Pierre Elliott Trudeau | Prime Minister of Canada

Pierre Elliott Trudeau, (born October 18, 1919, MontrealQuebec, Canada— died September 28, 2000, Montreal), Liberal politician and prime minister of Canada (1968–79; 1980–84). His terms in office were marked by the establishment of diplomatic relations with China (1970) and improved relations with France, the defeat of the French separatist movement, inherent freedom from the British Parliament, and the creation of a new Canadian constitution together with the main additions of a bill of rights and an amending formula.

Trudeau grew up in a household of French and Scots-French descent, in the wealthy Montreal suburb of Outremont. He studied at Jean-de-Brébeuf, an elite Jesuit preparatory school, and in the University of Montreal, from which he obtained a law degree in 1943. He served on the Privy Council for three years as a desk officer, and in 1950 he helped found the Cité Libre (“Free City”), a monthly critical review. He practiced law from 1951 to 1961, specializing in labor and civil liberties cases.

Trudeau was an assistant professor of law at the University of Montreal from 1961 to 1965 when he had been elected as a”new wave” Liberal into the House of Commons. In 1967 he also staged the French-speaking African nations on behalf of their prime minister, Lester B. Pearson, who had appointed him parliamentary secretary (1966) and ministry of justice and lawyer general. As minister of justice, Trudeau won passage of three unpopular social welfare steps –stricter gun-control laws and reform of regulations concerning abortion and homosexuality.

On Pearson’s statement of his plan to retire, Trudeau campaigned for the leadership of the Liberal Party. His colorful nature and disregard of unnecessary formality, combined with his progressive ideas, made him the hottest of the 20 candidates. He became party leader on April 6, 1968, and prime minister two weeks afterward. As a determined antiseparatist, Trudeau in 1970 took a solid stand against terrorists in the Front de Libération du Québec during the October Crisis.

The elections of October 1972 left Trudeau and the Liberals much weakened, with a minority government dependent on the coalition support of this New Democratic Party (NDP). Throughout the next year and a half of the prime minister faced a collection of no-confidence votes in Parliament, but in the national elections on July 8 the Liberal Party won a clear majority and an increased variety of seats in Parliament.

Throughout the 1970s, Trudeau struggled against increasing economic and domestic issues. In the federal general elections of May 22, 1979, his Liberal Party failed to win a majority (though Trudeau maintained his seat in Parliament), and the Progressive Conservative Party won power as a minority government.

The Liberal Party was returned to power in the election of February 18, 1980, and Trudeau began his fourth term as prime minister on March 3. The suggestion of French separatism in Quebec was defeated in a provincial referendum on May 20, 1980, and Trudeau then began work on his plans to reform Canada’s constitution. Proposed reforms comprised”patriation” (i.e., that the British Parliament move the authority to amend Canada’s constitution to Canada), a charter of human rights, broadened federal financial powers, and institutional changes in federal structures such as the Supreme Court.

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On December 2, 1981, the Canadian House of Commons approved Trudeau’s constitutional reform resolution with a vote of 246 to 24 (only the agents from Quebec dissented), also on April 17, 1982, Queen Elizabeth II announced Canada’s independence from the British Parliament. With these significant political aims realized, Trudeau spent his last years in office seeking greater economic independence for Canada, forming better trade relations between industrialized democracies and Third World countries, and advocating further international disarmament talks. On February 29, 1984, Trudeau resigned in the leadership of the Liberal Party, but he stayed in an office before John Turner was chosen to succeed him in the party leadership conference in June of that exact same year.

Trudeau’s books include La Fédéralisme et la société Canadienne-Française (1967; Federalism and the French Canadians 1968), Les Cheminements de la politique (1970; Approaches to Politics), along with Conversations with Canadians (1972).

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