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Pierre Trudeau: 'Canada must be a just society'

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."

When Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson announced his retirement in December 1967, upstart justice minister Pierre Trudeau seemed like an unlikely choice to succeed him as Liberal leader. Even Trudeau himself didn't think it was a possibility. But four months later, after overcoming his self-confessed "distaste for the spotlight" and campaigning to turn Canada into a "just society", Trudeau wins on the fourth ballot. CBC Television is there as Pierre Elliott Trudeau becomes Canada's 15th prime minister. 
• With Pearson leaving, Trudeau believed Jean Marchand was his "obvious successor," Trudeau said in Memoirs (1993). "The idea of running myself never crossed my mind, not even for a split second."

• Trudeau refused for several weeks. "Was I playing hard to get? Not at all." He thought he needed more political experience and he wanted to protect his "sacrosanct" privacy.

• After announcing his candidacy, Trudeau's theme was the Just Society -- Canada as a truly bicultural, bilingual, federated state independent from Britain and the U.S.
In 2000, the Globe and Mail reprinted several different newspaper quotes from the period:

• "Cool, but looking a trifle bewildered, Justice Minister Pierre Trudeau slipped into the Ontario Liberal convention yesterday, stole the show from his prospective rivals and placed himself at the brink of entering the federal leadership race [...]. One of the province's most powerful Liberals, who said he had met Mr. Trudeau only once, was appalled. 'Here we are thinking seriously of electing a man whom most of the people in the party have never seen,'" (Geoffrey Stevens, the Globe and Mail, Feb. 10, 1968)

• "After a considerable amount of reflection and self-inspection, Pierre Elliott Trudeau -- everybody says his name that way, all at once, in the manner affected by some football players.... has decided he wants to become prime minister.... Without a doubt, Trudeau the swinger -- the man with the hollow cheeks, the thinning early-Merseyside haircut, the pocked face -- would be enormously popular with younger Canadians. Canada has never had as prime minister a man who holds the brown belt in judo. Trudeau does." (Robert Miller, Toronto Star, Feb. 16, 1968)

• Trudeau vetoed plans to have a demonstration with marching girls and a band to precede his crucial Friday night speech -- he had argued that if Liberals really wanted him they would pick up signs left behind and applaud on their own, which they did. Source: Trudeau (1978) by George Radwanski.

• Trudeau's biographer, George Radwanski, said Trudeau "mugged for cameras, waved periodically to his supporters [and] played at throwing grapes into his mouth." Radwanski argues that Trudeau's nonchalance was a put-on. "Trudeau is an intensely competitive man and, since he had come this far, the fighter in him intensely wanted to win."

• Paul Martin Sr. quietly dropped out of the race after he tied for fourth with Turner on the first ballot. Martin had previously run unsuccessfully for the Liberal leadership in 1958.

• Secretary of State Judy LaMarsh supported Paul Hellyer. After Hellyer placed poorly after the first vote, she asked him to withdraw and support Robert Winters to keep Trudeau from winning. "Don't let that bastard win it, Paul - he isn't even a Liberal," she said, not realizing that her comments were being broadcast live over CBC Television.

• Trudeau's victory was only certain after the fourth and final ballot. After the third ballot -- with 1,051 votes for Trudeau, 621 for Robert Winters, 377 for Paul Hellyer and 279 for John Turner -- Trudeau could have possibly lost the race if John Turner had withdrawn and supported Winters.

• Pearson, quoted in Trudeau's Memoirs, said, "the Trudeau campaign completely bewilders the old pros like Paul Martin, who could not understand the secret of its success. As Paul said to me, 'How can someone who knows nothing of politics or the party get so much support so suddenly....' The answer was simple. Canadians thought of Paul Martin, or even of Paul Hellyer, in the context of Mackenzie King. They thought of Pierre Trudeau as a man for this season, uncontaminated and uninhibited."
Medium: Television
Program: The Style is the Man Himself
Broadcast Date: Sept. 9, 1968
Guest(s): Pierre Trudeau
Duration: 2:20
Photo: Duncan Cameron/Library and Archives Canada / PA-111214

Last updated: November 14, 2013

Page consulted on December 6, 2013

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