Transport minister rejects call to rename Trudeau airport

Federal Transport Minister Omar Alghabra's office says the government has no plans to change the name of Montreal's airport, despite an online petition calling for the removal of Pierre Trudeau's name.

Online petition calling for Montreal's airport to be renamed has collected thousands of signatures

Transport Minister Omar Alghabra is dismissing a call to rename Montreal's Trudeau Airport (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Federal Transport Minister Omar Alghabra's office says the government has no plans to change the name of Montreal's airport, despite an online petition calling for the removal of Pierre Trudeau's name.

"Our government's priority remains the health and safety of Quebecers and all Canadians during these difficult times, and that is exactly what we are focusing on," spokesperson Allison St-Jean told CBC News in an email.

"It is not our government's plan to change the name of Pierre Elliott Trudeau Airport."

That response comes after an online petition calling for the international airport to be renamed after former PQ Premier René Lévesque collected thousands of signatures. The petition, launched Monday morning, says new reports about Trudeau's response to the PQ's election in 1976 make him unworthy of the honour.

The petition was signed by PQ Leader Paul St-Pierre Plamondon and Marie-Anne Alepin, president of the nationalist Societé St. Jean Baptiste, along with other sovereignist and labour leaders. It lists multiple reasons for pulling Trudeau's name from the airport, from his handling of the October Crisis to his approach to the repatriation of the Constitution.

It also cites a recent CBC News story about a telegram written by former U.S. ambassador Thomas Enders in which he said Trudeau had suggested to Montreal businessman Paul Desmarais that he make things as tough as possible for the fledgling PQ government and move jobs out of Quebec.

Quebec Premier Rene Levesque (R) shrugs his shoulders and walks away from Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau (L) after a chat prior to the beginning of the second day of the Constitution Conference Sept 9, 1980. Petitioners want Montreal's airport to be renamed after Levesque. (Drew Gragg/Canadian Press)

"Regarding the betrayals and the harm that he inflicted on Quebec, Pierre Elliott Trudeau absolutely does not merit that we set him up on such a pedestal - the result of a unilateral decision Ottawa made 20 years ago," reads the petition.

The petition has an initial target of 20,000 signatures but had collected more than 20,800 by 5:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Julien Coulombe-Bonnafous, spokesperson for the sovereignist Bloc Québécois, said his party supports the petition but didn't have enough time to consult its caucus after it was approached by the Societé St. Jean Baptiste on Friday.

"We think it would effectively be a good thing to re-baptize the airport in honour of a personality who is the subject of more consensus and who corresponds better to the image of Quebec than Pierre Elliott Trudeau," he said.

It's not the first time the airport's name has sparked controversy. A poll taken in November 2003, a couple of months before the airport changed names in January 2004, found that 38 per cent of respondents opposed naming it after Trudeau — a figure that rose to 42 per cent among francophones. The poll found that 34 per cent of respondents supported the move and 27 per cent were undecided.

Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole said his focus is on Canadians getting vaccinated and on working with provinces.

"These are serious allegations that former Prime Minister Trudeau wanted to damage Quebec's economy," O'Toole said in a media statement. "We don't support 'cancel culture,' but our approach to Quebec is totally opposite to that of the Liberals because we will work with the government of Quebec, as our productive meetings with Premier Legault have shown."

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh says he understands the frustration of petitioners but did not take a position on renaming the airport. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

New Democratic Party Leader Jagmeet Singh skirted the question of renaming the airport.

"What Trudeau Sr. wanted to do to people in Quebec is deplorable and undemocratic, but I don't think anyone is really surprised," he said in a statement. "We understand the frustration of the petitioners, but in the short term we believe that what Justin Trudeau's government needs to focus on is ensuring that people are getting vaccinated as quickly as possible and that everyone has access to the support they need to get through the pandemic."

Former NDP leader Tom Mulcair suggested it's time to rethink the titles of other airports named after former politicians.

"What do John George Diefenbaker, James Armstrong Richardson, Lester Bowles Pearson, Pierre Elliott Trudeau and Robert Stanfield have in common?" Mulcair wrote in a column in the Journal de Montreal.

"They are all dead politicians who have their name on the airports of some of the largest cities in Canada. You will also note that in a country that, officially, celebrates multiculturalism, the equality between men and women and diversity, they are all men, white and Christian. No women, no minorities, no First Nations."

Elizabeth Thompson can be reached at elizabeth.thompson@cbc.ca


Elizabeth Thompson

Senior reporter

Award-winning reporter Elizabeth Thompson covers Parliament Hill. A veteran of the Montreal Gazette, Sun Media and iPolitics, she currently works with the CBC's Ottawa bureau, specializing in investigative reporting and data journalism. She can be reached at: elizabeth.thompson@cbc.ca.