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Pierre Elliott Trudeau:

Trudeau silences debate in the House

As he did in life, the former prime minister
dominates Parliament in a day of moving
tributes and speeches led by Jean Chrétien

Saturday, September 30, 2000

OTTAWA -- For one more day, Pierre Elliott Trudeau dominated the House of Commons.

The usual business of Parliament ground to a halt yesterday as today's leaders paid tribute to a man who did so much to shape the society they govern.

When the speeches and tributes were finished, the House adjourned until Wednesday, though MPs will celebrate Mr. Trudeau's life Monday in a special session.

Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, a long-time friend and colleague of Mr. Trudeau -- he was justice minister when Mr. Trudeau patriated the Constitution and introduced the Charter of Rights and Freedoms -- began the tribute with a short and moving speech.

"Mr. Speaker, Pierre Trudeau was a man like no other. He was a man of brilliance and learning, a man of action, a man of grace and style, a man of wit and playfulness."

The Prime Minister began in a low voice, his face drawn and tired-looking after his return to Ottawa in the middle of the night from Jamaica, where he had been holding free-trade talks.

Mr. Trudeau's political career, Mr. Chrétien said, was defined by his passion for his vision of Canada. He gave Canada its multicultural character and its official bilingualism. But, the Prime Minister said, Canadians will remember Mr. Trudeau most for the Charter of Rights and Freedoms he gave them in 1982.

"Now that magnificent, eloquent voice is silent but his deeds and thoughts will last as long as people cherish courage, commitment and Canada, the country he so loved. Pierre, you made us young, you made us proud, you made us dream."

He finished simply, "Merci, dear friend, and farewell."

Newly minted Canadian Alliance leader Stockwell Day said Mr. Trudeau made decisions based not on opinion polls, but on what he believed to be right.

"We all know what a winter of unpopularity can be. And even in those times he stood firmly, knowing what was right and he let the seasons pass and he let them come," the Official Opposition Leader said.

While the Liberal MPs, as well as most of the New Democratic Party caucus and scattered Alliance, Bloc Québécois and Progressive Conservative MPs, wore red roses in their lapels -- a Trudeau trademark -- Mr. Day did not. In fact, Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe was the only opposition party leader to do so.

Instead, Mr. Day placed a rose on a silver tray and asked that a parliamentary page place it in front of Mr. Trudeau's portrait in the Centre Block of Parliament Hill.

Other leaders stuck to words, rather than theatrical gestures.

Mr. Duceppe began by noting the irony of the situation: "I'm sure he never imagined that the leader of a sovereigntist political party would rise one day in the House of Commons to add his contribution," he said, referring to Mr. Trudeau. However, he was generous in his praise of a man who was perhaps the greatest foe Quebec separatists ever faced.

NDP Leader Alexa McDonough noted, as have many others, that no matter where one stood on the political spectrum, Mr. Trudeau was respected for his commitment to his ideals.

"Only time will determine Pierre Trudeau's final place in history but in the hearts of people across this country he already has his place as a proud and passionate Canadian," she said.

But it was Progressive Conservative leader Joe Clark, who fought Mr. Trudeau in the 1979 and 1980 elections, who struck the morning's most resonant note.

"Like our first controversial prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, Pierre Trudeau would have built the railway," the Conservative Leader said.

The politicians speak

Political friend and foe alike expressed the following about the former prime minister:

"Pierre Trudeau was a giant of our time and a great Canadian. . . . Now that magnificent voice is silent, but his deeds and thoughts will last as long as people cherish courage, commitment and Canada, the country he so loved. Pierre, you made us young. You made us proud. You made us dream. Merci, cher ami, et au revoir." -- Prime Minister Jean Chrétien

"Mr. Trudeau has brought the rose to us and Mr. Trudeau makes us realize that this country is worth loving, is worth fighting for and is worth standing for." -- Canadian Alliance Leader Stockwell Day

"A tribute to Pierre Elliott Trudeau is a tribute to the man whose intelligence, stature and strength of character were recognized by so many throughout Canada and throughout the world. . . . For those who promote the sovereignty of Quebec, such as myself, Mr. Trudeau was a major adversary." -- Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe

"People who would never vote for him, or rarely agree with him, admired his passion, his intellect, his courage. He became a symbol, almost an incarnation of what many Canadians hoped we could be. No one can dispute the positive power of his example. He was a force who, for better and for worse, transformed our country." -- Progressive Conservative Leader Joe Clark

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