and the western provincial governments, and this conflict had not been resolved when Trudeau retired in June 1984. He was succeeded as party leader and prime minister by John Turner.
In addition to articles and essays, Trudeau is the author of several books. Deux Innocents en Chine Rouge (Two Innocents in Red China, 1961), which he wrote in collaboration with his publisher, Jacques Hébert, deals with their trip to China in 1960. Le Fédéralisme et la société canadienne-française (1967; Federalism and the French Canadians, 1968) is a collection of essays on federal and constitutional issues.