Cher Mesdame et Monsieurs,
It can be stated without argument that Pierre Elliott Trudeau is among the most colourful people to ever hold the office of Prime Minister of Canada. His legacy continues to this day.
While many Albertans have less than fond thoughts of some of his decisions, those pale in contrast to the outright animosity expressed by some people in his home province of Québec.
As we will be discussing the War Measures Act and the October Crisis in a post next week, we will focus solely on the 1980 Québec Referendum.
Considering that Trudeau and his Liberal Party had just returned to power after having been ousted by the Conservatives, some might have urged caution and delicacy when the issue of Québec sovereignty arose. In fact, many probably did, and Trudeau simply ignored them, as was his inimitable style. This is not due to his inability to consider the consequences of his actions, but rather the opposite. He was constantly calculating every possible move, both of himself and his opponents, considering possible risks and rewards at every turn.
Trudeau’s involvement in the “No” campaign, that in opposition to voting for Québec sovereignty, came to a head on May 14th, 1980. During a speech at a packed arena, Trudeau highlighted the absurdity of the “Yes” position, but took a gamble by claiming that a “No” vote would be taken by his government to affirm the constitutional principle of federalism, and also to put other constitutional principles into question. At this point, Trudeau was already working on patriation and a new Constitution Act1, so these words were far from empty promises, or threats, depending on your position.
In a brilliant tactical move, Trudeau had the perfect comeback to René Lévesque’s criticism that Trudeau “had an English middle name”. Of course, this point is ridiculous to being with, as Trudeau has five given names, including “Pierre” and “Elliott”. At any rate, Trudeau countered by claiming that his name isn’t “French” or “English”, but Canadian. It is no exaggeration to say that Trudeau’s arena speech killed the “Yes” campaign… at least until the question was posed again fifteen years later.
A man like Pierre Elliott Trudeau is a rarity. Able to rally support and make enemies at the drop of a hat, his contributions to Canada and her history cannot be denied.
Your Humble and Obedient Servants,
1 Constutition Act, 1982, being Schedule B to the Canada Act 1982 (UK), 1982, c 1.