October 15, 2000
"I walked until midnight in the storm, then I went home
and took a sauna for an hour and a half. It was all clear. I listened
my heart and saw if there were any signs of my destiny in the sky, and
there were none - there were just snowflakes." Feb. 29, 1984,
Elliot Trudeau announcing he was resigning as prime
Conceive of a man who would call journalists "trained seals"; tell
strikers "nobody made you become postal workers!"; ask angry farmers
should I sell Canadian wheat?"; marry a university student while in
office and lose her to the Rolling Stones.
Wear a fresh lapel rose every day; date pop stars; dance at Studio 54
smoke pot if it was convenient; have a PHD in constitutional law; be
perfectly fluent in English and French; pirouette behind the Queen of
Would say "the state has no place in the bedrooms of the
nation" and reform the laws on homosexuality, abortion and divorce.
Nixon called him a communist and "that asshole".
We called him "the Right Honourable Prime Minister Pierre Elliot
Re-elected him four times for a total of sixteen years.
Kicked him out for nine months in '79. He sighed sorrowfully at the
journalists that he wouldn't have them "to kick around anymore".
Re-elected him in time for Christmas.
When he did retire in '84 he moved back to Montreal to
practice law. He walked to and from work every day until the middle of
this summer. He was our most famous political figure, but there were
intrusions on his privacy. He was rarely in the public eye after '84
if he was, it was almost always by his choice.
He died September 28 2000, about 3pm, aged 80, of
We didn't all love him: the Saskatchewan farmers didn't like being
the finger from the caboose of his campaign train and his Opposition
a very schoolboy reaction to being told to "fuck off".
When the Front de Libération du Québec kidnapped British
Trade Commissioner James Cross and then Pierre Laporte, the Minister of
Labour and Immigration, Trudeau invoked the War Measures Act. He said "Yes, well there are a lot of bleeding hearts around
just don't like to see people with helmets and guns. All I can say is,
go on and bleed. But it is more important to keep law and order in the
society than to worry about weak-kneed people ..." When asked how
far he would go, Trudeau famously replied, "just watch me".
Cross was recovered. Laporte, Trudeau's friend, was found strangled in
When Nixon told Trudeau there would be no trade deal for Canada,
and his then-wife Margaret went to Cuba and ate raw lobster with lime
After divorcing Trudeau, Margaret complained that he would use the
smallest towel possible to dry himself after a shower.
I had thought that, when he died, I would write a comparison of Trudeau
with, perhaps Nixon, the antithesis of Trudeau but for whom I have
in my heart; or perhaps a comparison of Trudeau to JFK, citing the
Buddhist talking to the Christian about how the Christians murdered
savior, and ours died old and full of honour, to be welcomed as a
where the Christians would kill their lord again. But the shock -- the
man is gone!
It was Trudeau that made me say in kindergarten, not "fireman" or
"doctor" as my fellows did, but "prime minister". He gave us a dream
being directors, not actors, on the world stage. And on our own.
Now that he is gone there is no one left that has style, eloquence,
or will. There is no excitement; there are old men building four-lane
highways to the villages of their birth, and young men with hard mouths
and ugly eyes. There is no thought of Canada; only of Alberta or
"We cannot build like the Pharoahs built the pyramids and leave
there to defy eternity. A country is something that is built every
day..." -- Trudeau, 1984, retirement speech to the Liberal party
O sages standing in God's holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
And be the singing-masters of my soul.
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity.
-- WB Yeats, "Sailing to Byzantium"