Biography of Trudeau's youth wins Shaughnessy Cohen prize

A biography that focuses on the youthful political ideals of prime minister Pierre Trudeau has won the Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing.

A biography that focuses on the youthful political ideals of former prime minister Pierre Trudeau has won the Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for political writing.

Young Trudeau 'changed the perceptions and challenged the political reflexes of Canadians,' the jury said awarding the biography the Shaughnessy Cohen Prize. ((Writers' Trust of Canada))
The $15,000 prize was presented Thursday evening to Max and Monique Nemni, the authors of Young Trudeau: Son of Quebec, Father of Canada, 1919-1944.

The prize money was shared, with $11,250 going to the authors and $3,750 to their translator, William Johnson of Gatineau, Que.

"In 2006, no single book had the psychological impact of Max and Monique Nemni's Young Trudeau. It changed the perceptions and challenged the political reflexes of Canadians," the jury said in its citation.

"As the Nemnis examined Pierre Trudeau's private papers, they found a very different young man than they had expected or previous accounts had revealed.

"The unshakeable federalist who became Canada's 15th prime minister had once plotted to take Quebec out of Canada.

"The eloquent democrat who penned Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms had once shrugged off Nazi atrocities and admired fascism."

The Nemnis, retired professors who spent most of their working lives in Quebec, were friends of Pierre Trudeau, who encouraged them to become the editors of Cité Libre.

Pierre Trudeau, shown with Monique and Max Nemni in undated photo, turned over diaries and letters to the writers. ((Writers' Trust of Canada))
Trudeau, who died in 2000, hadco-operated with the authors in researching the book, giving them access to early papers and diaries in 1995 to write an intellectual biography.

Young Trudeau manages to be a sympathetic portrait of the young radical, though he adopts the anti-British, anti-foreigner mindset of the French Canadian elites of his time.

The book was one of two Trudeau biographies competing for the prize for Canada's best political writing, named after an outspoken and popular member of Parliament from Windsor, Ont. who died in 1998.

John English's Citizen of the World: The Life of Pierre Elliott Trudeau, Volume One: 1919-1968 was also on the shortlist.

Also nominated were The Way it Works: Inside Ottawa, by longtime Jean Chrétien adviser Eddie Goldenberg, The Washington Diaries, 1981-1989, by former Canadian ambassador Allan Gotlieb and Bitter Chocolate: Investigating the Dark Side of the World's Most Seductive Sweet, by CBC host Carol Off.

The prize was presented Thursday at the 2007 Politics and the Pen event held at the Fairmont Château Laurier in Ottawa.

The event raises $200,000 for the Writers' Trust of Canada, which supports writers through its programs and awards.