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How to Nominate a Candidate for PM Without Really Trying

In 1968, Lester Pearson announced that he would resign as Prime Minister of Canada and also as head of the Liberal Party of Canada. The campaign for leader of the Party began at once and in earnest, because the winner would automatically become Prime Minister. There were a number of cabinet ministers with justified high hopes, including Paul Martin Sr., Paul Hellyer, Robert Winters, Mitchell Sharpe, and Maurice Sauvé as well as Eric Kierans of the Quebec Legislative Assembly. Pierre Elliott Trudeau was also considered but was way down the list. Trudeau's election committee in Ottawa was headed by Marc Lalonde, who was Pearson’s chef du cabinet. Pearson was officially and in fact neutral.

A Trudeau committee was formed in Quebec of Jean Marchand (a Cabinet Minister in Ottawa), Bob Giguère (who became a Senator), Michel Robert (who became Chief Justice of Quebec), Jean Prieur (who became Robert Bourassa’s senior adviser) and myself.

When Trudeau’s candidacy was announced, Claude Ryan, Editor and Director of Le Devoir who had a longtime antipathy for Trudeau, wrote an editorial to the effect that Trudeau was unknown in the rest of Canada. Lalonde telephoned me and the others to get names of persons in the other provinces, who would support Trudeau. At the time I was a city councillor in Town of Mount Royal and for four years had attended annual conferences of the Canadian Association of Mayor’s and Municipalities. I took the Association telephone list and spent the day phoning across Canada and almost everyone gave his support for Trudeau including many who went on to be candidates, judges, senators and longtime supporters. I also telephoned lawyers and friends over the years including Izzie Asper of Winnipeg and Brian Fleming of Halifax, who were pleased to get on board.

By nightfall, I had over fifty names and so did each of the committee members. The names were sent to Le Devoir and dutifully published, the next day, but Ryan wrote that Trudeau was not really appreciated in Quebec. Lalonde immediately telephoned the committee to get names of supporters in Quebec. I was one of 21 Regional Vice-Presidents of the Quebec Liberal Party and telephoned everyone on the list, all of whom were delighted to lend their names. I could not contact one of the Vice-presidents and his name was erroneously published next day in Le Devoir. Unfortunately the V-P was supporting Kierans and I got into considerable hot water. Later on when Trudeau won the V-P phoned to say “Bill, I can’t tell you how much I want to thank you for putting me on the list.”

William Tetley
Professor, McGill Law Faculty
514 398-6619 (office)
514 733-8049 (residence)
Email: william [dot] tetley [at] mcgill [dot] ca (William Tetley)
Website: www.mcgill.ca/maritimelaw


(William Tetley, C.M., Q.C., was a Liberal Member of the Quebec National Assembly and Minister in the Bourassa government from 1970 - 1976. He is presently a professor at the McGill Law Faculty and Counsel to Langlois Kronström Desjardins.)

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