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Pierre Trudeau was a remarkable man, but not Canada’s national saviour

This yr marks the 100th anniversary of Pierre Trudeau’s beginning, on Oct. 18, 1919. Almost nobody seen apart from a handful of diehards, together with a non-partisan outfit calling itself the P4P Foundation, or Party 4 Pierre.

Led by a group of self-described “Trudeaumaniacs,” P4P launched a web site and invited everybody to test after the election, on Oct. 26, for a sequence of bulletins. A clock on the location counted down the times, hours, minutes, and seconds, but when the massive second got here nothing occurred.

No doubt P4P’s pleasure about Pierre Trudeau and his legacy is real, but it is over-the-top, hopelessly naive, and unlikely to encourage what the group calls “a popular uprising of progessive Canadians.”

Its video tribute to the good man definitely will not.

To start with, it is solely in English, a gorgeous resolution. Watching it, one may be forgiven for considering that Canada’s longest-serving French Canadian prime minister by no means spoke French.


But it will get worse.

The soundtrack is Leonard Cohen’s Here It Is, a funereal music about Christ and his love for the homeless, their carts, their cardboard, and even their piss. Cohen’s reference to the cross, the nails, and the hill – to Christ’s crucifixion at Golgotha – is presumably an invite by P4P to see Trudeau as our national saviour, who died for our sins but whose love will redeem and encourage us. In Cohen’s phrases, “Here is the love / That it’s all built upon” – “it” being fashionable Canada on this occasion, in keeping with the logic of the video’s producers.

Good grief.

Meanwhile, video statements by “ordinary Canadians” – all English-speaking – strategy historic fantasy.

One younger man, who describes himself as an environmental activist, tells us that Pierre Trudeau fashioned Environment and Climate Change Canada (he did not) and a variety of different organizations to deal with the local weather disaster “head-on.”

Trudeau has been labelled many issues, but that is certainly the primary time that he has been solid as a local weather hero. To one of the best of my information, Trudeau solely addressed what was then known as world warming as soon as, in lower than 150 phrases in a 1990 handle at Stanford University.


Another testimonial, from a transplanted Anglo-Quebecer now residing in Toronto, thanks Trudeau for the War Measures Act.

But progressive Canadians – then and now – have criticized his response to the October Crisis as an terrible abuse of civil liberties. What, precisely, was progressive about 10,000 police searches, usually in the course of the evening, and the arrest and detention of 450 Canadians on mere suspicion?

Moreover, the choice to invoke the War Measures Act stays contentious, to say the least, in Quebec’s collective reminiscence. It’s as if P4P goes out of its solution to alienate French-speaking Quebecers.

Reporter Tim Ralfe, proper, questions Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, left, on the steps of Parliament Hill concerning the FLQ disaster and the invocation of the War Measures Act, on Oct. 13, 1970. The query elicited the well-known quote by Trudeau, ‘simply watch me.’ (Peter Bregg/Canadian Press)

Meanwhile, two extra atypical Canadians who provide testimonials self-identify as members of the LGBTQ group, whereas P4P tells us that Pierre Trudeau was pro-LGBTQ2S.

Hardly. His 1969 amendments to the Criminal Code solely acknowledged the apparent: the state may not police the bedrooms of the nation. But it may and it did police each public areas and workplaces. As has been effectively documented, gays and lesbians had been fired from the RCMP and discharged from the navy beneath his watch, one thing his son would later apologize for.

The historic errors proceed when P4P claims that Trudeau was pro-choice.

True, his 1969 modification to the Criminal Code launched therapeutic abortion committees, but it did not legalize abortion on demand. Trudeau emphatically did not help a girl’s proper to decide on.

As he advised the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Toronto in December 1981, ought to a courtroom ever resolve “that sections 7 or 15 [of the Charter] establish a right to abortion on demand, Parliament will continue to legislate on the matter by overriding the court’s decision and the specific Charter right as interpreted by the court.”

In different phrases, he would use the however clause. Disappointed second-wave feminists known as him, within the language of the day, a male chauvinist.

Justice Minister Pierre Trudeau defends the amendments he desires to make to the Criminal Code. 2:52

I may go on – for instance, it is tough to think about progressives rallying round a man who attacked the fitting to strike and discount collectively, and whose coverage of wage and value controls was known as the Wage Measures Act by organized labour – but why beat a useless horse?

In brief, P4P confirms my thesis: as soon as he’s untethered from historical past, from the burden of historic truth, Pierre Trudeau is a clean slate on which some Canadians, largely English-speaking and largely centred in Toronto, write their hopes and goals for a extra simply society and a extra respectable future.

Pierre Trudeau was a remarkable man whose legacy contains official bilingualism, multiculturalism, and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, but he wasn’t the second coming.

  • This column is a part of CBC’s Opinion part. For extra details about this part, please learn our FAQ.

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