[Editor’s note: This is the fourth excerpt from Douglas Gibson’s new book Stories About Storytellers: Publishing Alice Munro, Robertson Davies, Alistair MacLeod, Pierre Trudeau, and Others. They will run every Friday. The following is taken from the chapter on Prime Minister, author, and haunting icon, Pierre Trudeau.]
Shortly after the news of Pierre Trudeau’s death was broadcast, I was sitting in the back of a cab in downtown Toronto. The cab driver and I shared our regrets about the news. The driver was a Greek who came to Canada as an adult in 1967, yet his heavily accented English allowed him to summarize elegantly how he felt: “I grew with him.”
Late in his life, I was fortunate enough to get to know Pierre Trudeau, the author. At McClelland & Stewart we paid a great deal of money to publish his Memoirs, based on the 1993 cbc tv series that began each episode with him, clad in an elegant buckskin jacket, paddling a canoe on a misty lake. It was a brilliant image, and the series drew millions of viewers. When the manuscript came in, however, bearing the company’s hopes for a successful year, there were obvious problems with it. Such major problems, in fact, that after I had spent a sleepless night our chairman, Avie Bennett, and I decided that it had to be reworked: in rough terms, made chronological rather than thematic. We flew to Montreal, and Avie, who knew Trudeau, introduced me to him for the first time. Given a choice, I would have made our first meeting an easy, congratulatory one, but c’est la vie.
“Pierre Trudeau among us was his greatest contribution.” - Rex Murphy
Pierre Trudeau’s death on September 28, 2000, brought about a spontaneous outpouring of national pride and mourning perhaps unprecedented for any political leader in our history. To many Canadians, he was the very embodiment of the nation. Yet, by what means can we judge a life? In a recent book two historians ranked Pierre Trudeau a paltry fifth among Canada’s prime ministers. If criteria for eminence were to include vision, force of character, style or intellect, then surely none but Macdonald would surpass Trudeau. He would be considered truly the second father of his country.
In 1980, Pierre Trudeau defeated Joe Clark’s bumbling regime and formed a new Liberal government. However, he faced a serious problem constructing his cabinet. The voters of western Canada showed they did not much like the prime minister who had taunted them with the question, “Why should I sell your wheat?”
Very few things are as gleeful and inherently entertaining as a politician – usually so staid and serious – dusting off his tap shoes and taking to the stage. In anticipation of Harper’s cameo on Murdoch Mysteries tonight, we present a roundup of our favourite moments of Canadian politicians in the limelight.
At Buckingham Palace in 1977, Pierre Trudeau was caught twirling a pirouette behind an oblivious Queen Elizabeth II during the G7 summit in London. The act was seized upon by both admirers and detractors. To the former, it signified his maverick charm and refusal to bow to pomp and aristocracy. To the latter, it was evidence of his irreverence and calculated showmanship. Trudeau’s was a pirouette that divided the nation. Read More