Trudeau was all that is Canadian

If ever there was a defining juncture in Canada's still-maturing national identity, it was the demonstrated massive outpouring of grief and heartfelt sentiments from Canadians, coast to coast, after the death of Pierre Elliott Trudeau on Sept. 28. The scenes of...

If ever there was a defining juncture in Canada’s still-maturing national identity, it was the demonstrated massive outpouring of grief and heartfelt sentiments from Canadians, coast to coast, after the death of Pierre Elliott Trudeau on Sept. 28. The scenes of tens of thousands of Canadians queuing up politely for hours on end on Parliament Hill, waiting along railway lines throughout eastern Ontario and western Quebec, making pilgrimages to a manor in the leafy Montreal suburb of Outremont and bowing their heads in prayer outside a cathedral in Old Montreal to pay tribute to a politician who, in his day as Prime Minister, was distant and enigmatic to many, shows what is truly unique about Canadians.

In many respects, what it signifies is that the vast majority of Canadians, regardless of political or cultural background, aspire to possess many of the often contradictory personal virtues that Trudeau owned. He was principled, yet he had a lust for spontaneous action. He was a thinker, and a clown. He was gracious, and irascible. He was a dedicated family man, and a lothario. He was an urbanite, and a naturalist. In other words, he was a man of contrasts. He was all that is Canadian.

Canada is and always will be a country of stark contrasts, especially among its people, so what better icon than Pierre Trudeau to embody the nation’s quest for identity at the start of a new century and a new millennium?

Though there are bound to be people around who don’t buy into the almost mythical tone being assigned to Trudeau’s legend – people who believe his publicly-displayed traits were more the contrivances of an image-conscious politician than of a true original – even they would be forced to admit that the man knew his stuff; that he could play to audiences in a way that very few others could.

Just listen to Canadian advertising legend Terry O’Malley, who helped Trudeau get elected Prime Minister four times while creative director at Vickers & Benson Advertising, talk about what it was like to work with the former prime minister. Recalling time spent with Trudeau making campaign commercials, he says: ‘He hated acting – he felt there was a sense of insincerity in that. He liked spontaneity. We’d lay out the canvas for him. And he’d be the painter.’

David Bosworth

dbosworth@brunico.com