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GiveLife.ca

    
Pierre Elliott Trudeau:
1919-2000


Trudeau in the Globe: The day he quit for good

Pierre Trudeau steps down New leader likely by end of June

By CHARLOTTE MONTGOMERY and THOMAS WALKOM
The Globe and Mail
From March 1, 1984

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau has announced he is stepping down. The resignation will take effect after the Liberals hold a leadership convention probably in late June and already potential successors are jockeying coyly for his job.

Mr. Trudeau told reporters yesterday he made the decision to put an end to almost 16 years in office after a long, solitary walk Tuesday night through a blinding Ottawa blizzard.

"I had a good day yesterday, worked on aboriginal rights, and it seemed like a good day to have a last day. . . . I had a good day. It was a great walk in the snow. I went to judo, felt very combative, and here I am."

His announcement caught friends and foes by surprise. Both NDP Leader Edward Broadbent and Conservative Leader Brian Mulroney were in Florida for the week-long Commons recess, and their staff scrambled to produce statements of comment. Mr. Mulroney placed a personal call of good wishes to Mr. Trudeau.

Several close aides and friends received telephone calls only moments before Mr. Trudeau took the snowbound capital by surprise with a letter to national Liberal Party President Iona Campagnolo.

Senator Keith Davey, a diehard Trudeau worker who organized the Liberal Leader's comeback from his brief time in opposition in 1980, received one of those calls and made one last pitch to change Mr. Trudeau's mind.

James Coutts, former principal secretary to Mr. Trudeau, was also called. Mr. Coutts said he didn't try to dissuade his former boss because he had made up his mind and sounded calm, confident and pleased about it.

But others, including most Cabinet ministers and MPs at home in their ridings, found out only from newspapers, television or radio as the word leaked out a few hours before Mrs. Campagnolo made public Mr. Trudeau's letter.

Transport Minister Lloyd Axworthy was in the midst of a talk to Winnipeg high school students about Mr. Trudeau's peace initiative when he heard the news from reporters. "I was caught by surprise, to put it mildly," he said.

But the contenders for Mr. Trudeau's job were beginning to jostle for position even while tributes to the Prime Minister had barely been voiced. Prime among them is former finance minister John Turner, who was vacationing in Jamaica but quickly issued a statement through a Montreal friend saying he will consult colleagues, family and friends and announce his decision on March 16.

Mr. Trudeau's decision came after days of consulting close friends and associates, press secretary Ralph Coleman said.

Mr. Trudeau stayed in Ottawa for this week's Commons break, working quietly to prepare for an approaching constitutional conference on aboriginal rights. On Tuesday night, as snow piled up in Ottawa's streets during a raging blizzard, he took a long walk, and he says it was then that he decided to go.

Yesterday, in a blue pinstripe suit with the characteristic red rose in his lapel, he arrived at 9:15 a.m. at his Parliament Hill office to meet legislative assistant Joyce Fairbairn. He did not tell her.

At about 9:45 he called in his principal secretary, Thomas Axworthy, and announced his decision.

At noon he walked across the street to another of his offices and called his staff together. The ceremony lasted about 10 minutes, Mr. Coleman said, with Mr. Trudeau thanking his staff and Mr. Axworthy replying.

"He told us to cheer up and not be sad," Mr. Coleman said. The Prime Minister then shook hands with the men and kissed the women. "No one actually sobbed. There were a few misty eyes."

"He was in a very good mood . . . very composed. . . . But I detected a little touch of emotion lurking beneath the surface."

Meanwhile, across town at Liberal Party headquarters, Mrs. Campagnolo was reading Mr. Trudeau's letter telling her he was grateful to the party "for giving me the opportunity to serve my country," but he now felt that "this is the appropriate time for someone else to assume this challenge."

He said he would continue to serve until the party could select his replacement. Mrs. Campagnolo said yesterday she expects Mr. Trudeau will resign as Prime Minister a few days after the convention, allowing the new leader to be sworn in as head of Government.

Senator Eugene Forsey, an expert on constitutional law, said there should be no legal problem if the Liberals choose someone, such as Mr. Turner, who is not an MP.

Anyone can be sworn in as Prime Minister, although a non-MP could not sit in the Commons and by convention would be expected to seek a seat as soon as possible. In the meantime, a member of the Liberal caucus would act as Government leader in the House.

Arthur Meighen was the last Canadian prime minister to govern without being an MP, doing so for several months in 1926.

Mrs. Campagnolo said she had talked to Mr. Trudeau about his future on Tuesday and, while she did not know what he had decided, she was not surprised to pick up the telephone yesterday morning and find him at the other end, saying he was sending a "dear Iona" letter.

With a secretary from Mr. Trudeau's office standing by to take her response, Mrs. Campagnolo wrote a glowing tribute, saying the "many triumphs of your years as Prime Minister will soon become the inevitable stuff of history."

She told reporters later that the party's national executive will meet tomorrow and Saturday to decide a date and location for the leadership convention, which she hopes will be held in late June.

Mr. Broadbent, in a statement issued here, noted that he has been in Ottawa for 15 of Mr. Trudeau's 16 years as Liberal leader, years "that have been unpredictable, difficult and, at times, productive." The resignation "will change the face of Canadian politics. It will mean a welcome new beginning."

He wished Mr. Trudeau well and encouraged him to continue his work on issues of peace and disarmament.

Mr. Mulroney plans to speak in the Commons about Mr. Trudeau on Monday.

The Prime Minister gave no hint of plans for his future yesterday, telling reporters he had "no ideas." When he was asked what would become of the peace initiative he launched last October, which took him on his last international travels, Mr. Trudeau said only that "one man does not make the world go around."

Whatever Mr. Trudeau does, it will undoubtedly be a busy retirement, Senator Davey said in an interview.

He said he felt sad at the announcement and considered it sad for the party. "I like him so much and I admire him so much, I respect his decision."

(To critics who might suggest his sadness springs from the prospect of losing his powerful position, Senator Davey said: "I need to remain a powerful guy like I need a hole in the head. I'll be able to concentrate on the Blue Jays this summer.")

Mr. Coutts said he felt "very sad that, in my view, the greatest leader this country has ever had says he is stepping down."

As for the rumors that he is considering a run at the leadership, Mr. Coutts said that he hadn't even thought about it, nor would he comment. "I'm thinking about Pierre Trudeau. I'm thinking about a great man and a good friend."

Lloyd Axworthy said in an interview from Winnipeg he was "a little saddened. . . . It's an end to a very important political career."

Mr. Axworthy, who has suggested in the past that he is unlikely to be a candidate himself, did not rule out the idea yesterday.

From Vancouver, Finance Minister Marc Lalonde praised Mr. Trudeau as the man who has held the country together. "In effect, I think the way it was going in Quebec in the Sixties, if Mr. Trudeau had not come in there and taken an exteremly strong stand there on the issue of Canadian unity and against separatism, on the issue of terrorism, this country might have indeed come a lot closer to a split than it did."

Conservative finance critic John Crosbie, who was in the Joe Clark government on Nov. 21, 1979, the last time Mr. Trudeau resigned, said he will believe Mr. Trudeau is truly leaving when he sees it. "Once bitten, twice shy."

Yesterday's resignation fulfils the promise Mr. Trudeau made to his party and country in 1980 that he would quit before the next election. But it has been a long time coming.

In 1979, the first time he resigned, Mr. Trudeau said that "the Sovereign would have to ask me on bended knee, three times" to persuade him to run again. Instead, it took only the pleading of Liberal House Leader Allan MacEachen and the defeat in the Commons of the Clark government.

But throughout the 1980 election campaign, Mr. Trudeau insisted that he was not long for the office. In February of that year he told reporters that Canadians would have the best of both worlds by voting Liberal they would get him as Prime Minister, but only for a short time.

He said then that he planned to leave office by the end of 1981. Later in 1980, after defeating the Conservatives and regaining power, he said he would leave "soon" after a constitutional accord was reached.

That accord was not reached until late in 1981. But when Queen Elizabeth proclaimed the new Constitution in April, 1982, Mr. Trudeau was still in power and showing no inclination to leave.

Already, however, Liberal caucus members were beginning to grumble openly as the polls showed a growing disenchantment on the part of Canadian voters with their leader. But Mr. Trudeau was surrounded throughout by loyalists such as Senator Davey working to persuade him to stay.

Late last year it appeared that Mr. Davey might succeed. Mr. Trudeau had become interested in nuclear disarmament and in the possibility of his playing a role in achieving world peace.

But the Prime Minister's peace campaign, while it caught headlines, did not move the Liberals significantly upward in the polls. And while Mr. Davey was pushing him to stay, another trusted lieutenant, Mr. Lalonde, was advising that he go for the good of the party.

Yesterday, when Mr. Trudeau finally accepted the advice that he go, he did so with the knowledge that members of his caucus were becoming increasingly unhappy with his leadership.

Yet, during his term, Mr. Trudeau achieved a number of firsts. He was the first Prime Minister to invoke the arbitrary powers of the War Measures Act in peacetime. That 1970 decision, which followed two kidnappings by the Front de Liberation du Quebec, demonstrated that Mr. Trudeau was not afraid of stepping on civil liberties if he felt action was necessary.

His other major first has been the patriation of the Constitution, complete with an entrenched bill of rights. Mr. Trudeau had worked on and off on constitutional reform throughout his tenure. He succeeded, but at the cost of isolating a recalcitrant Quebec Government.


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