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Trudeau in Opposition - and at the disco

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."

Liberals in British Columbia are very upset. Trudeau was supposed to be at a party policy conference in their province, but he said he had a bad cold and couldn't make it. Instead, he went to a New York City disco and was photographed partying the night away. "You don't think they're upset in B.C.?" a reporter asks Trudeau - now Opposition leader - in this TV clip. He shrugs off the question. "Oh no, they're not crazy," he says while walking away.

They were indeed upset, but that's not the real significance of this story, according to reporter Mike Duffy. The real significance, he says, is that this move is being seen as an indication that Trudeau isn't interested in staying on as party leader for the long haul. 
• By 1979, Canadians were becoming increasingly unhappy with Trudeau again. His flip-flop on wage and price controls, a still-floundering economy and the public's increasing dissatisfaction with his arrogant attitude all contributed to his May 22, 1979, federal election loss. The PCs won 136 seats with the Liberals trailing at 114, enough to form a minority government with Joe Clark as prime minister. Trudeau became leader of the Opposition.

• Mike Duffy's speculation was correct: a week after the New York disco incident, Trudeau announced he would step down as leader of the Liberal party.

• The 1979 trip to the disco was one of many examples of Trudeau's "rebel" attitude, which the public either loved or hated.

• Another example of Trudeau's controversial attitude was the "fuddle duddle" incident of 1971. Conservative MP John Lundrigan was upset when Trudeau seemed to mouth a two-word obscenity to him - the first word started with a F and the second with an O. In a response that would become famous, Trudeau replied that he may have said "fuddle duddle."

• Trudeau also drew great attention to his flamboyant, rebellious attitude when he did his well-known pirouette behind the Queen on May 7, 1977, at a reception at Buckingham Palace.

• After the highly publicized pirouette incident, former prime minister John Diefenbaker was quoted in the Globe and Mail saying that the move had caused much distress throughout Canada. He then joked that he was surprised Trudeau had not danced the can-can while visiting Paris recently.

• Jim Coutts, principal secretary to Trudeau at the time, later said the pirouette behind the Queen was not spontaneous as most people believed. It had been planned in advance as a sort of opposition to the palace protocol that separated heads of state from heads of government. "The well-rehearsed pirouette was a way of showing his objection without saying a word," wrote Coutts in the 1998 collection of essays Trudeau's Shadow.
Medium: Television
Program: CBC Television News
Broadcast Date: Nov. 14, 1979
Guest(s): Ed Broadbent, Art Phillips, Pierre Elliott Trudeau
Anchor: Knowlton Nash
Reporter: Mike Duffy
Duration: 2:04

Last updated: May 2, 2012

Page consulted on December 6, 2013

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