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Pierre Trudeau
Pierre Trudeau (1975).jpg
Trudeau in 1975
15th Prime Minister of Canada
In office
March 3, 1980 – June 30, 1984
Monarch Elizabeth II
Governor General
Deputy Allan MacEachen
Preceded by Joe Clark
Succeeded by John Turner
In office
April 20, 1968 – June 4, 1979
Monarch Elizabeth II
Governor General
Deputy Allan MacEachen (1977–1979)
Preceded by Lester B. Pearson
Succeeded by Joe Clark
Leader of the Opposition
In office
June 4, 1979 – March 3, 1980
Preceded by Joe Clark
Succeeded by Joe Clark
Leader of the Liberal Party
In office
April 6, 1968 – June 16, 1984
Preceded by Lester B. Pearson
Succeeded by John Turner
Minister of Justice
Attorney General of Canada
In office
April 4, 1967 – July 5, 1968
Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson
Preceded by Louis Cardin
Succeeded by John Turner
Member of Parliament
for Mount Royal
In office
November 8, 1965 – June 30, 1984
Preceded by Alan Macnaughton
Succeeded by Sheila Finestone
Personal details
Joseph Philippe Pierre Yves Elliott Trudeau

(1919-10-18)October 18, 1919
Outremont, Quebec, Canada
Died September 28, 2000(2000-09-28) (aged 80)
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Resting place Saint-Rémi Cemetery, Saint-Rémi, Quebec
Political party Liberal (1965–2000)
Other political
Margaret Sinclair
(m. 1971; div. 1984)
Children 4, including Justin, Alexandre, and Michel
  • Charles-Émile Trudeau (father)
  • Grace Elliott (mother)
Alma mater
Military service
Allegiance Canada
Branch/service Canadian Army
Years of service 1943–1945
Rank Officer Cadet
Unit Canadian Officers' Training Corps

Joseph Philippe Pierre Yves Elliott Trudeau PC CC CH QC FRSC (October 18, 1919 in Montreal, Canada – September 28, 2000 in Montreal, Canada) was the 15th Canadian Prime Minister during the 1970s (1968 - 1979), and then again from 1980 - 1984. He is thought by many Canadian citizens today as having been the greatest Canadian Prime Minister ever. His son is the 23rd and current Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Early life and education

The Trudeau family can be traced to Marcillac-Lanville in France in the 16th century and to a Robert Truteau (1544–1589). In 1659, the first Trudeau to arrive in Canada was Étienne Trudeau or Truteau (1641–1712), a carpenter and home builder from La Rochelle.

Pierre Trudeau was born at home in Outremont, Montreal, Quebec, on October 18, 1919, to Charles-Émile "Charley" Trudeau (1887–1935), a French-Canadian businessman and lawyer, and Grace Elliott, who was of mixed Scottish and French-Canadian descent. He had an older sister named Suzette and a younger brother named Charles Jr. Trudeau remained close to both siblings for his entire life. Trudeau attended the prestigious Collège Jean-de-Brébeuf (a private French Jesuit school), where he supported Quebec nationalism. Trudeau's paternal grandparents were French-speaking Quebec farmers. His father had acquired the B&A gas station chain (now defunct), some "profitable mines, the Belmont amusement park in Montreal and the Montreal Royals, the city's minor-league baseball team", by the time Trudeau was fifteen. When his father died in Orlando, Florida, on April 10, 1935, Trudeau and each of his siblings inherited $5,000, a considerable sum at that time, which meant that he was financially secure and independent. His mother, Grace, "doted on Pierre" and he remained close to her throughout her long life. After her husband died, she left the management of her inheritance to others and spent a lot of her time working for the Roman Catholic Church and various charities, travelling frequently to New York, Florida, Europe, and Maine, sometimes with her children. Already in his late teens, Trudeau was "directly involved in managing a large inheritance."

From the age of six until twelve, Trudeau attended the primary school, Académie Querbes, in Outremont, where he became immersed in the Catholic religion. The school, which was for both English and French Catholics, was an exclusive school with very small classes and he excelled in mathematics and religion. From his earliest years, Trudeau was fluently bilingual, which would later prove to be a "big asset for a politician in bilingual Canada." As a teenager, he attended the Jesuit French-language Collège Jean-de-Brébeuf, a prestigious secondary school known for educating elite francophone families in Quebec.

In his seventh and final academic year, 1939–1940, Trudeau focused on winning a Rhodes Scholarship. In his application he wrote that he had prepared for public office by studying public speaking and publishing many articles in Brébeuf. His letters of recommendations praised him highly. Father Boulin, who was the head of the college, said that during Trudeau's seven years at the college (1933–1940), he had won a "hundred prizes and honourable mentions" and "performed with distinction in all fields". Trudeau graduated from Collège Jean-de-Brébeuf in 1940 at the age of twenty-one.

Trudeau did not win the Rhodes Scholarship. He consulted several people on his options, including Henri Bourassa, the economist Edmond Montpetit, and Father Robert Bernier, a Franco-Manitoban. Following their advice, he chose a career in politics and a degree in law at the Université de Montréal.

Trudeau continued his full-time studies in law at the Université de Montréal while in the COTC from 1940 until his graduation in 1943.

Following his graduation, Trudeau articled for a year and, in the fall of 1944, began his master's in political economy at Harvard University's Graduate School of Public Administration (now the John F. Kennedy School of Government).

In the summer of 1948, Trudeau embarked on world travels to find a sense of purpose. At the age of twenty-eight, he travelled to Poland where he visited Auschwitz, then Czechoslovakia, Austria, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, and the Middle East, including Turkey, Jordan and southern Iraq. Although he was wealthy, Trudeau travelled with a back pack in "self-imposed hardship". He used his British passport instead of his Canadian passport in his travels through Pakistan, India, China, and Japan, often wearing local clothing to blend in. According to The Economist, when Trudeau returned to Canada in 1949 after an absence of five years, his mind was "seemingly broadened" from his studying at Harvard, the Institut d'Études Politiques, and the LSE and his travels. He was "appalled at the narrow nationalism in his native French-speaking Quebec, and the authoritarianism of the province's government.

Political career

In the 1950s, Trudeau rose to prominence as a labour activist in Quebec politics by opposing the conservative Union Nationale government. Trudeau was then an associate professor of law at the Université de Montréal. He was originally part of the social democratic New Democratic Party, though felt they could not achieve power, and instead joined the Liberal Party in 1965. That year, he was elected to the House of Commons, quickly being appointed as Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson's parliamentary secretary. In 1967, he was appointed as minister of justice and attorney general. As minister, Trudeau embraced social liberalism; his most notable achievements were creating more flexible divorce laws and decriminalizing homosexuality. Trudeau's outgoing personality and charismatic nature caused a media sensation, inspiring "Trudeaumania", and helped him to win the leadership of the Liberal Party in 1968, when he succeeded Pearson and became prime minister of Canada.

From the late 1960s until the mid-1980s, Trudeau's personality dominated the political scene to an extent never before seen in Canadian political life.

As Prime Minister

Trudeau is the most recent prime minister to win four elections (having won three majority governments and one minority government) and to serve two non-consecutive terms. His tenure of 15 years and 164 days makes him Canada's third-longest-serving prime minister, behind John A. Macdonald and William Lyon Mackenzie King.

Despite his personal motto, "Reason before passion", Trudeau's personality and policy decisions aroused polarizing reactions throughout Canada during his time in office. While critics accused him of arrogance, of economic mismanagement, and of unduly centralizing Canadian decision-making to the detriment of the culture of Quebec and the economy of the Prairies, admirers praised what they considered to be the force of his intellect and his political acumen that maintained national unity over the Quebec sovereignty movement. Trudeau suppressed the 1970 Quebec terrorist crisis by controversially invoking the War Measures Act, the third and last time in Canadian history that the act was brought into force. In addition, Quebec's proposal to negotiate a sovereignty-association agreement with the federal government was overwhelmingly rejected in the 1980 Quebec referendum. In a bid to move the Liberal Party towards economic nationalism, Trudeau's government oversaw the creation of Petro-Canada and launched the National Energy Program; the latter generated uproar in oil-rich Western Canada, leading to what many coined "Western alienation". In other domestic policy, Trudeau pioneered official bilingualism and multiculturalism, fostering a pan-Canadian identity. Trudeau's foreign policy included making Canada more independent; he patriated the Constitution and established the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, actions that achieved full Canadian sovereignty. He formed close ties with the Soviet Union, China, and Cuban leader Fidel Castro, putting him at odds with other capitalist Western nations.

Bilingualism and multiculturalism

Trudeau's first major legislative push was implementing the majority of recommendations of Pearson's Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism via the Official Languages Act, which made French and English the co-equal official languages of the federal government. More controversial than the declaration (which was backed by the NDP and, with some opposition in caucus, the PCs) was the implementation of the Act's principles: between 1966 and 1976, the francophone proportion of the civil service and military doubled, causing alarm in some sections of anglophone Canada that they were being disadvantaged.

Trudeau's Cabinet fulfilled Part IV of the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism's report by announcing a "Multiculturalism Policy" on October 8, 1971. It was the first of its kind in the world, and was then emulated in several provinces, such as Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and other countries most notably Australia, which has had a similar history and immigration pattern. Beyond the specifics of the policy itself, this action signalled an openness to the world and coincided with a more open immigration policy that had been brought in by Trudeau's predecessor Lester B. Pearson. This recognized that while Canada was a country of two official languages, it recognized a plurality of cultures – "a multicultural policy within a bilingual framework". This annoyed public opinion in Quebec, which believed that it challenged Quebec's claim of Canada as a country of two nations.


During the refugee crisis caused by the flight of the so-called "boat people" from Vietnam as thousands of people, mostly ethnic Chinese, fled Communist Vietnam in makeshift boats across the South China Sea, usually to the British colony of Hong Kong, the Trudeau government was generous in granting asylum to the refugees. By 1980, Canada had accepted about 44,000 of the "boat people", making it one of the top destinations for them.

Indigenous issues

In 1969, Trudeau along with his then Minister of Indian Affairs Jean Chrétien, proposed the 1969 White Paper (officially entitled "Statement of the Government of Canada on Indian policy"). Under the legislation of the White Paper, Indian Status would be eliminated. First Nations Peoples would be incorporated fully into provincial government responsibilities as equal Canadian citizens, and reserve status would be removed imposing the laws of private property in indigenous communities. Any special programs or considerations that had been allowed to First Nations people under previous legislation would be terminated, as the special considerations were seen by the Government to act as a means to further separate Indian peoples from Canadian citizens. This proposal was seen by many as racist and an attack on Canada's aboriginal population. The Paper proposed the general assimilation of First Nations into the Canadian body politic through the elimination of the Indian Act and Indian status, the parcelling of reserve land to private owners, and the elimination of the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs. The White Paper prompted the first major national mobilization of Indian and Aboriginal activists against the federal government's proposal, leading to Trudeau setting aside the legislation.

Death penalty

On July 14, 1976, after a long and emotional debate, Bill C-84 was passed by the House of Commons by a vote of 130 to 124, abolishing the death penalty completely and instituting a life sentence without parole for 25 years for first-degree murder.

Social programs and spending

In 1971, Trudeau's government greatly expanded unemployment insurance, making coverage nearly universal as coverage for the Canadian labour force jumped to 96 percent from 75 percent. The system was sometimes called the 8/42, because one had to work for eight weeks (with at least 20 hours per week), and wait two weeks, to get benefits for the other 42 weeks of the year. This expansion also opened the UI program up to maternity, sickness, and retirement benefits, covered seasonal workers for the first time, and allowed mothers to receive up to 15 weeks of benefits if they had 20 or more insurable weeks. The reforms increased the maximum benefit period to 50 weeks, though the benefit duration was calculated using a complex formula depending on labour force participation and the regional and national unemployment rates. In 1977, the government simplified the benefit duration formula but introduced a variable entrance requirement dependent on the unemployment rate in the applicant's region; the changes also mandated that workers in areas with low unemployment regions work twice as long to be eligible for benefits as workers in high unemployment regions.

In 1973, Trudeau's government amended the National Housing Act to provide financial assistance for new home buying, loans for co-operative housing, and low interest loans for municipal and private non-profit housing. The amendments saw the introduction the Rental Rehabilitation Assistance Program, which established that homeowners and occupants in low income neighborhoods could qualify for small grants to be used for home repair. Also introduced was the Assisted Home Ownership Program which allowed the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) to start providing grants and subsidized interest rates to low income families (though in 1978 an amendment discontinued the provision of grant money to these families, which led to a high incidence of defaults, and in turn, necessitated that the federal government provide financial assistance to the CMHC). The amendments saw the passage of the Rent Supplement Act, which enabled the CMHC to partner with private landlords, cooperatives, and not-for-profit associations to provide affordable housing; in addition, the act saw the CMHC agree to fund the difference between market rental prices and rent prices geared to the specific occupant's income. Lastly, the Canada Rental Supply Program was introduced to provide interest-free loans for 15 years to developers who agreed to allocate a proportion of units toward social housing initiatives. In order to ensure that loans contributed to the provision of low income housing, the CMHC was restricted to giving loans amounting to $7500 or less per unit.

The Registered home ownership savings plan (RHOSP) was introduced in the government's November 1974 budget. Similar to RRSPs, proceeds from the RHOSP could be received tax-free for either a down payment for the acquisition of an owner-occupied dwelling or to buy furnitures for the dwelling (or the spouse's dwelling). Individuals who already owned a home (either owner-occupied or rented to another person) could not deduct RHOSP contributions. In 1976, Trudeau's government allowed for transfers of funds between the RHOSP (for instance to select a plan with better returns). In 1977, the government tightened the rules of the RHOSP (the reforms removed the purchase of furnitures from the list of usage allowed for tax-free use of RHOSP proceeds starting in 1978; disallowed deductible contributions for a taxpayer whose spouse owned a home; suspended tax-free rollover of RHSOP funds to an RRSP; and capped the lifetime of the RHOSP at 20 years).

In 1977, Trudeau's government established the financial program Established Programs Financing to help finance the provincially-run healthcare and post-secondary education system, through transfer payments, by cash and tax points. This system lasted until 1995.

In 1979, Trudeau's government restructured family allowances by increasing the role of the tax system in child support and decreasing the role of family allowances. The government established an annual Refundable Child Tax Credit of $200 for families with incomes of $18,000 or less. As incomes increased above this level, benefits would be taxed away to disappear completely at $26,000. Since the median income for families during this time was $19,500, the majority of families received some benefit from the new program.


In 1969, Trudeau's first finance minister, Edgar Benson, introduced a white paper on tax reform which included tax deductions for child care and advocated shifting the tax burden from the poor to the wealthy. Measures to fulfill the latter proposal included a capital gains tax, which was severely criticized by corporate Canada and the business community (notably Israel Asper). The bill was debated in Parliament for over a year, with its more radical proposals being removed in parliamentary committee. The reforms managed to be passed through the use of closure, with the capital gains tax (that had an inclusion rate of 50 percent) coming into effect on January 1, 1972, as prescribed by the 1971 budget. Also implemented in 1972 was the child care expense deduction which allowed for a deduction of up to $500 per child. As Benson had now become a political liability, Trudeau replaced him with John Turner (who was seen as a "Business Liberal") in 1972.

In 1973, Trudeau's government fully indexed the person income tax system (both the exemptions and the brackets) to match inflation. The indexation was made effective in 1974; during that year, inflation had jumped from six percent to double digits. The government also implemented three personal income tax cuts from 1973 to 1975.

Energy policy

On September 4, 1973, Trudeau requested Western Canadian provinces to agree to a voluntary freeze on oil prices during the ongoing Arab oil embargo. Nine days after, the Trudeau government imposed a 40-cent tax on every barrel of Canadian oil exported to the United States to combat rising inflation and oil prices. The tax was equivalent to the difference between domestic and international oil prices, and the revenues were used to subsidize oil imports for Eastern refiners. The Premier of oil-rich Alberta, Peter Lougheed, called the decision "the most discriminatory action taken by a federal government against a particular province in the entire history of Confederation." While revenues decreased for Western provinces (particularly Alberta) and for the petroleum industry, Trudeau's government subsidized Eastern consumers, angering Alberta, who successfully fought for control of its natural resources in 1930.

In the early 1970s, the petroleum industry was largely under foreign (mainly American) control, the recent discovery of oil in Alaska put corporate pressure on the Canadian Arctic, and Canada's energy sector increasingly focused on North American rather than domestic needs. Trudeau's government initially rejected the idea of creating a nationalized oil company (which was perceived to secure supplies, improve revenue collection, and give governments better information on the global energy market), arguing it would be costly and inefficient. However, after the late 1973 oil crisis saw global oil prices quadruple, questions arose about whether Canada should continue importing oil. Though Canada also exported oil at times, the provinces of Quebec and Atlantic Canada were at risk of a cut-off of imports; as a result, Canada was in need of knowing more about its potential to produce energy. In late October 1973, Trudeau's government adopted a motion from the New Democratic Party (which the Trudeau minority government relied on for support) to establish a nationalized oil company. The Petro-Canada Act was passed in 1975 (under a Trudeau majority government), resulting in the creation of a new crown corporation, Petro-Canada. Petro-Canada was mandated to acquire imported oil supplies, take part in energy research and development, and engage in downstream activities such as refining and marketing. The corporation started with an initial $1.5 billion in capital and had preferential access to debt capital as "an agent of Her Majesty". Trudeau's government gave itself authority over Petro-Canada's capital budget and its corporate strategy, making the company its policy arm; the government also wanted the company to be mainly active on the frontiers (the oil sands, the Arctic, and the East Coast offshore areas) rather than Western Canada, where most Canadian oil is extracted. In 1976, Trudeau appointed his friend, Maurice Strong, to become the first chair of the company.

Foreign affairs

In foreign affairs, Trudeau kept Canada in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), but often pursued an independent path in international relations.

Trudeau was the first world leader to meet John Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono on their 1969 "tour for world peace". Lennon said, after talking with Trudeau for 50 minutes, that Trudeau was "a beautiful person" and that "if all politicians were like Pierre Trudeau, there would be world peace". The diplomat John G. H. Halstead who worked as a close adviser to Trudeau for a time described him as a man who never read any of the policy papers submitted by the External Affairs department, instead preferring short briefings on the issues before meeting other leaders and that Trudeau usually tried to "wing" his way through international meetings by being witty. Halstead stated that Trudeau viewed foreign policy as "only for dabbing", saying he much preferred domestic affairs.

Retirement and death

Trudeau retired from being the Prime Minister in 1984, after which he did not speak to the public very much. In his retirement, Trudeau practised law at the Montreal law firm of Heenan Blaikie. He also successfully campaigned against the Meech Lake and Charlottetown Accords (which proposed recognizing Quebec as a "distinct society"), arguing they would strengthen Quebec nationalism.

He died of prostate cancer and Parkinson's disease in Montreal on September 28, 2000. His eldest son, Justin Trudeau, became the 23rd and current prime minister, following the 2015 Canadian federal election; Justin Trudeau is the first prime minister of Canada to be a descendant of a former prime minister.

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