CBC Digital Archives CBC butterfly logo

CBC Archives has a new look: Please go to cbc.ca/archives to access the new site.

The page you are looking at will not be updated.

1979: Pierre Trudeau steps down as Liberal leader

The Story

On Nov. 21, 1979, a sombre Pierre Trudeau announces he's stepping down as Liberal party leader. He reads his speech slowly and seriously. "Wherever I am or whatever I do, I will continue to work and fight for our country," he promises in this CBC News report. But, as his solemn speech comes to an end, he drops his notes and speaks frankly to the reporters assembled for the press conference. "I'm kinda sorry I won't have you to kick around anymore," he says with a wry smile. 

Medium: Television
Program: CBC Television News Special
Broadcast Date: Nov. 21, 1979
Guest: Pierre Elliott Trudeau
Anchor: Knowlton Nash
Reporter: Peter Mansbridge
Duration: 8:12

Did You know?

• Before resigning on Nov. 21, 1979, Trudeau "took the summer off to rest and reflect," according to his Memoirs. He took a canoe trip in the Northwest Territories and a trip to the Rockies, followed by a trip to Tibet. The entire time, he was vacillating on whether to stay or go. He finally decided to quit while walking on the beach in Toronto in November. "I remember thinking that walking on the beach as a free man is pretty desirable," he wrote.

• The day after Trudeau's resignation, Canadian newspapers were filled with tributes and retrospectives on his career. "Despite his shyness, public swearing and some other actions that offended many, he was still regarded as the most brilliant mind in public office," wrote one Globe and Mail reporter. On its front page, the Globe also speculated that John Turner and Donald Macdonald - "two former Liberal finance ministers now practicing law in Toronto" - were the two front-runners to replace Trudeau.

• Trudeau's resignation was short-lived. Several weeks later Joe Clark lost a vote of confidence, on Dec. 13, 1979.  On Dec. 18, after much persuasion from a number of Liberal party members, Trudeau announced he would come back as Liberal leader to fight in the next election.

• Trudeau had a famously difficult relationship with the media. Ralph Coleman, Trudeau's press secretary from 1980 to 1984, wrote in the 2005 book Pierre about an amusing incident that occurred when he first became press secretary. After a turbulent airplane ride with the prime minister and several members of the media, Coleman had been sick to his stomach. When a reporter asked about the incident, Trudeau quickly joked, "Coleman is going to do very well in my office then, because he shares my opinion of the press!"



Pierre Elliott Trudeau: Philosopher and Prime Minister more