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Pierre Elliott Trudeau:

A stirring mix of Santa, Castro and Mozart
The Globe and Mail
Wednesday, October 4, 2000

It has to have been the happening of the era. Can you imagine any other gathering on any continent where you would have Fidel Castro marching alongside Jimmy Carter, Leonard Cohen and Jim Coutts?

Think of the ethereal beauty of the hymn Lacrimosa from Mozart's Requiem and the incense and pageantry of high mass contrasted with the story of a Santa Claus joke played out in the Arctic.

Marvel at the tenderness of a 28-year-old son who can talk so poignantly about love in front of 3,000 people, most of whom in their other roles could make up one of the toughest audiences a speaker would ever have to encounter.

Close your eyes when Justin Trudeau is telling how his father admonished him and his brothers that they had to test themselves, that they had to push themselves to their limits, and that they must never, ever compromise on principles. The concept, the timbre and the slightly nasal intonation were so familiar you could easily imagine it was Pierre Trudeau at the microphone. Obviously the genes run deep.

There was not a dry eye in the huge expanse of Notre Dame (and mine were no exception) when Justin concluded with a paraphrase of a Robert Frost poem that his father had earned his sleep and then, "Je t'aime, papa!"

Like his father, Justin has the actor's sense of mime and timing. When he told how as a young boy he travelled with his father to Alert, the top secret military listening post in the high Arctic, and how his father had arranged for someone to sit in a red suit at a workbench as he was held up to the window, Justin had all the gestures of the comedien. The kiss on the coffin, both before and after his eulogy, was heaven-sent for television, although the long, three-way embrace between Justin, Sacha and their mother Margaret after the eulogy was intensely real and moving.

It was also obvious that the past 72 hours have had a major impact on the sons who were initially reluctant to permit the public access on Parliament Hill and at Montreal City Hall. Justin has told friends how glad he is the family changed its position on the public lying-in-state and the train ride. He and the rest of the family now see the massive outpouring as a repayment for Mr. Trudeau's love of Canada.

And what a cross section of Mr. Trudeau's Canada was represented yesterday in Notre Dame. Fidel Castro was obviously a reminder of the Trudeau determination to maintain an independent foreign policy. Leonard Cohen was a reminder that politicians are not just about elections or legislation.

The funeral was also a celebration of the Trudeau legislative record and of the elections and politicking that made it all possible.

Mr. Coutts followed the casket as an honorary pallbearer, but all of the other Trudeau campaigners and fixers had pride of place. So, too, did most of his ministers and their campaigners and fixers.

Even Don Macdonald, the man who would likely have succeeded him as leader of the Liberal Party and probably would have become prime minister (and would have been a good one) had not the Conservatives blown their budget vote in 1979, forcing the election that Mr. Trudeau came out of retirement to win. And the man responsible for the miscalculation, Joe Clark, also came to honour the man who vanquished him.

So did the sovereigntists led by Premier Lucien Bouchard. Directly in my line of view were Deputy Premier Bernard Landry and Louise Beaudoin, the Minister of Culture, who back in the bad old days of the fight against separatism was suspected by the RCMP of being a Mata Hari, working for the French government.

As we watched so much of the Trudeau Canada pass in front of us, I would have given much more than a penny for these sovereigntists' thoughts about the man who did so much to hamper their cause.

Pierre Elliott Trudeau was wept for, honoured and sung for yesterday in a magnificent sendoff. He deserved every bit of it.

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