Pierre Elliott Trudeau:
Pushing a reluctant country into the global spotlight
He performed for the international gallery,
Saturday, September 30, 2000
and he was not afraid to insult his audience
OTTAWA -- On the international stage, Pierre Trudeau was the colourful actor who gave Canadians a sense they shared the limelight and opened the eyes of the world.
He slid down a banister at a 1969 Commonwealth conference, pirouetted behind the Queen in 1977, and antagonized American leaders.
He was the prime minister who grabbed international attention with a success no other Canadian leader equalled. Tributes Thursday showed he remained in the world's memory as a striking figure.
The New York Times called him "Canada's dashing figure." The Washington Post said he "captivated first his nation then much of the world."
It was, however, a captivation that at times rankled.
Mr. Trudeau embarked on initiatives that the country's largest ally, the U.S., viewed as an annoyance, opening relations with Cuba's Fidel Castro, flirting with warmer relations with China and Russia -- but he also irked Americans with rhetoric about independence from the U.S. "elephant."
"There were moments when we really irritated them, and we probably paid a price for that," said Gordon Smith, a foreign-policy adviser to Mr. Trudeau until 1971, and later deputy minister of foreign affairs. "But on the other hand, you've got to get their attention."
Mr. Trudeau began his tenure by deciding that Canada's foreign policy should be focused on "national interests," rather than the role of "helpful fixer," the role promoted by his predecessor, Lester Pearson.
But, Carleton University historian Norman Hillmer said, the revolutionary rhetoric eventually gave way to traditional Canadian multilateralism and peacekeeping.
"When it came right down to it, this was an old-style foreign-policy government."
In 1969, Mr. Trudeau moved to pull Canada's NATO troops out of Europe, settling finally for the withdrawal of half of the 10,000 Canadians stationed there. The move provoked an outcry from Canada's allies in Europe and the U.S.
In the 1972 election, he proposed his "third option," which was to bring Canada into a stance independent of the U.S. He followed with economic nationalism initiatives such as the Foreign Investment Review Agency and the creation of Petro-Canada.
Mr. Trudeau's later initiatives, an effort to promote North-South equity between developed and undeveloped nations and his 1983-84 peace mission, are criticized by many analysts as failures.
The North-South initiative was not accompanied by a dramatic increase in Canadian aid or any success in persuading other countries to increase aid, while his peace mission met with little interest during the Reagan era.
But Mr. Smith said Mr. Trudeau succeeded in engaging countries in relations in a way that a superpower could not, arguing his initiative to warm relations with China served as a model to the world. His profile on the international stage made Canada better appreciated in places such as Africa and India, and expanded its influence.
"Canada was never more visible on the international scene," he said. "He put us on the map, internationally."