Archives

When Pierre Trudeau left the Liberals and political life behind

On the last day of February in 1984, Pierre Trudeau let his party know he was going to go — and this time he meant it.

'It seemed like a good day to have a last day,' Trudeau said

Pierre Trudeau announces his retirement

38 years ago
Duration 2:55
In 1984, Pierre Trudeau announces that he is stepping down as Liberal leader.

On the last day of February in 1984, Pierre Trudeau let his party know he was going to go — and this time he meant it.

"I had a good day yesterday ... and it seemed like a good day to have a last day," Trudeau said on the leap day — the 29th day in February that year.

He'd made the decision a day earlier when the capital was covered in snow, the same day in which he took a famous walk in the snow in the late evening.

"It was all clear that I was going to leave when I went to sleep," said Trudeau, who woke up on Feb. 29, 1984 and felt assured of his decision.

'We should have known'

Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau holds onto a railing while being swamped by reporters and photographers following the announcement of his retirement on Feb. 29, 1984. (Andy Clark/Canadian Press)

Iona Campagnolo, the Liberal party president, said Trudeau called her in the morning before sending her his formal resignation letter.

"I felt it was a very historic moment and a very historic time for Canada," she told reporters that day.

"And I noted myself the date and thought — 29th of February, we should have known."

In his letter, Trudeau agreed to stay on as Liberal leader until the party had chosen a successor. That would end up being John Turner, who would become prime minister, but would not win an election with the Liberals.

Trudeau had almost left politics behind in November 1979, a few months after he and the Liberals had been sitting on opposition benches after losing an election to Joe Clark and the Conservatives.

But after Clark's government fell the following month, Trudeau ended up leading his party through one last election — the one that brought them back to power in 1980.

By the time he finally left Parliament Hill in June of 1984, Trudeau had spent more than 18 years serving as an MP, and most of that time as Canada's prime minister.

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

A variety of newsletters you'll love, delivered straight to you.

Sign up now

now