Pierre Elliot Trudeau



Political Reformer

Social Life

Political Life

Political Relations



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Political Reformer

During the late 1940's and the 1950's, Trudeau became concerned about the political situation in Quebec. The province was governed by Premier Maurice Duplessis and the Union Nationale party. Trudeau and a group of youthful liberal friends set out to expose what they saw as dishonesty in the provincial government. They believed this corruption had resulted from political, religious, and business leaders working together to prevent reforms. To express their ideas, they established the magazine Cite Libre (Community of the free). Trudeau worked in many ways for reform in Quebec.

French Canadians demanded more than democratic reform for Quebec. They had always struggled against what they believed was discrimination by Canada's English-speaking majority. Many French Canadians told of being refused jobs in government and industry because they spoke French. They feared that the French language would be lost along with their national identity, culture and customs. During the 1960's demands for separation from Canada became even higher.

On the other hand Trudeau favored preserving the French culture in Canada. But he opposed the creation of any country in which nationality was the only major common bond. Trudeau decided in 1965 to enter national politics and run for a seat in the house of commons as a member of the Liberal Party. Trudeau used this position to influence the government's policy on constitutional issues. He wanted the constitution changed to provide a stronger Federal government and promote more co-operation among the provinces. Trudeau favored a tax program that would divide tax money more fairly among the provinces. The government adopted this kind of plan.

Trudeau wanted to strengthen Canada's independence in world affairs. Early in his term, he changed the nation's defense arrangements and expanded its relations with China and the Soviet Union. 

Trudeau returned to Montreal and devoted his energy to opposing the Union National government of Maurice DUPLESSIS and agitating for social and political change. With other young intellectuals he founded the review CITE LIBRE. In this and other forums, Trudeau sought to rouse opposition to what he believed were reactionary and inward-looking elites. In the process, he picked up a reputation as a radical and a socialist, although the values he espoused were closer to those of liberalism and democracy .He wanted the constitution changed to provide a stronger federal government and to promote more co-operation among the provinces. For example, Trudeau believed the wealthy provinces should help support the poorer ones. He favored a tax program that would divide tax money more fairly among the province. In March 1966, the government adopted this kind of plan.

After the Liberal victory in the 1960 provincial election, the Quiet Revolution fulfilled some of Trudeau's hopes for change. At the same time, it revealed a deep rift between Trudeau and many of his former colleagues who were moving toward the idea of an independent Quebec.  Trudeau became a sharp critic of the contemporary Quebec nationalism and argued for a Canadian Federalism in which English and French Canadian would find a new equality.

The energetic and wealthy Trudeau generated great interest among Canadians, particularly the nation's youth. But during the late 1970's, his popularity and that of his party declined as Canada's economic problem worsened. The Progressive Conservatives defeated the Liberals in May 1979, and the Conservatives leader, Charles Joseph Clark, succeeded Trudeau as Prime Minister. However, Clark's government fell from power at the end of the year, and Trudeau led the Liberals to an easy victory in February 1980.

When Lester Pearson resigned as prime minister in 1968, Trudeau was invited to run as a candidate. He won the Liberal leadership convention and called an election immediately after. Capitalizing on his extraordinary popular appeal, labelled "Trudeau mania" by the press, he won a majority government in the June election. One of the most important bills passed by his government was the Official Language Act, guaranteeing bilingualism in the civil service.

Having accomplished his goal of strengthening Canada federalism, Trudeau turned his attention to international affairs, campaigning for world peace and improving the relationship between the industrialized nations and Third World countries.
The most dramatic event of his first government was the October Crisis of 1970, precipitated by the kidnaping of British diplomat James Cross and of Cabinet minister Pierre Laporte by the terrorist Front De Liberation Du Quebec (FLQ). In response, Trudeau invoked the WAR MEASURES ACT, with its extraordinary powers of arrest, detention and censorship. Shortly after, Laporte was murdered by his abductors. Controversy over the appropriateness of these emergency measures and their effect on liberal democracy in Canada and Quebec has continued to be present.
Less dramatic, but of lasting significance, was the OFFICIAL LANGUAGE ACT, a central feature of Trudeau's new federalism. At the same time, he began to improve the position of Francophobe in Ottawa. A growing anti-bilingual backlash in English Canada, however, was one result of these policies. Western Canada's growing alienation against a perceived lack of interest in western economic problems and in western perspectives on national issues also began in his first term.

Although very much along the lines of administrative reorganization in Washington and in other Western capitals, these changes proved controversial, leading critics to charge inefficiency and the undermining of the role of parliament and cabinet. In the 1972 election, Trudeau came closer to losing office and was forced to form a Minority Government with the support of the NDP.

After restoring a Liberal majority in 1974, Trudeau faced the effects of inflation. In an atmosphere of economic crisis, various expedients were tried, including mandatory wage and price controls in 1975. This economic crisis was compounded in 1976 when the Parti Quecbecois under Rene Leveque was elected to office, party and man dedicated to Quebec independence.

In 1979 Trudeau and the Liberals suffered a narrow defeat at the polls. A few months later, he announced his intention to resign as Liberal leader and retire from public life. Three weeks later after his announcement, the Progressive Conservation government of Joe Clark was defeated in the Commons and a new general election was called. Trudeau was persuaded by the Liberal caucus to remain as leader, and on February 8, 1980 less than 3 months after his retirement he was returned once more again as prime minister with a parliamentary majority, thus accomplishing a remarkable-resurrection.

Trudeau's last period in office as prime minister was eventful. His personal intervention in the 1980 Quebec Referendum campaign on Sovereignty-Association was significant. The defeat of the Parti Québécois's proposition was a milestone in his crusade against Quebec separation. In the wake of that victory, Trudeau pushed strongly for an accord on a new Canadian constitution. He was unable to gain provincial agreement, he introduced into Parliament a unilateral federal initiative to "patriate" the BNA Act to Canada with an amending formula and an entrenched Canadian Character of Rights and Freedoms. There followed one of the epic federal-provincial battles of Canadian history, culminating in the final compromise and the proclamation of the Constitution Act, 1982 on April 17.

A Continuing problem that plagued his entire term of office was that of Canadian-America Relations. Trudeau often played an ambiguous role with regard to the U.S, but in his last period in office he moved toward a more nationalist position in economic relations with the U.S, and began to criticize its foreign and defense policies more freely than in the past. At the same time the policies of U.S. Pre Reagan's administration were becoming more damaging to many of Canada's economic interests.

In these years Trudeau devoted more and more time to the international stage, first to encouraging a "North-South" dialogue between the wealthy industrial nations and the underdeveloped countries, and then in 1983-84 to a personal peace initiative in which he visited leaders in several countries in both the eastern and western blocs to persuade them to negotiate the reduction of nuclear weapons and to lower the level of Cold War tensions. These activities led to his being awarded the Albert Einstein Peace Prize.

Trudeau's career as prime minister was one of electoral success, matched in this century only Mackenzie King. Moreover, he served longer than every other contemporary leader in the Western world, becoming the elder statesman of the West. His achievements include the 1980 defeat of Quebec separation, official bilingualism, the patriated Constitution and the Charter of Rights.

Trudeau was unable, however, to alleviate the alienation of Western Canada or end the conflict between Federal and Provincial governments. He left office much as he had entered it, a controversial figure with strong supporters and equally strong critics. That he was one of the dominant figures in 20th-century Canada is indisputable.


The World Book Encyclopedia
, Toronto, Sydney, page 461 copyright 1988.

Internet file, Pierre Elliot Trudeau, web address unknown Nov 11, 2000.

Magazine, Maclean's April 2, 1990 "Two visions of Canada".

Encyclopedia, Comptons, Toronto, copyright 1988 book 23. T.


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