Canada’s Man

Last week the news of Pierre Elliott Trudeau's illness spread with the same fever and intensity that he created in 1966 when he stepped onto the Canadian political-landscape. Millions of Canadians sent their condolences, flooded the steps of his Montreal home, and collectively tried to imagine a Canada without Trudeau — what they realized is that, regardless of Trudeau's health, such a Canada simply does not exist.

Robert Mason Lee wrote that what he liked best about Trudeau was how angry he made his father. Similarly for many young Canadians, Trudeau brought to the Prime Minister's Office the hope and charisma that seemed to embody an entire generation, and became a rose in what had previously been a dull and stuffy position. Trudeau was a Harvard graduate who had backpacked across Asia on a pocket full of bills. He drove a Mercedes convertible around Ottawa and had the admiration and support of John Lennon. He was a celebrity, an intellect, but above all, he was ours. There was another side to Trudeau, however. He allowed the United States to test nuclear weapons in northern Canada five-years after asking other small-power nations to ban nuclear tests. He mocked the Tories' wage and price control ideas, only to flip-flop and implement them a year later. His hardheaded stance against Quebec nationalists, and the partition of the Constitution without Quebec's signature, are often cited reasons for Quebec's frustration with federalism — not to mention the bang he dealt the Meech Lake Accord, when he returned to politics to stop the weak Tories from screwing-up his Canada. But that was just part of package; Trudeau had his vision of Canada and, if you didn't like it, then you could go find someone else to do the job. We tried that one — briefly. This, however, comes from someone who was born ten years into Trudeau's run as Prime Minister. What many Canadians experienced and felt first-hand, others have grown up with unconditionally; we can read, watch television and learn from our professors, but how many of us can imagine a Canada without a Charter of Rights and Freedoms? How many of us can imagine Paul Martin or Jean Chretien flipping the bird from a train window, or telling postal-workers that if they didn't like their job, he could find someone else to do it? Well, Chretien, maybe. This past week, as Trudeau's health captured the attention of a nation, the media gave us a brief chance to reflect on Trudeau's years in power. For those of you who experienced Trudeau's leadership through a period of tremendous social and political change, news of his ailing health must have felt like watching a parent or guardian fall ill. For those of us too young to know a Canada without Trudeau, it was like watching a living-legend show his mortality. For all Canadians, regardless of politics or opinions, it was a chance to reflect on the life of Canada's greatest statesman and reaffirm his immortality in Canadian politics.

When commenting, be considerate and respectful of writers and fellow commenters. Try to stay on topic. Spam and comments that are hateful or discriminatory will be deleted. Our full commenting policy can be read here.