Born in Montreal on October 18, 1919, Pierre Trudeau was the 15th prime minister of Canada for nearly 16 years. His charismatic personality matched the revolutionary ideas of the 1960s. In additional to several advances he made for the Liberal Party, he gained a reputation for dating high-profile women. His 1982 partition of the Canadian constitution greatly advanced Canadians’ civil rights.
Pierre Trudeau was born on October 18, 1919, and raised in the wealthy Montreal suburb of Outremont. His mother, Grace Elliott, was of both French and Scottish descent, so Trudeau and his two siblings grew up speaking both French and English. His family was quite wealthy by the time he was a teenager, as his father, a businessman and lawyer, had sold his gas station business to Imperial Oil some years prior. After graduating from the elite Jesuit preparatory school Collège Jean-de-Brébeuf, Trudeau went on to receive a law degree from the University of Montreal. Shortly after graduating, he landed a position as a desk officer for the Privy Council. From 1951 to 1961, he practiced law, specializing in labor and civil liberty cases, issues he would later bring into focus for all of Canada.
In 1961, he joined the staff of the University of Montreal as a professor of constitutional law. Four years later, Liberal Party leaders were searching for potential candidates. Trudeau and two of his colleagues were invited to run for party seats. All three men won in the election that year; Trudeau became Minister of Justice. His flamboyant and charismatic personality meshed well with the changing attitudes and opinions of the late 1960s. Within a year, he had reformed the divorce laws and liberalized the laws on abortion and homosexuality.
When Canada’s then prime minister, Lester Pearson, retired in 1967, Trudeau campaigned for leadership of the Liberal Party. His ideas were popular, and on April 6, 1968, he won the post. His election as prime minister benefited from an unprecedented wave of youth involvement. “Trudeaumania,” as it was called, was the nickname given to the excitement brought on by throngs of teenagers who supported Trudeau. Within 20 days of winning leadership of his party, Trudeau was sworn in as Canada’s 15th prime minister.
His time in office started off with a bang. As soon as he was elected, he began fighting for universal health care. He also worked to reform governmental caucus meetings to make them more efficient. The 1970 “October Crisis” tested his stance against terrorists; he invoked the War Measures Act, giving the government overarching power to arrest without trial. On domestic matters, he championed the official implementation of bilingualism. Perhaps the two most significant events that occurred during Trudeau’s governance were the referendum on Quebec’s sovereignty, for which Trudeau fought and won to keep Quebec part of Canada, and Canada’s patriation from Great Britain. In 1981, the Canadian House of Commons approved Trudeau’s reform to officially and completely separate Canada from Queen Elizabeth II’s Britain. This monumental act brought about new and widespread civil rights for all Canadians.
After 16 years as prime minister, Trudeau resigned from politics in 1984. On September 28, 2000, Trudeau passed away, just short of his 81st birthday. He had suffered from Parkinson’s disease, but the official cause of death was prostate cancer. His passing prompted tears and tributes across all of Canada.
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