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Trudeau: 1919-2000

He slid down banisters, dated movie stars and wore a red rose in his lapel. Pierre Elliott Trudeau is arguably the most charismatic prime minister in Canada's history. But he was more than just charisma – Trudeau helped shape Canada with his vision of a unified, bilingual, multicultural "just society." Throughout his 16 years as prime minister, he faced some heavy criticism. But when Trudeau died on Sept. 28, 2000, the nation mourned the man who, in the words of one biographer, "haunts us still."

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Pierre Trudeau has died. In the days following his death, the Canadian media have been talking about little else besides the former prime minister's life, his career and his impact on Canada. The CBC's Shelagh Rogers is no exception. In this radio clip, she speaks to three bright young Canadians in their mid-20s about their perception of his legacy. "What we boast about to other nations are the Trudeau things," says PhD student Stephen Marche.

Though they weren't really old enough to understand Trudeau's impact at the time of his leadership, the three young Canadians say they clearly feel his lasting effects - Canada's bilingualism, multiculturalism, and Trudeau's inspirational vision of a "just society." 
• Suffering from Parkinson's disease and prostate cancer, Trudeau died on Sept. 28, 2000. He was 80 years old.
• His death sparked a huge outpouring of grief. His funeral took place on Oct. 3, 2000 at Montreal's Notre-Dame Basilica. More than 1,500 Canadians lined up to get a seat, with some coming as early as 5 a.m. for the 11 a.m. ceremony. Thousands more gathered across the street, aware that they wouldn't get inside but still wanting to pay their respects.

• Numerous Canadian politicians and former politicians, such as Joe Clark, Brian Mulroney, Lucien Bouchard and Jean Chrétien attended the funeral. A number of international figures also attended, including Cuban president Fidel Castro, former U.S. president Jimmy Carter and Prince Andrew.
• Trudeau's son Justin gave a very emotional eulogy. It was later discussed at length in the media, with the Globe and Mail calling it "by turns electrifying, poetic and politically astute."

• Trudeau's passing was big news in the U.S. as well. The New York Times' lengthy obituary declared, "Pierre Trudeau ran his country with a panache that was aggressively and un-Canadianly immodest." And the Boston Globe called him "easily the most famous and controversial Canadian leader of this century."

. In the midst of all the public and media mourning, however, came a few dissenting voices. A Report Newsmagazine (Alberta edition) article from Oct. 23, 2000, was titled "I'm sorry, but Trudeau's death did not leave me grief-stricken, and I'm not alone." In it, writer Ted Byfield discussed the utter lack of mourning for Trudeau in Alberta. Westerners were still reeling over the National Energy Program and were still upset about how Trudeau greatly increased the federal debt.

• When evaluating Trudeau's legacy today, the greatest criticism often has to do with the federal debt. According to writer Andrew Coyne in 1998's Trudeau's Shadow, the net federal debt in fiscal year 1968 was about $18 billion, or 26 per cent of gross domestic product. By his final year in office, it had skyrocketed to $206 billion, or 46 per cent of GDP. "The social democrat who wanted to expand the welfare state instead left social programs to be consumed by debt," wrote Coyne.

• Trudeau is also frequently criticized today for his removal of Canadians' civil rights during the 1970 October Crisis.
• Supporters, however, continue to praise Trudeau for what they see as his numerous accomplishments, including: the 1980 referendum, patriating the Constitution, the creation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, bilingualism and multiculturalism. His vision of a just society and a unified Canada are also often held up as positive, lasting impacts from the Trudeau years.

• In Oct. 9, 2000, issue of Macleans magazine, writer Anthony Wilson-Smith summed up the country's mixed opinions about Trudeau's legacy: "How you feel about his political achievements depends upon where you sit politically, and historians have bickered about his legacy from the day he left office. Still, name another politician who made you feel so strongly, so often, about so many things."

• When Canadians voted in the CBC's Greatest Canadians contest in 2004, Pierre Trudeau was ranked number 3, behind Tommy Douglas and Terry Fox.
Medium: Radio
Program: This Morning
Broadcast Date: Oct. 3, 2000
Guest(s): Guilliame Bouthilier, Denise Campbell, Stephen Marche
Host: Shelagh Rogers
Duration: 10:31

Last updated: July 31, 2013

Page consulted on September 10, 2014

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