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Pierre Elliott Trudeau:

'He was a giant of a man'

Canadian leaders reflect on a life
that captured the nation's imagination

Friday, September 29, 2000
With reports from staff and Canadian Press

"Giant" was a much-used word yesterday as political friends and foes reacted to Pierre Trudeau's death.

"He was a giant when it comes to his contributions to Canada. He will leave a hole in our consciousness," said Deputy Prime Minister Herb Gray,who served in Mr. Trudeau's cabinet.

"He was a giant of a man," said Tory Leader Joe Clark,who defeated Mr. Trudeau in the election of 1979 and was defeated by him the next year. "He had a transforming impact on the country."

Like many who sparred with Mr. Trudeau politically, he displayed a complex mix of feelings.

"I think that his influence was too strong, upon particularly Canadians outside Quebec, who came to accept without examination his view of the nature of that province," Mr. Clark said. "But we fought elections about that, and at the end of the day, he won more elections on that issue than I did."

Prime Minister Jean Chrétien said in a statement, "Pierre Trudeau dreamed of a society that afforded all of its citizens an equal opportunity to succeed in life, whatever their background or beliefs, whether rich or poor."

The changes Mr. Trudeau began "continue to shape the soul of his people," he said.

Ed Broadbent,the former leader of the New Democratic Party, battled with Mr. Trudeau across the aisle of the House of Commons. What his political opponents respected, Mr. Broadbent said, was that Mr. Trudeau "was a man of ideas, a man who went into politics not because he wanted power for its own sake, but because he wanted to do something.

"He did some things that I think were harmful, but he did a lot of things that were immensely good."

Former Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney, while acknowledging he had significant political disagreements with Mr. Trudeau, called him gallant.

"History will eventually judge us all but I have no doubt Mr. Trudeau will be remembered as a gallant political warrior who loved his country and devoted much of his life to its service."

Canadian Alliance Leader Stockwell Day said he became conscious of Mr. Trudeau during the first campaign in 1968. Mr. Day was a teenager working for a Tory candidate, but no one could ignore Trudeaumania that year, he said.

"It was electric. It was sweeping the country. You could not be unaffected by it," Mr. Day said. "Canadians this evening say good night to a great Canadian."

Governor-General Adrienne Clarkson called Mr. Trudeau "the sole figure who has continually dominated our imaginations and our spirits for nearly 40 years. 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 showed us that it was a worthwhile and honest thing to do."

Canadians could never be indifferent about him, she said. "This extraordinary and brilliant man confirmed us as a bilingual, bicultural nation."

Federal NDP Leader Alexa McDonough said in a statement: "A generation of Canadians who came of age in the 1960s and 1970s remember Pierre Trudeau as the prime minister who defined that optimistic era. His belief in a bilingual, multicultural Canada and a strong social safety net helped to shape the values of Canadians."

Government House Leader Don Boudria said: "It's the closest any Western country of the modern age ever had to a philosopher king. There's no other person in our country like him."

Senator Serge Joyal,a former Trudeau cabinet minister, broke down at times as he described his friend. "He made us better. That's not an easy challenge in a country like ours."

Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe paid tribute to Mr. Trudeau as an intellectual, an orator and a "redoubtable adversary who always defended with conviction and tenacity the values he sought to share with others.

"As a Quebec sovereigntist I cannot help but recognize in him a certain idea of Canada which, even if I don't share it, has left its mark on the evolution of the country. But we must recognize as well that Quebec doesn't have a place in it."

In Quebec, official reaction was reserved at best, especially among those active in the sovereignty movement.

Premier Lucien Bouchard recalled in a statement that Mr. Trudeau left his mark on the people of his generation.

"His strong and often unyielding positions provoked admiration from his friends as well as controversy from his adversaries. In the various functions he held, he defended his convictions with energy. . . . History will remember him as a man of will and intelligence."

Quebec Liberal Leader Jean Charest hailed the Official Languages Act and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as two of the former prime minister's greatest achievements.

"Pierre Elliott Trudeau has been one of dominant figures of modern Canadian history," Mr. Charest said. His life and achievements "will always be symbol of commitment and courage. For Quebeckers and Canadians, he incarnates the ideal of his generation."

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