Waddell: I remember Pierre Elliott Trudeau


By: Ken Waddell


As the title indicates, I do remember Pierre Elliott Trudeau. So did the late Archie Doan of Riding Mountain. Doan once recounted that he was on a Canadian army troop train in Montreal during WWII.

Doan stated that  the train had to stop for a student protest. “The guy that was leading that protest had a swastika on his jacket and his name was Pierre Elliott Trudeau.

Apparently the event is documented and Trudeau spent some of his early years experimenting with Nazi and other political beliefs and systems. It wasn’t uncommon for people of his era to question the war. It was especially common in Quebec to question if Canada should be fighting “England’s war” and my own father testified to me that there were many, many recruits from Quebec who didn’t want to be supportive of the war effort.

There were also thousands of Quebecers who signed up, fought and many died for the war effort between 1939 and 1945. It’s obvious that there were many different political views in Quebec and in Canada at the time.

The legacy of P.E.T. comes to light once again as his eldest son, Justin Trudeau is running for the leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada. Trudeau, the younger, has taken a much more direct approach to the leadership race. He became a teacher, then an MP and is now running for the top job in the party his father re-shaped. His father meandered down a much different road and indeed strayed much farther. PET played with the ideas of many different political parties.

He decided, along with a number of associates that they needed to make an impact on Canadian politics. He and some friends, that actually included the later separatist premier, Parti Quebecois leader Rene Levesque, pondered how to best take over the leadership of Canada. Levesque stayed provincial, whileTrudeau and his friends really wanted to be NDP, but at that time, that party was young, having formed in 1961.

The NDP was formed by  joining the  Canadian Commonwealth Federation (CCF) and the Canadian Labour Congress. It was too western, too new and too agrarian for Trudeau’s liking at the time. It was also too far away from being accepted as a governing alternative as the Liberals after all were already in power. To infiltrate the Liberal Party of Canada was a much more direct route.

The decision was made to infiltrate. The table was set up very nicely. The Liberal Party of Canada had a tradition of alternating an English leader with a French leader. Mackenzie King had been leader for decades and was followed in the early 1950s by Louis St. Laurent. Laurent was followed by Lester Pearson so in 1968, it was Quebec’s turn. From 1963-67, the Liberals had bombarded the country with the perceived benefits of bilingualism and biculturalism.

There were student exchange programs, the Canadian Centennial celebrations for 1967 and the Montreal Expo. Quebec was the focus of much attention. Canada was definitely being primed for change and Trudeau was more than willing to lead it. Trudeau’s partners in the takeover were Jean Marchand and Gerard Pelletier. The web site Wikipedia states, “In the 1965 federal election, Marchand along with Gérard Pelletier and Pierre Elliott Trudeau, were persuaded to run as Liberal candidates.

Dubbed the ‘Three Wise Men’ in English, and les trois colombes (three doves) in French, they were seen as destined to shake Canadian politics.”

Shake politics they did and contrary to what Wikipedia says, they were more than willing to be persuaded. Encouraged by all the above feel-good hoopla about Canada and Quebec, they rode the wave to victory. Trudeaumania was a huge thing in 1968. I saw it first-hand. Everyone was hopeful for a new era, “The Just Society” as Trudeau called it. Ever wonder where Justin got his name?

To Trudeau’s credit, he did some good things. He certainly showed how to take control of a political party and win elections. Once in office, he and another young Quebecer Jean Chretien created the 1969 “White Paper on Indian Affairs”.

Again turning to Wikipedia, “The 1969 White Paper was a Canadian policy document  which proposed the abolition of the Indian Act, the rejection of land claims, and the assimilation of First Nations people into the Canadian population with the status of other ethnic minorities rather than a distinct group”.

It would arguably have advanced the cause of Canadian Indians by decades. The Indian leaders refused to buy into it and Trudeau and his followers simply walked away from the reforms. Trudeau didn’t like rejection, didn’t need the hassle and so he treated the Indians, and later western Canadians, with contempt. He could win elections without either group.

Next week, the Trudeau legacy.