When Pierre Trudeau snubbed B.C. Liberals to go dancing

While Opposition leader in November 1979, Pierre Trudeau said he was sick and bailed on work, but a newspaper photo told a different story about his weekend.

Opposition leader said he had a bad cold but was spotted at a New York disco

Pierre Trudeau's disco fever

43 years ago
Duration 2:04
The opposition leader bailed on B.C. Liberals, pleading illness, but then was seen dancing the night away instead in November 1979.

The Leader of the Opposition said one thing. A newspaper photo told quite a different story.   

"Trudeau had told party officials that he had a cold last weekend, and that he was far too ill to attend a meeting of British Columbia Liberals," said Knowlton Nash, host of CBC's The National, on Nov. 14, 1979.

Turned out Pierre Trudeau had disco fever.

As the CBC's Mike Duffy reported, Trudeau's invented illness emerged when Canadian newspapers published a photograph of him at what was described as "a New York disco."

A night at Club Ibis

Vancouver MP Art Phillips said some B.C. Liberals were "insulted" by Trudeau's invented illness. (The National/CBC Archives)

A Liberal Party policy conference had been scheduled in Vancouver, but Trudeau opted out due to illness.

After the photo made it clear that Trudeau had the disco bug, not a real malady, some B.C. Liberals were said to be upset.

"Yes, people in British Columbia were insulted," said Vancouver Centre MP Art Philips, in the hallway of a building on Parliament Hill. "I was. So were they." 

According to the Globe and Mail, a photographer had captured the "hearty-looking" Trudeau on Sunday, Nov. 11, at New York City's Club Ibis, "holding hands with a glamorous woman identified only as Linda."

Trudeau and his wife, Margaret, had been separated since March 1977.

At work three days later, Trudeau denied that he had annoyed any B.C. Liberals.

"Oh no, they're not crazy," he said, when Duffy asked if "they were upset in B.C."

Broadbent's burn

In the House of Commons, NDP leader Ed Broadbent suggested MPs should be able to claim all "medically related dancing acts" as expenses. (The National/CBC Archives)

In the House of Commons that day, NDP Leader Ed Broadbent poked fun at Trudeau's gambit.

"Noting that the Leader of the Official Opposition has used New York disco dancing as a method of curing a bad cold," he asked that the House instruct the Minister of Finance to find out if "such dancing acts" could be ruled a medical expense.

But Duffy said Trudeau's disco visit had suggested something significant.

"It's seen by the public and by the party as another indication that Pierre Trudeau is not really interested in staying on for the long haul." he said.

One week later, Trudeau made that official, announcing that he was stepping down as Liberal leader.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?