Pierre Trudeau

(1919–2000) Canadian politician

Pierre Trudeau served as prime minister of Canada from 1968 to 1979 and 1980 to 1984. Born to an affluent Montreal family on October 18, 1919, he was educated at Jean-de-Brébeuf, an elite Jesuit preparatory school, received a law degree from the University of Montreal, and studied at Harvard University, the École des Sciences Politiques in Paris, and the London School of Economics. During a brief teaching career, he acted as the assistant professor of law at the University of Montreal from 1961 to 1965.

His 1965 election to the Canadian House of Commons marked the beginning of his ascendancy in Canadian politics. Lester B. Pearson appointed him parliamentary secretary in 1966 and then minister of justice and attorney general. Trudeau won the passage of social welfare reform measures regarding gun control, abortion, and homosexuality.

As the leader of the Liberal Party, he became the prime minister in 1968, largely due to his opposition to the Quebec separatist group Front de Libération du Québec (FLQ). In 1972 his Liberal Party was weakened, possessing a minority of seats in the House of Commons, and relied on the support of the New Democratic Party (NDP) to pass its agenda. Trudeau struggled against economic and domestic problems throughout the 1970s. In 1979 Trudeau lost his position as prime minister to the Progressive Conservative Party; he regained power in the election of 1980, beginning his fourth term on March 3 of that year. His administration witnessed the defeat of a referendum in May 1980 on the separation of Quebec.

Trudeau’s legacy as prime minister includes his successfully patriating the Canadian Constitution from the British Parliament, an act that gave Canada the power to amend the document without the need to seek the approval of the British Crown. He had included a Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guaranteed certain civil liberties, in the constitution that year. Sensitive to the linguistic preferences of Francophone Canadians, he passed laws that made Canada an officially bilingual nation and used his office to support multiculturalism.

Canadian journalists named Trudeau the top Canadian newsmaker of the 20th century in 1999. In 1971, at age 51, he married 22-year-old Vancouver socialite Margaret Sinclair. Their union, which produced three children and was the subject of enormous press coverage, ended in divorce in 1984. Trudeau’s works include Federalism and the French Canadians, Approaches to Politics, and Conversations with Canadians. Pierre Trudeau, the 15th Canadian prime minister, died on September 28, 2000.

See also Quebec sovereignty movement.

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