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1984: Pierre Trudeau announces his retirement

The Story


Pierre Trudeau is stepping down as prime minister. He made the decision last night. He went to judo with his sons, came home, walked alone in the snowstorm until midnight, then took a long sauna and went to bed. And when he woke up this morning, he says, he hadn't changed his mind. Although some may have anticipated today's big news, it "still managed to catch us by surprise," says reporter Peter Mansbridge in this 1984 CBC News clip. 

Medium: Television
Program: The National
Broadcast Date: Feb. 29, 1984
Guest(s): Iona Campagnolo, Pierre Elliott Trudeau
Anchor: Knowlton Nash
Reporter: Bill Casey, Peter Mansbridge
Duration: 2:10

Did You know?


• Trudeau's announcement came on Feb. 29, a leap year day that comes only once every four years. Iona Campagnolo, who was then president of the Liberal party, thought this choice of date was quite appropriate for such a unique man as Trudeau. "I noted to myself the date and thought, 29th of February, we should have known," she said after receiving the news.

• Trudeau explained his decision in his Memoirs. Quebec separation didn't seem as imminent as it once had, the economy was improving and the Constitution had been brought home, so he began to have thoughts of retirement. He also wanted to spend more time with his teenaged sons. "But most important of all, I had done what I had come into politics to do. I had come to Ottawa to fight for a just society both at home and abroad. I had done my best".

• When Trudeau woke up on the morning of Feb. 29, the first ones to hear the news of his decision to resign were his sons, according to Christina McCall and Stephen Clarkson's 1994 book Trudeau and Our Times: Volume 2.

• The opposition was caught off guard by Trudeau's resignation announcement. Both the PC leader Brian Mulroney and NDP leader Ed Broadbent were vacationing in Florida for the parliamentary break and weren't available for immediate comment.

• Public reaction was "evenly divided between those who were deeply regretful to hear of his resignation and those who felt it was high time", according to McCall and Clarkson's Trudeau and Our Times: Volume 2.

• During Question Period at the House of Commons on March 5, 1984, there was a very jovial atmosphere as fellow politicians paid tribute to the retiring Trudeau. Several joked about his previous short-lived retirement in 1979. "As I was saying on Nov. 27, 1979, before I was so rudely interrupted", began former Tory leader Joe Clark, to much laughter from his colleagues. To hear some of the remarks made in the House of Commons, listen to the clip Pierre Trudeau: Goodbye again.

• Trudeau's successor as Liberal leader and prime minister, John Turner, was chosen in June 1984. Turner was prime minister from June 1984 until the September 1984 election, when he was defeated by Brian Mulroney's Progressive Conservatives. 


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