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by Gabrielle Taylor

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 to 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, Pierre Elliot Trudeau announcing he was resigning as prime minister.

Conceive of a man who would call journalists "trained seals"; tell strikers "nobody made you become postal workers!"; ask angry farmers "Why 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 and smoke pot if it was convenient; have a PHD in constitutional law; be perfectly fluent in English and French; pirouette behind the Queen of England.

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 Trudeau".

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 few intrusions on his privacy. He was rarely in the public eye after '84 and if he was, it was almost always by his choice.

He died September 28 2000, about 3pm, aged 80, of prostate cancer.

We didn't all love him: the Saskatchewan farmers didn't like being given the finger from the caboose of his campaign train and his Opposition had 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 who 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 a car trunk.

When Nixon told Trudeau there would be no trade deal for Canada, Trudeau and his then-wife Margaret went to Cuba and ate raw lobster with lime and Castro.

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 place in my heart; or perhaps a comparison of Trudeau to JFK, citing the Buddhist talking to the Christian about how the Christians murdered their savior, and ours died old and full of honour, to be welcomed as a friend, 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 of 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, grace 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 Quebec or Nunavut.

"We cannot build like the Pharoahs built the pyramids and leave standing 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"
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