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Prime Ministers of CanadaReview - Prime Ministers of Canada
Pierre Elliott Trudeau
by Paula Johanson
Five Rivers Chapmanry, 2016
Review by Bob Lane, MA
Dec 13th 2016 (Volume 20, Issue 50)

First the facts:

  • October 18, 1919, Birth of Joseph Phillippe Pierre Yves Elliott Trudeau
  • Education:
    • Jean de Brébeuf College, B.A. 1940
    • University of Montreal, LL.L. 1943
    • Harvard University, M.A. in Political Economy 1945
    • École des sciences politiques, Paris 1946-1947
    • London School of Economics 1947-1948
  • Married 1971 to Margaret Sinclair
  • Elected to be 15th Prime Minister of Canada
  • April 20, 1968 - June 4, 1979, first term in office as Prime Minister of Canada
  • brief retirement from politics
  • April, 1980 returned to the Liberal Party as party leader
  • March 3, 1980 - June 30, 1984, second term in office as Prime Minister
  • April 17, 1982 Canada's Constitution Act is signed into law by Queen Elizabeth II
  • September 28th, 2000 Death in Montreal, Quebec.

This book is a fairly brief, and yet concise and lively, introduction to the 15th Prime Minister of Canada. Johanson [For over twenty-five years, Paula Johanson has worked as a writer, teacher and editor. Among her twenty-nine books on science, health and literature the most recent are Love Poetry: How Do I Love Thee? (Enslow Publishers), What Is Energy? from the series Let's Find Out! (Rosen Publishing), King Kwong: Larry Kwong, the China Clipper who broke the NHL colour barrier, (Five Rivers Publishing), and the science fiction anthology Opus 6 (Reality Skimming Press).] captures the moments in Trudeau's life that make him come to life as the charismatic, intelligent, playful, and tough individual that he was during his colourful time in politics in Montreal, Ottawa, and on the world stage. The book arrives at a time when Trudeau's son, Justin, is in the first year of his first term as Prime Minister, and is as popular in Canada and around the world as his father was. "The Trudeau name in Canada goes back to 1652, with the arrival of carpenter Etienne Trudeau from France." In the Trudeau households, then and now, both French and English are spoken and the children are bi-lingual. It was the father who was able to make Canada officially bi-lingual with one of the most important bills passed during Trudeau's first twelve months as prime minister -- the Official Languages Act of 1969.

Trudeau was an avid sportsman who loved to canoe the many rivers and lakes of Canada and around the world. He was also a writer, a lawyer, a teacher, a backpacker and a party animal. For example, "[In] . . . 1961, he was in Pamplona, Spain, partying until three o'clock in the morning. With no hotel rooms available, he fell asleep on a park bench for a few hours and then joined the Running of the Bulls down narrow streets. The experience was so exciting, he did it again two days later." He also helped found the journal Cité libre as co-director. As Johanson tells us, "This magazine had unexpected influence among intellectuals and readers in what came to be called Quebec's Quiet Revolution, and its initially small circulation grew over the years." At the London School of Economics Trudeau wrote about the interplay between Christianity and Marxism, a dissertation which provided him with ideas about what constituted a Just Society.

In 1968-9 a phenomenon known as Trudeau Mania was evident across Canada as Canadians responded to the new Prime Minister with excitement and a sense of a new beginning for the country.

On the resignation of Lester Pearson from the post of prime minister in 1968, Trudeau was asked by the party to become a candidate. He won the Liberal leadership convention, and was delighted by this sign of party support. A photographer at the convention caught a candid photo of Trudeau sliding on a banister, and the image appeared in newspapers across the country.

 The next day, the election results were decisive. The Liberals won a majority of seats, not only in Quebec but much of Canada. It was a landslide victory that gave Trudeau and the Liberals confidence to pass laws that would lead to sweeping social changes. It's worth noting that the first Royal Assent that Trudeau signed as prime minister, with Governor-General Roland Michener standing in for the Queen as usual, was for the Medical Care Act, which completed Canada's national medicare system. The push to establish medicare began in the NDP from its earliest days as the CCF; it was taken up by the Liberals under Pearson, and the Medical Care Act passed with support from many members of the Progressive Conservatives as well.

He did not disappoint. His contributions to the country include a number a policies announced with memorable statements - "The state has no place in the bedrooms of the nation." -- or, "Just watch me!" when describing limits to government interference in private matters or how he would respond to attacks against the government in Quebec in 1970. Although a Catholic he believed that abortion was a matter for individuals to wrestle with and not a matter for the government to legislate. When the FLQ crisis struck he refused to negotiate with the terrorists and in a famous CBC interview responded to a reporter's question, "How far will you go to defend the country?" with "Just watch me." Johanson writes ""Society must take every means at its disposal to defend itself against the emergence of a parallel power which defies the elected power," he said to reporters in an interview broadcast that evening on CBC Television with the sound of the clock in the Peace Tower ringing behind his voice. How far would he go to defend the country? asked a journalist, and Trudeau replied plainly, "Just watch me." It wasn't a challenge, it was a reminder that he wasn't acting in secret, and that his actions were subject to public scrutiny."

The Prime Minster was also in love and,

Trudeau married Margaret Sinclair in May 1971, in a private ceremony with her family and his brother attending. Their wedding plans had been kept secret from nearly everyone until the last minute. The strain of secrecy had grown a little in Trudeau, who showed tension in the House. At one point he mouthed a curse at a member of the Opposition, but when called out for it claimed that he had merely said "fuddle-duddle." His charisma was more than a momentary charm between friends. Strangers walking past him on city streets would sometimes turn and stare, even sophisticated career women who didn't recognise him by name at first or second glance. He could have similar effects on groups and crowded rooms.

Last year when Justin Trudeau and his Liberals were elected he was asked by a reporter, "Why are you insisting on gender parity in the cabinet?" to which he replied, "It's 2015." Like father; like son. Reminds one of father Trudeau's quick responses. Like this:

"Where's your Just Society now?"

"Ask Jesus," Trudeau shot back, over the heads of a crowd. "He brought it up first."

The biography is a well written, well researched and fun book to read. Eight chapters, famous pictures of the charismatic Trudeau, glossary, timeline and rich bibliography, comprise the book. It is published by Five Rivers Publishing:

Five Rivers Publishing is an independent publisher of fiction and non-fiction, giving voice to new and established Canadian authors. We're committed to bringing publishing back to uncompromising personal editors where it belongs, rather than focus-group marketing. We publish real books by real authors for real readers, and employ print-on-demand technologies as part of responsible management of environmental and financial resources: by printing only the books required, rather than warehousing thousands, we save trees, energy and capital expenditures, while reducing pollution. We also produce eBooks as part of that mandate.

Let me close this review with a quote from Trudeau which Johanson uses in her book:

In the later years of his life, Trudeau used canoeing as a sustained metaphor when writing in his book titled Memoirs:

I think a lot of people want to go back to the basics sometimes, to find their bearings. For me a good way to do that is to get into nature by canoe – to take myself as far away as possible from everyday life, from its complications and from the artificial wants created by civilization. Canoeing forces you to make a distinction between your needs and your wants. When you are canoeing, you have to deal with your needs: survival, food, sleep, protection from the weather. These are all things that you tend to take for granted when you are living in so-called civilization, with its constant pressures on you to do this or that for social reasons created by others, or to satisfy artificial wants created by advertising. Canoeing gets you back close to nature, using a method of travel that does not even call for roads or paths. You are following nature's roads; you are choosing the road less travelled, as Robert Frost once wrote in another context, and that makes all the difference. You discover a sort of simplifying of your values, a distinction between those artificially created and those that are necessary to your spiritual and human development. - From "Exhaustion and Fulfillment: The Ascetic in a Canoe," 1944; also cited in Benidickson, Jamie. Pierre Elliott Trudeau: Why He Paddled. Toronto, On: Kanawa, 2001, pp 54-59.

 

© 2016 Bob Lane

 

Bob Lane is professor emeritus in philosophy at Vancouver Island University and the author of Reading the Bible: Intention, Text, Interpretation.


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