Pierre Elliott Trudeau died on September 28, 2000 and much is justifiably being made over his repatriation of the Constitution, without the consent of one province – Quebec. In my view this was an error, being the ideological crutch on which Quebec separatists still lean today and a source of their continual antipathy towards his memory.
At the beginning of his career, Trudeau was as a member of the left, particularly during the Asbestos strike of 1949, where he arrived on a motorcycle, but made a useful contribution to the struggle, as did Gérard Pelletier. Jean Marchand was the strike leader and one of the real heroes of that historic conflict.
It is not generally known, however, that in 1955 Trudeau wrote a series of remarkable essays in Cité Libre on the Asbestos strike and that the essays formed the preface and epilogue to the seminal text, “La Grève de l`Amiante”, (pp. XI to XVIII and pp. 379 to 104) published the next year. André Laurendeau, the Director of Le Devoir, who was the most respected Quebec nationalist of his time, wrote a series of three editorials in Le Devoir, (October 6, 10 and 11, 1956) entitled “One Hundred Pages By Pierre Elliott Trudeau”, criticizing and commending Trudeau's preface and epilogue. Laurendeau opened with these words:
“In the preface and epilogue he has written…Mr. Pierre Elliott Trudeau provides us with a hundred pages that will be talked about for a long time to come.” (Laurendeau, “One Hundred Pages…” at p.161.)
Trudeau had been particularly harsh on Quebec nationalists for turning their backs on modern industry, commerce, business and education and instead for looking to the land, to farming and the Church to protect their language and culture. Trudeau saw the Asbestos strike, where the Church joined in (or at least Archbishop Charbonneau and the "Confédération des travailleurs catholiques du Canada" did), as a turning point in Quebec and it was in fact the beginning of the Quiet Revolution.
Laurendeau is very critical of Trudeau's writing on some points, but nevertheless ends with a wonderful commendation: “The best part of Trudeau, besides his technical competence, is his love of liberty: he is prepared to run risks as well as claim its advantages. A remarkable personality has been revealed.” (Laurendeau “One Hundred Pages…” at p.171.)
In 1965 Trudeau, along with Marchand and Pelletier, joined the Federal Liberal Party and were elected two months later. They believed they could make their greatest contribution to French Canada in the Canadian Parliament, but Trudeau especially, was never forgiven by the nationalists.
Yet in 1973, when Laurendeau's best writings, entitled “Witness for Quebec”, were published, the collection contained, in toto, the three editorials on Trudeau. Claude Ryan, a lifetime antagonist of Trudeau, wrote an incisive, eight-page preface to the Laurendeau text and spent more than a page on Laurendeau's three Trudeau editorials. Ryan, to his credit, also ended his remarks on Trudeau with Laurendeau's tribute – “A remarkable personality has been revealed.” ((Laurendeau “One Hundred Pages…” at p.171.)
See André Laurendeau, “Witness for Quebec”, Essays selected and translated by Philip Stratford, Introduction by Claude Ryan, MacMillan,1973 at pp. ix & xiii-xiv (Ryan) and pp. 161 to 171 (Laurendeau) Trudeau was born October 18, 1919 and died September 28, 2000. He was Prime Minister of Canada from 1968 to 1979 and from 1980 to 1984.
Professor, McGill Law Faculty and
Minister in Bourassa cabinet, (1970-76)
E-mail: william [dot] tetley [at] mcgill [dot] ca (William Tetley)
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