How the Liberals ended up being led by Pierre Trudeau once again

At the end of 1979, the Liberals looked to Pierre Trudeau to lead their party through one last election campaign.

Former prime minister took party into battle one last time and led them to victory at the polls

Trudeau to lead Liberals again

43 years ago
Duration 1:34
In December 1979, Pierre Trudeau commits to leading the Liberals through an election one last time.

Forty-one years ago, the federal Liberals had voted along with New Democrats to bring down a Progressive Conservative government in a bid to put a different party at its helm.

But to make that happen, the Liberals decided to turn to the same leader who had failed to put them there seven months earlier.

That would be Pierre Trudeau, their long-time leader who had announced the previous month that he intended to step down from his role.

One last election fight

Prime Minister Joe Clark is seen meeting supporters in London, Ont., on Dec. 18, 1979, the same day that Pierre Trudeau confirmed that he would lead the Liberals through one last federal election. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

The December 1979 vote that toppled the Tories had thrust the Liberals and the other parties into an immediate election, and that spurred Trudeau's party to ask him to stay on and lead them once again.

He reluctantly said yes.

"I have accepted the strong appeal of the national Liberal caucus and the national Liberal executive and I will lead our party in the current election campaign," Trudeau said at a news conference on Dec. 18, 1979.

The former and future prime minister said this would be the last time he would do so.

"If they love me so much that they want me forever, the answer is: 'I'm sorry, they can't have me,'" said Trudeau.

'To obstruct and to delay'

Clark to campaign on defeated budget

43 years ago
Duration 1:28
Joe Clark explains why his party to campaign on the budget the PCs had previously introduced.

The Liberals' decision to stick with Trudeau suited their opponents.

On the campaign trail, Progressive Conservative Leader Joe Clark said his party would bring forward the same budget that had spurred the non-confidence motion that led to the government's fall.

And Clark said his party would do so whether it returned to Ottawa as a minority or majority government.

"The Liberal party — the party that clung to power as long as it could in May — did everything they possibly could to obstruct and to delay our action this year," Clark said, while campaigning in Kitchener, Ont., on the day Trudeau confirmed he would lead the Liberals into battle one last time.

"And even with that ... we began to get this country moving forward again."

As it would turn out, however, the Tories would not return to power under Clark. The Liberals would defeat the PCs at the polls in the February 1980 election.

Four years later, it would be Brian Mulroney leading the Progressive Conservatives at election time in 1984. He would lead the party to power in two consecutive elections.

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