Pierre Elliot Trudeau - Both Dream and Nightmare

Pierre Elliot Trudeau - Both Dream and Nightmare

A Story by girl.in.the.war

It's not a story, I would have put 'essay' but that's not an option ... I wrote this for my grade ten history class and got full marks, I wonder what others think of it.


“The essential ingredient of politics is timing.”

                                   - Pierre Elliot Trudeau


            In 1968 Canada elected a Prime Minister that they would soon either come to love or hate – if they didn’t already. Pierre Trudeau led an example of the flamboyant new lifestyles of the late 1960’s and shared the beliefs of individual freedom and a “just society” that many of the Canadian people around that time – especially of younger voters – were very interested in. To the other extreme we find that there were (and still are) people that hated Trudeau, people that didn’t let his charisma and strong federalism put a dent in their beliefs. In the opinion of Prime Minister Trudeau among Canadians there does not seem to be much of a medium. Naturally, since no other Prime Minister has polarized our country as much as Pierre Trudeau in Canadian history we ask ourselves how this could be possible – that someone could be both so loved and so hated at the same time.

            Pierre Trudeau’s personality is just one of the controversial aspects of the way he ran and represented the country. Some examples of his distinct personality among other former Prime Ministers is when he would sometimes pirouette behind the Queen’s back, he joked with reporters, sometimes showing up at the House of Commons in a sports car while dressed very casually. Pierre Trudeau even dated celebrities, and slid down banisters. Mr. Trudeau was a whiff of fresh air for many people that had tired of the formal and even stuffy Prime Ministers of the past, and on top of that he was telling many people what they wanted to hear about: individual freedoms, women’s rights, among other things. I think the people that didn’t approve of his behaviour probably felt that he mustn’t have been taking his job seriously. I believe some people were worried they had elected a comic to lead their country instead of a Prime Minister.

            As the idea of Quebec separatism strengthened, a political party called the Parti Québécois formed in 1968 which had separatist ideals but was not ready for Quebec to be fully separated from Canada. This party was run by René Lévesque. This was only one of the latest developments of separatist ideas from Quebec. In 1970, a group called the Front de Libération du Québec (FLQ) formed, which used much more extreme methods of trying to separate from Canada. The FLQ used bombs and kidnapping as a means to promote their ideas. In October of that year the FLQ kidnapped James Cross, a British diplomat. They made several demands in return for James Cross’ safe release, but Pierre Trudeau wasn’t about to give into them. Not even a week later they kidnapped the Quebec labour minister, Pierre Laporte, the body of whom they later found. Trudeau decided to take action: he reinstated the War Measures Act which gave the government and the police a lot more power, and removed many rights of people. Anybody suspected of being a member of the FLQ was arrested, and many of whom said to have been abused while detained and almost all of whom were innocent; out of the 450 people that were arrested, only 25 were ever convicted. In the end Trudeau’s plan worked, two months later what came to be known as the October Crisis ended. I believe that many people did not like this drastic measure of Trudeau’s because they were afraid their rights might be suspended for long after the October Crisis. Others, or as Trudeau called them “bleeding hearts” just didn’t like the idea of men with guns patrolling the city streets. I also believe that in a way, by doing this it encouraged separatism among people who resented Trudeau. I think anyone who agreed with Trudeau were probably just glad that he took action and ended the crisis, restoring law and order quickly and at any cost.

            While he was Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau did many things to try to bring French and English Canadian national ties closer together. He passed the Official Languages Act in 1969 which made Canada officially bilingual and making it easier for French Canadians to be appointed to senior federal government positions. The people of Quebec did not appreciate this because they wanted to be recognized by their language and culture and as a separate nation, not just another province like how Trudeau insisted they were. In 1971 an official policy of multiculturalism was introduced encouraging people to share their cultural expression. Most Canadians see this policy as a reason for pride – as do I – but still some people in Quebec want to be recognized as their own unique nation. Other separatist ideas that Pierre Trudeau had to fight against was Bill 101 (or the “Charter of the French Language”) which would make French the only official language in the province, and the sovereignty-association referendum which Lévesque called in 1980. Sovereignty-association meant that Quebec would separate from Canada, but still have economic ties. The question was very confusing and many people weren’t exactly sure what to vote for. Trudeau worked hard against the “Yes” side, promising that he would negotiate with the premiers so Canada could have its own constitution rather than one under Britain. I think this contributed to the results of the referendum a great deal.

            It would be no easy task to get Canada its own Constitution along with a Charter of Rights and Freedoms that everyone – or most people could agree on. Trudeau had to convince the premiers of his ideas and was met in opposition by the Gang of Eight which included all the provincial leaders except Ontario and New Brunswick. Trudeau also wanted to have an amending formula in case there was need to change the constitution in the future. The federal and provincial leaders finally came to an agreement about the constitution in November 1981 – well, most of them: René Lévesque was left out of the loop because they couldn’t get a hold of him at his hotel. They made the ‘Kitchen Compromise’ in the kitchen of the National Conference Centre late at night. The next day Lévesque was furious that he was excluded in this enormous decision. Many people in Quebec believe that this was no less than a betrayal, Lévesque certainly thought so. On April 17th, 1982 the Constitution Act was signed by Pierre Trudeau and Queen Elizabeth II. I do not blame Lévesque for being angry, I wonder if they could have waited at least until they could have contacted him, but I also can see the desperation that the provincial leaders must have felt along with Pierre Trudeau to have it completed and agreed to for the most part. In the end it’s a bit ironic how Trudeau tried to unify the country as one nation, but then by trying to do so he polarized us and in a way he made the ties between French and English Canadians even worse.

            French and English relations weren’t the only problem during this time, however. A growing problem in Canada was its economy. The rate of inflation had gone up, gas prices were greater due to the conflict in the Middle East, and the provinces were suffering from regional disparity and also Western Alienation. To combat some of these problems, Trudeau made “transfer payments” to equalize what poor provinces received out of the expenses of rich provinces, he put controls on wages and prices which was only a temporary fix, the government bought Petro Canada and tried to lower its gas prices hoping it would start a chain reaction among the gas companies – it didn’t, FIRA (the Foreign Investment Review Agency) was able to block US companies from taking over Canadian ones which did help in the long run.

           Overall, I have come to the conclusion that even though Pierre Trudeau caused a lot of controversy, without him Canada would not be where it is today. I believe he was the best for the job during this time. I think that anyone who is firm in their beliefs and holds to them almost no matter what happens is bound to be polarizing in some way, and that is exactly what Pierre Trudeau was. Whether you loved him or hated him, I don’t think there can be any doubt in anyone’s mind that he is a person to remember and in many ways a great person if not a great prime minister.

© 2008 girl.in.the.war

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Not being a Canadain Citizen I had no idea what this man was like, but I can tell you that the story you depicted is very interesting. Good Write.

Posted 13 Years Ago

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Added on July 11, 2008




- early writer - grade eleven student - atheist - liberal political views - Canadian - pacifist In my writing I'm trying to be more descriptive and lessen my focus on dialogue. I have difficulty fini.. more..