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Chronology of a remarkable political life

Globe and Mail Update

A chronicle of Pierre Trudeau's career, from the days before he announced his candidacy for the Liberal leadership to the day he retired from political life for good.

1968-1972: Trudeau's first term

  • 1968: Trudeaumania
  • 1969: 'Why should I sell your wheat?' and other flubs
  • 1970: The FLQ crisis
  • 1971: Pierre marries Margaret
  • 1972: Minority status
1973-1974: The minority years
  • 1973 Petro-Canada formed
  • 1974 'Zap, you're frozen'
1975-1979: Power regained, a marriage lost
  • 1975: Wage and price controls
  • 1976 The PQ wins
  • 1977 Separation
  • 1978 No nukes testing
  • 1979 Trudeau 'retires'
1980-1984: The Charter:
Feb. 6: In a televised clash with Quebec Premier Daniel Johnson, federal Justice Minister Pierre Trudeau rejects the idea of special status for his home province. Although he has been a Liberal for only three years, a groundswell of support is already building up for Mr. Trudeau to succeed Prime Minister Lester Pearson.

Feb. 16: Mr. Trudeau announces his candicacy for the Liberal leadership. He notes: “To be quite frank, if I try to analyze it, well, I think in the subconscious mind of the press it started out like a huge practical joke on the Liberal party.”

April 6: Mr. Trudeau wins a fourth-ballot victory at the Liberal convention in Ottawa. “By building a truly just society,” he tells cheering Liberals, “this beautiful, rich and energetic country of ours can become a model in which every citizen will enjoy his fundamental rights, in which two great linguistic communities and people of many cultures will live in harmony and in which every individual will find fulfilment.”

April 20: He is sworn in as Canada's 15th Prime Minister. Three days later, he dissolves Parliament for a June election.

June 24: From the official viewing stand at the St. Jean Baptiste Day parade in Montreal, the Prime Minister watches police battle separatist demonstrators. They hurl a bottle at the reviewing stand. “I'm not leaving. I must stay,” he tells the policemen guarding him.

June 25: The Conservatives under Robert Stanfield are drowned by Trudeaumania, as the Liberals take 155 of 264 Commons seats. In victory, Mr. Trudeau states a theme to which he will return in later years: “Governments alone cannot produce a better country. That will require the collaboration and participation of everyone.”

August: “Where's Biafra?” says the Prime Minister when asked about his position on the civil war raging in Nigeria.

Sept. 27: Mr. Trudeau says that Canada cannot give relief to Biafra. “We cannot intervene, short of committing an act of war against Nigeria and intervening in the affairs of that country.”

Dec. 13: Mr. Trudeau muses at a Liberal party dinner in Winnipeg: “Well, why should I sell the Canadian farmers' wheat?”

Jan. 15: In London, at his first Commonwealth conference, Mr. Trudeau clashes with the press about its coverage of his luncheon date with Mrs. Eva von Rittinghausen and his nightclubbing with actress Jennifer Hale. “Perhaps we had better have some files on all of you and perhaps it would be useful if the police could go and question some of the women you have been seen with,” he says.

March 25: In a speech to Washington's National Press Club, Mr. Trudeau says “Living next to you is in some ways like sleeping with an elephant. No matter how friendly or even-tempered is the beast, if one may call it that, one is affected by every twitch and grunt.”

April 3: Mr. Trudeau announces a new defence policy for Canada, the fruit of several agonizing months of review, under which Canada reduces its troop commitments in Europe. He says the policy will “add to our own sense of purpose as a nation and give renewed enthusiasm and a feeling of direction to the members of the armed forces.”

July 17: In Saskatoon, on a tour across the west, Mr. Trudeau finally explodes after days of being heckled by angry wheat farmers. “If you want to meet me in the future, don't bring signs saying that Trudeau is a pig and don't bring signs saying that I hustle women.”

July 25: During a Commons debate, Mr. Trudeau says of opposition MPs: “When they get home, when they get out of Parliament, when they are 50 yards from Parliament Hill, they are no longer honourable members - they are just nobodies.”

Oct. 19: After a summer of terrorist bombings and the emergence of the Parti Quebecois as a major force in Quebec, Mr. Trudeau tells a meeting of the Quebec Liberal Federation that “the worm is already in the fruit. Separatism is still, I say it again, an obscure and minor party, no member of which has been or will be elected.”

Dec. 22: At his year-end news conference, Mr. Trudeau says inflation is Canada's worst enemy in 1970 and the Government will “fight it fiercely,” even if it means unemployment will go to 6 per cent.

Aug. 5: The Prime Minister tells high school students in Dawson Creek what he thinks of those who smoke marijuana. “People who do it I don't judge any more than I judge the person who takes alcohol.”

Oct. 5: Members of the Front de Liberation du Quebec abduct British Trade Commissioner James Cross from his Montreal home.

Oct. 10: Quebec Labour Minister Pierre Laporte is abducted by the FLQ.

Oct. 13: Mr. Trudeau tells reporters who ask him about the heavy military protection which the Government has given Cabinet ministers: “There are a lot of bleeding hearts around who just don't like to see people with helmets and guns.” And when pressed as to how far he would take it, he says “well, just watch me.”

Oct. 15: At the request of the Quebec Government, Mr. Trudeau sends the army into Montreal.

Oct. 16: The Cabinet proclaims the War Measures Act at 5:17 a.m. That evening, Mr. Trudeau tells Canadians: “If a democratic society is to continue to exist, it must be able to root out the cancer of an armed, revolutionary movement that is bent on destroying the very basis of our freedom.”

Oct. 18: Pierre Laporte is killed by the FLQ.

Dec. 3: James Cross is freed in Montreal, in return for a federal guarantee that his captors may fly to Cuba.

Dec. 23: At year end, the Prime Minister says he is shifting his economic policy to fight unemployment. He proclaims: “We have won last year's victory, the one against inflation.”

Feb. 16: Mr. Trudeau mouths an obscenity against Newfoundland MP John Lundrigan. He explains later that he used the phrase “fuddle-duddle.”

March 4: In Vancouver, the 51-year-old Prime Minister secretly weds Margaret Sinclair, the 22-year-old daughter of a former Liberal Cabinet minister.

Oct. 18: The Prime Minister tells reporters that security around him and Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin was “a little lax” following an attack on Mr. Kosygin while he crossed the front lawn of Parliament.

Dec. 6: Mr. Trudeau confers with Richard Nixon in Washington. At a press conference the next morning, Mr. Trudeau says the president told him that the U.S. understands that Canada does not want to be its colony. “This to me was a fantastically new statement in the mouth of the President of the United States,” he says. The Watergate tapes will later show that Mr. Nixon privately referred to Mr. Trudeau as “that asshole.”

Sept. 1: Mr. Trudeau calls an election for Oct. 30. The Liberals, pushed on the left by the NDP and squeezed on the right by the Tories, claim that the “land is strong.” Mr. Trudeau takes the high road, saying that he's not out fighting anyone, but rather conducting a “dialogue with Canadians.”

Nov. 2: The Liberals squeeze back into power with a minority government. It will survive only with NDP support. When asked by a reporter if a touch of arrogance is among his sins, Mr. Trudeau says: “I certainly have many sins, but I generally confess them to a priest and not to the press.”

Oct. 13: Mr. Trudeau meets China's Chairman Mao Tse-tung in Peking. When he hears the meeting has been arranged, Mr. Trudeau tells aides to cancel a planned news conference “so we'll be able to ---- the press.”

Dec. 6: The NDP extracts a promise from Mr. Trudeau to establish a state- owned oil company, which will eventually be named Petro-Canada.

Dec. 25: The Trudeaus' second child, Alexandre Emmanuel, nicknamed Sacha, is born on Christmas, two years to the day from the birth of their first child, Justin. A third son, Michel, will be born on Oct. 2, l975.

Dec. 28: Bora Laskin, Mr. Trudeau's first appointment to the Supreme Court in 1970, is promoted to Chief Justice. By the time of Mr. Trudeau's retirement, he will have appointed seven of the nine justices on the Supreme Court. His appointments tend to be strong supporters of Ottawa's position in federal-provincial disputes.

Feb. 27: With both inflation and unemployment inching up, the Trudeau Government rejects Conservative demands for wage and price controls.

May 9: The Government falls in the Commons, but Mr. Trudeau promises “I will return as Prime Minister.” During the campaign, Mr. Stanfield pushes for a wage and price freeze followed by controls, an approach Mr. Trudeau depicts derisively with a sly “Zap, you're frozen.” Mr. Trudeau says “the issue is leadership.”

June 28: Mr. Trudeau promises legislation that would be aimed at guaranteeing 50 per cent Canadian ownership of all major resource developments.

July 8: Mr. Trudeau and his Liberals win a majority. This will be the last campaign for both Mr. Stanfield and the NDP's David Lewis.

Oct. 4: Long-time Trudeau confidant Michael Pitfield is named Ottawa's most senior mandarin, Clerk of the Privy Council. Mr. Trudeau will eventally appoint him to the Senate.

Feb. 26: In an attempt to wean the Canadian economy away from the United States, Mr. Trudeau promotes what he calls a “contractual link” with the European Economic Community. His 16-day trip to Europe, however, gets only a lukewarm response from leaders there.

Sept. 11: John Turner quits the Cabinet, telling reporters only that “I leave the speculation to you.” Mr. Trudeau makes a point of saying that it has nothing to do with policy differences, but rather Mr. Turner's desire to have more time for his family.

Oct. 13: On Thanksgiving evening, Mr. Trudeau goes on national television to announce wage and price controls. The provincial premiers have been told only that day. “This program of restraint is the heaviest since the Second World War,” he says. His Government having failed to wrestle inflation to the ground, Mr. Trudeau tells Canadians: “I am asking you to do what only you can do to knock the wind out of inflation.”

Dec. 11: After a 42-day postal strike, the Cabinet overturns one of the first major decisions by the Anti-Inflation Board and allows postal workers a 20 per cent pay increase. “It was in the greater public interest,” Mr. Trudeau says.

Dec. 28: On a year-end television program, Mr. Trudeau muses about the future of the free market, saying: “We cannot return to that ideal society where the state doesn't have to intervene.” In April, he will tell Toronto Liberals, “We need rules, even if they mean that you and I end up being called Communist or Socialist.”

Jan. 23: The Prime Minister and his wife begin a tour of Latin America. Mrs. Trudeau raises diplomatic eyebrows by breaking into song during a formal state dinner in Venezuela. She later explains that she no longer wants to be “a rose in my husband's lapel.”

Nov. 15: The Parti Quebecois wins a resounding victory in Quebec. Mr. Trudeau is galvanized into action and renews his crusade against separatism. Later, he discusses the effect on his marriage: “Margaret was very unhappy for the Levesque victory. Because she sort of instantly said, `Now you're never going to get out of politics,' and she saw herself locked into this thing for time indefinite.”

March 4: Margaret Trudeau spends her sixth wedding anniversary at a Rolling Stones concert in Toronto. A few days later, she jets to New York, where she tells People magazine that Mr. Trudeau's body is “like that of a 25-year-old.” She also discusses their fondness for garter belts and the effect her nipples have on state visitors. Shortly after her return home, she appears to have a black eye.

May 27: Pierre and Maragaret Trudeau announce they are separating.

Oct. 31: Solicitor-General Francis Fox reveals that RCMP anti-separatist squads in Quebec have broken the law by burning a barn near Montreal and stealing dynamite. By this time, the Government has already established a royal commission to look into RCMP activities. Mr. Trudeau tells reporters that, in some cases, police are justified in breaking the law.

Dec. 30: Mr. Trudeau says he would use force to prevent Quebec from declaring independence unilaterally. “I'm not going to be shy about using the sword.”

May 26: At the United Nations, Mr. Trudeau calls for the “suffocation” of the nuclear arms race. He says nations should refuse to test missiles and aircraft designed to carry nuclear weapons.

Aug. 1: Impressed by arguments that he has heard in Germany, Mr. Trudeau goes on national television to announce that $2-billion will be cut from Government spending and that, because he is “fed up” with the mail service, he is turning the Post Office into a Crown corporation. His announcement catches his own Cabinet by surprise.

March 26: Newspapers are serializing Margaret Trudeau's autobiography, Beyond Reason. The book, which reveals intimate details of the Trudeau marriage, is said to enrage the Prime Minister. He calls a May election in order, it is reported later, to prove that his estranged wife's confessions do not bother him.

April 3: The campaign goes badly. “Farmers are professional complainers,” Mr. Trudeau tells Quebec agriculture students. “When there is too much sun, they complain. When there is too much rain, they complain. A farmer is a complainer.” A few days later, he advises critics in Vancouver to stop drinking, “get off your ass” and do an honest day's work.

May 22: Mr. Trudeau's Government is defeated by the Conservatives under Joe Clark. On election night, Mrs. Trudeau is photographed dancing in a flashy New York discotheque. “It's still a beautiful world,” Mr. Trudeau tells weeping Liberal supporters as he concedes defeat.

June 4: Mr. Trudeau officially steps down as Prime Minister. “I feel free,” he tells reporters as he guns his Mercedes-Benz away from Governor-General Edward Schreyer's residence.

Nov. 17: “I don't care if the media don't understand,” Mr. Trudeau tells Young Liberals during a rambling justification of his own policies, in which he continually loses track of what he is saying.

Nov. 21: He announces his resignation as Liberal Leader. “I won't have you to kick around any more,” he jokes to reporters.

Dec. 12: Liberal House Leader Allan MacEachen informs his caucus that the Conservative minority Government may be ripe for defeat in Parliament. “The Sovereign would have to ask me on bended knees, three times,” Mr. Trudeau tells the caucus cryptically, when asked if he would continue on as leader. In the Commons, Mr. MacEachen asks his chief what he will do if the Government is defeated. “What does one do? One does one's duty, of course,” smiles Mr. Trudeau.

Dec. 13: The Conservatives are defeated on a confidence motion. Prime Minister Joe Clark calls an election for Feb. 18.

Dec. 18: Mr. Trudeau announces he will remain as leader. He says the 1980 election will be his last.

Feb. 4: Mr. Trudeau says Canada will get the best of both worlds if he is returned as prime minister - because he won't remain in office for a full term. He says he will take steps to leave by the end of 1981.

Feb. 18: Mr. Trudeau is returned to power. He describes the victory as an expression of “an old love story between the Liberal Party and Canada.”

Feb. 29: Mr. Trudeau announces that one of his former ministers, Jeanne Sauve, is to be the next Speaker of the House of Commons - the first woman ever to hold the job.

March 3: He is sworn in as Prime Minister, declaring that he will campaign in Quebec's referendum on sovereignty-association.

May 20: The federalist side wins the Quebec referendum. June 9: Mr. Trudeau indicates he will retire “soon” if a constitutional agreement is reached in September.

Oct. 2: The Prime Minister takes to television to unveil a major constitutional reform package, including a charter of basic rights he has put together on his own. It is opposed by five provinces.

Dec. 28: In a television interview, Mr. Trudeau says that if Canada breaks up as a result of his constitutional proposals, the country is “not worth holding together.”

Sept. 10: From Nova Scotia, Mr. Trudeau says that the Government will offer relief from skyrocketing interest rates - the domestic political issue of the day - only to those in “absolute dire straits.”

Nov. 5: Mr. Trudeau and nine premiers agree to a compromise to allow Canada to have its own independent constitution after 114 years of Confederation. An angry Quebec does not agree.

Dec. 18: Mr. Trudeau answers reporters' questions about his future: “I'm governing now. I have no plans for retirement. I have no plans and really no desire to run at the next election.”

Dec. 18: He manages to stir widespread public anger with a comment on the imposition of martial law in Poland. “If a military regime prevents a civil war,” he says, “then I can't inherently say it is bad.” Days later, after public protest, he softens his tone, saying: “Our heart goes out to a valiant people struggling against great odds to pursue their own destiny.”

Feb. 23: Mr. Trudeau tells television interviewer David Frost: “I can't say honestly that I loved my role as leader of the Opposition.” And he adds that, “it's more certain now that I'm not going to run again . . . but who knows?”

Feb. 26: “The old type of federalism - where we give money to the provinces, where they kick us in the teeth because they didn't get enough, and they go around and spend it and say, `of course, it's all from us' - that type of federalism is finished,” a testy Mr. Trudeau declares.

March 4: The Trudeau Government appoints Bertha Wilson as the first woman to sit on the Supreme Court of Canada.

March 19: “I can hardly blame the U.S. and other NATO countries for saying that, while we talk disarmament, we must also show the Soviet Union that we can meet them gun for gun,” Mr. Trudeau tells university students.

April 17: The Queen, facing thousands of drenched Canadians wearing green garbage bags to ward off the rain, signs a proclamation on Parliament Hill giving the country a new constitution.

Aug. 8: The Prime Minister's private railway car is pelted by tomatoes as he holidays in British Columbia. Earlier, a trio of demonstrators at Salmon Arm won a one-fingered gesture from Mr. Trudeau as they called on him to practice the restraint he is preaching.

Jan. 12: “If I were in Canada now, I'd probably just be ending a week of skiing, which everybody else is doing if they're not down somewhere in the Caribbean, because there is such a thing as Christmas vacation and most people are taking it,” says Mr. Trudeau in Indonesia, in response to criticisms of his spending time at the beach.

July 15: The Cabinet announces that Canada has agreed to the testing of the cruise missile in Canada. Mr. Trudeau refuses to comment.

Oct. 13: In a rare visit to Southwestern Ontario, he muses aloud about his inability to understand Canada. “There was acre upon acre of farmland and all we could see - though I pressed my forehead against the cold window - all we could see were little lights here and there," he says of his drive from the London, Ont., airport. “And I was wondering, what kind of people live in those houses? And what kind of people worked in this part of Canada, and lived and loved here?” He concludes they have something in common, however. “I felt that my job, in a sense, is not all that different from the jobs that most of you have - those of you who have jobs, because I know there are those who are unemployed, too. It is to start work in the morning and work at things and hope to get them finished by 6 or 7, when you get home and see your family, and then often to work again after, as I know you do.”

Oct. 27: With nuclear arms negotiations between the superpowers on the point of collapse, Mr. Trudeau launches himself on a peace mission. His opening speech in Guelph, Ont., calls for the injection of “political energy” into the East-West chill. He will travel to Western Europe, India, Japan, China, Eastern Europe, Moscow and Washington.

Dec. 15: He takes his peace message to U.S. President Ronald Reagan, who does little more than wish him a public “Godspeed.” Later it will be revealed that Lawrence Eagleburger, the third-ranking U.S. foreign affairs officer, has referred to the Prime Minister's peace crusade as akin to the pot-induced behavior of an erratic leftist.

Dec. 23: Mr. Trudeau announces that Jeanne Sauve will be the country's next Governor-General - the first woman to occupy the position.

Jan. 28: At Davos, Switzerland, the Prime Minister voices doubts about the credibility of NATO strategy - which is based on the assumption that the U.S. would risk an all-out nuclear war to defend Europe from conventional attack. He outrages Conservatives at home. In Washington, U.S. officials call in the Canadian ambassador for “clarification.”

Feb. 2: In Bucharest, Mr. Trudeau is asked about his personal plans in light of the peace mission. “My destiny is so complex,” he says with a theatrical sigh, “that I don't think I'd like to tie it to any particular aspect of my many interests in life.”

Feb. 9: Mr. Trudeau, who has now been nominated for a Nobel peace prize for his initiative, reports to the House of Commons on his peace mission: “Let it be said of Canada, and of Canadians, that we saw the crisis, that we did act, that we took risks, that we were loyal to our friends and open with our adversaries, that we lived up to our ideals and that we have done what we could to lift the shadow of war.”

Feb. 10: The death of Soviet President Yuri Andropov is announced and Mr. Trudeau finally makes his visit to Moscow, but for a funeral and not for peace talks.

Feb. 14: After a hastily arranged meeting with the new Communist Party Secretary-General Konstantin Chernenko, Mr. Trudeau emerges to call the new Soviet leader “realistic” and interested in East-West dialogue. “Obviously the Canadian peace initiative begins to live,” Mr. Trudeau tells a reporter as he leaves.

Feb. 16: Back in the Commons, the Government is under attack for keeping files on Conservative chief Brian Mulroney. Mr. Trudeau puts on a vintage, partisan performance, calling the Conservatives “a bunch of hypocrites.”

Feb. 29: Pierre Trudeau announces he is resigning.

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