When Pierre Trudeau's plans to step down didn't work out

The news came as a surprise to many, but there was even more surprising news on the horizon of Parliament Hill.

Liberal leader announced intention to step down, but ended up hanging around and becoming PM again

A plan to step down

43 years ago
Duration 1:20
In 1979, Pierre Trudeau announces his intention to step down as Liberal leader.

The news came as a surprise to many, but there was even more surprising news on the horizon of Parliament Hill.

On Nov. 21, 1979, Pierre Trudeau announced that he would step down as Liberal leader. He asked party officials to arrange for a leadership convention the following year.

"There's no easy way or ideal time to leave, and there are always strong public and private reasons both for going and for staying on," said Trudeau.

"At a point and time, one simply makes the decision as to what is best."

Pierre Trudeau is seen leaving the Nov. 21, 1979, news conference in which he announced his intention to step down as Liberal party leader. (Chuck Mitchell/Canadian Press)

His announcement came just a few months after an election had led to a new prime minister — namely Joe Clark, whose Progressive Conservatives had formed an ensuing minority government.

In the House of Commons, Clark expressed hope — as did the rest of the MPs in the House of Commons in the form of a unanimous motion — that Trudeau would stay on as the MP for Mount Royal "to contribute his formidable talents to Parliament and to Canada."

Reaction to Trudeau's plans to step down

43 years ago
Duration 1:20
Opposition MPs and Prime Minister Joe Clark react to the news of Pierre Trudeau's plans to step down as Liberal leader.

That's exactly what happened — Trudeau did stick around. And barely three weeks later, the Tory government fell on a confidence vote.

The election that was then triggered returned Trudeau and the Liberals to power, with a majority government. The same result sent Clark and the Progressive Conservatives back to the opposition benches.

It wasn't their time ... yet

An interesting sidebar to the news of Trudeau's resignation that was not-to-be was CBC's coverage of the people who might look to succeed the longtime Liberal leader.

Who will replace Pierre Trudeau?

43 years ago
Duration 2:07
With Pierre Trudeau announcing his intention to resign the Liberal leadership, CBC News examined who might be looking to succeed him.

"Unlike his predecessors, Lester Pearson and Louis St-Laurent, Trudeau has not groomed anyone in particular to succeed him as Liberal leader," George McLean of The National told viewers.

"But there are a number of hopefuls who are standing by," McLean added. "Today's announcement caught most of them off guard and [left them] reluctant to state their plans."

Among the list of possible successors were two future prime ministers — John Turner, who ultimately would succeed Trudeau in 1984, and Jean Chrétien who would lead the Liberals to power in 1993.


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