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Pierre Elliott Trudeau:


Quebec editorialists ambivalent

Province's love-hate relationship
with Trudeau had roots in October Crisis

Saturday, September 30, 2000

QUEBEC and MONTREAL -- Pierre Trudeau's dream of building Canada as "one nation -- one country" remains unfulfilled, but his ideal continues to drive the country's unresolved national-unity debate.

Mr. Trudeau's dream clashed with the emergence of another vision, that of a separate Quebec nation with its own history and its own symbols.

Mr. Trudeau believed that the rights of individuals should supersede the collective rights of a people.

This was at the root of his battle against the 1960s version of Quebec nationalism, which he viewed as a sectarian throwback to the era when Quebec premier Maurice Duplessis and the Roman Catholic Church ruled the province with an iron hand.

In the early sixties, he rejected the separatists' belief that change to protect the collective rights of francophones in Quebec could be achieved only through political independence.

He introduced official bilingualism, which gave French Canadians a new hope and determination to achieve national unity.

For Mr. Trudeau, there could be no French Canadians or English Canadians. There could be only a single nationality, one that embraced many cultures through a vigorous multiculturalism policy.

However, when René Lévesque, a man dedicated to the democratic principles of the British parliamentary system, responded to the call to lead the separatist movement, Quebec independence began to evolve into a credible option.

People detained under the War Measures Act during the 1970 October Crisis were angry and disillusioned.

The use of massive force against a small group of terrorists at the expense of individual rights and freedoms left scars.

It was from this moment that the love-hate relationship with Quebeckers developed. The separatist Parti Québécois government was elected in 1976, while, at the same time, Quebec voters massively supported Mr. Trudeau's Liberals in Ottawa.

Such ambivalence about Mr. Trudeau found echo among the pundits in Quebec after his death this week.

Michel C. Auger, columnist for Le Journal de Montréal, said the most telling symbol will be in how the former Prime Minister is mourned in his home province.

"In Canada, they are mourning the loss of a giant, a man who defined the country. In Quebec, it is more like the loss of a family member, one that we respected even though we didn't always agree with him."

Gilbert Lavoie, editor-in-chief of Le Soleil, said that Mr. Trudeau has left a country that is profoundly different from the one he imagined when he took office.

The official bilingualism that he incarnated had a moment of glory, but linguistic disputes continue, as does the assimilation of Canada's francophone minority, he said.

Mr. Trudeau also "leaves us without knowing the denouement of his epic battle against the sovereignty movement" and he can take small consolation in the fact that talk of another referendum is on the back burner, Mr. Lavoie writes.

In the end, the editor said, Mr. Trudeau leaves a controversial legacy and, ironically, despite always insisting that reason must triumph over passion, he will be remembered more for the latter than the former.

Alain Dubuc, editor-in-chief of La Presse, is equally mixed in his praise: Mr. Trudeau was, without a doubt, a great statesman, but not a great prime minister, having left a number of economic, social and constitutional scars on the country.

Despite all the criticisms and praise that his death has prompted, Mr. Dubuc concludes, "it will always remain that Mr. Trudeau always dared; he dared to act, he dared to impose change, he dared to innovate."

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