'He enthralled us all'
With Margaret and his sons by his side, Canada's
Friday, September 29, 2000
dashing and passionate leader dies at 80 of prostate cancer
TU THANH HA AND INGRID PERITZ
With a report from Shawn McCarthy
MONTREAL -- Pierre Trudeau, the rigorous Quebec intellectual who became Canada's most dashing prime minister, strode the international stage and gave the country a Constitution, a Charter of Rights and official bilingualism, has died.
Mr. Trudeau died shortly after 3 p.m. yesterday at his historic Montreal home with his two sons and his former wife, Margaret, at his side.
"In addition to Parkinson's disease, Mr. Trudeau suffered from prostate cancer," his sons, Justin and Sacha, said in a statement, adding that no funeral arrangements had yet been completed.
Mr. Trudeau was three weeks short of turning 81 when he died, leaving behind memories of a proud man with a rose in his lapel who ran the country for 15 of its most tumultuous modern years, from the days of Trudeaumania, to his unwavering battles against Quebec nationalists, to his patriation of the Constitution.
Mr. Trudeau's death left his friends deeply moved. In a telephone interview from Ottawa, Senator Serge Joyal broke down as he pondered his personal loss.
"I feel like an orphan. I feel like I've lost my political father," he said, his voice breaking. "We all feel sorrow, those of us who believe in Canada, those of us who fought for Canada. We have all lost a part of ourselves."
Governor-General Adrienne Clarkson praised the former prime minister as a man who intrigued a nation.
"His intelligence, often acerbic, always brilliant, exercised a formidable and irresistible fascination which intrigued us all," she said in a statement.
"We were engaged and frequently enthralled by this man . . . He stimulated us to sensations, feelings and thoughts that challenged us. We could never be indifferent to him. In this way, he gave us the opportunity to think differently, even uncomfortably, about our established opinions."
Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, who served in Mr. Trudeau's cabinet, received the news of his death at 37,000 feet as he flew from Guatemala City to Montego Bay, Jamaica, while on a trade trip.
Before he returned to Canada last night, Mr. Chrétien met with the Jamaican President and other Carribean leaders and explained he had to leave. He provided a brief but emotional statement to reporters and then left without taking questions. His eyes were filled with tears.
"Trudeau had a vision that I believe in, that Liberals believe in and that the great majority of Canadians believe in. His vision of a country of generosity, sharing [and] trust will last.
"We have to keep on fighting for these values that make us all so proud when we're abroad to say we are Canadians."
He called Mr. Trudeau a builder of the country and a "profound thinker and a man with a vision that inspired all those that had an opportunity to listen to him."
"It is a very sad day for Canada and for me in particular," Mr. Chrétien said. "Pierre Trudeau was a great prime minister and he's been an exceptional personality and he made all Canadians very proud in his career."
Mr. Trudeau was "a shadow of himself" when Senator Michael Pitfield saw him about a week ago.
"It was fairly clear that the tide was running against him, and he knew it," Mr. Pitfield said in an interview. "These diseases are relentless and chronic and there was no doubt who was going to win in the end."
But even in failing health, Mr. Trudeau's showed formidable inner strength and approached his declining health with serenity.
"He dealt with each moment as it passed. Pierre had a great faith, and he lived it," Mr. Pitfield said. "The force was his force, an inner self-discipline and strength that he translated into the vitality we know him by.
"He knew exactly what was happening to him, and what his role in it was. Things were unfolding as they should."
Friends of Mr. Trudeau's had noticed a dramatic decline in his health over the summer. Once a symbol of vitality and health, he now sometimes had difficulty recalling facts during a conversation, and he spoke and walked more laboriously.
In recent weeks, Mr. Trudeau's health declined more precipitously. Senator Jacques Hébert, a lifelong friend, said he saw Mr. Trudeau two weeks ago and although he remained lucid, he had difficulty speaking.
But one could make out his words by coming closer to him, Mr. Hébert said.
Mr. Trudeau also had trouble moving around without help, and was confined to a bed or couch, the senator said.
"He marked this country indelibly," Mr. Hébert said in an interview. "Even his enemies realize he was a great man who marked this country like no one before him and no one since."
Since September, Mr. Trudeau had been so ill he was unable to return to work at the Heenan Blaikie law firm and was receiving medical treatment at home.
He had been weakened in the past two years by a series of blows: the death of his youngest son, Michel, the onset of Parkinson's disease, and a severe case of pneumonia he developed last New Year's Eve.
When news that Mr. Trudeau was ailing became public three weeks ago, well-wishers left flowers on the doorstep of his home and camera crews kept a vigil for several days.
"He was very touched by the interest and the outpouring of good wishes," said Mr. Trudeau's senior law partner, Roy Heenan.
"It's a devastating blow. We're all feeling his loss deeply," Mr. Heenan said in an interview after advising the firm's other lawyers.
Political foes and friends alike paid tribute to Mr. Trudeau.
"He was a giant of a man," said Progressive Conservative Leader Joe Clark, the only man who ever defeated Mr. Trudeau in a general election.
"He was an untiring defender of Canada, he never spared any effort to reach his ultimate goal, to make Canada a just society," said Quebec Liberal Leader Jean Charest.
U.S. President Bill Clinton said: "As prime minister for nearly a generation, Pierre Trudeau opened a dynamic new era in Canadian politics and helped establish Canada's unique imprint on the global stage. I know his passing will be felt by all Canadians."
Mr. Trudeau was prime minister from 1968 to 1979, then from 1980 to 1984.
To a generation of Canadians, Pierre Trudeau is forever remembered for the days of Trudeaumania, a time when Canada, basking in the afterglow of Expo 67, was a more optimistic, confident nation.
Mr. Trudeau's appeal remained to this day. Two years ago, at an event organized by the magazine Cité libre, editor Monique Nemni saw teenagers swarm around Mr. Trudeau, even asking him to autograph baseball gloves.
"They were telling him 'Our parents told us about you' -- it was heady, seeing young people so extraordinarily enthusiastic about him."
But Mr. Trudeau also had his detractors. Feelings in his home province are ambivalent, as a result of his relentless fight against Quebec nationalism.
He died on the eve of the 30th anniversary of the October Crisis, the event for which Quebec nationalists most revile him, when he invoked the War Measures Act to clamp down on the terrorist threat of the Front de libération du Québec, prompting the arrest and detention of more than 460 suspects, only a handful of whom would ever be charged.
Pierre Elliott Trudeau was born Oct. 18, 1919, the son of the wealthy entrepreneur Charles-Emile Trudeau.
Mr. Trudeau attended Collège Jean de Brébeuf, the tough Jesuit school where the Quebec francophone elite sent its scions. Throughout his life, he would display a dazzling, Cartesian intellect.
After obtaining a law degree from the University of Montreal and a graduate degree in political science at Harvard University, Mr. Trudeau came back to a postwar Quebec still mired in the authoritarian shadows of premier Maurice Duplessis.
During the heady 1950s and 1960s, he joined a swelling movement of Quebec intellectuals and activists seeking to modernize the province.
Some of the people fighting by his side would eventually join the ranks of Quebec separatists, most notably the provincial Liberal minister, René Lévesque, later the leader of the Parti Québécois.
Mr. Trudeau instead rejected Quebec nationalism and would become, with Jean Marchand and Gérard Pelletier, one of the Three Wise Men -- star candidates from Quebec who went to Ottawa and bolstered the ranks of Lester Pearson's Liberals.
Following a yearlong stint as justice minister, he became Liberal leader in 1968, then prime minister, ushering in an era of stylish and youthful politics.
The glow would gradually fade as Westerners seethed at his national energy program, while even moderate Quebec federalists resented his unyielding opposition to any special status for their province.
Yet he remained an intriguing figure, even in his waning years. Often spotted walking in Montreal wearing a black beret, he remained courteous to his many well-wishers who remained fascinated by him. Yet he also maintained his lifelong aloofness.
Once known as a rebel, a sex symbol, then an elder statesman, Mr. Trudeau became the picture of a broken man after the death of his youngest son, Michel, in a 1998 avalanche. From then on, he appeared more frail and limited his public appearances.
Mr. Trudeau leaves his sons Justin and Sacha, from his marriage to Margaret Sinclair, and Sarah, his daughter with constitutional lawyer Deborah Coyne.
Last night, several bouquets of long-stemmed roses leaned on his doorstep, a last tribute to a man whose myth endured decades after he left public life.
People across the country were touched at Mr. Trudeau's passing.
"I thought he had a lot of spunk," said John Arsenault outside a Tim Hortons coffee shop in suburban Halifax.
Mr. Arsenault recalled living in Montreal when the War Measures Act was proclaimed.
"He said, 'Just watch me, I'll get the War Measures Act,' so I think he had a lot of guts. I think he was one of the best prime ministers in Canada."