Master of language captivated country

By Lawrence Bailey

Pierre Elliot Trudeau was a shrewd politician, a mediocre prime minister, a charming ambassador and the most brilliant public figure that Canada has ever seen.

He was arrogant. He was stubborn. He was an intellectual academic who had no business in politics. What brought him to our attention and to our helm was not ambition but fate. He was a man too big to be held within a city, a province or even a nation.

He was not defined as a man of public policy nor, contrary to his famed slogan, as a man of reason. Trudeau will be immortalized as a passionate man, sometimes to the point of blindness. Regardless of personal opinion, it is undeniable that he altered the course of Canadian history and continues to alter its future. Often uninspired by economics and seemingly unaware of the country west of Winnipeg, his was a reign of ideas and ideology.

In the words he spoke we see what he valued, we know what he believed. The honesty of those words and the strength of his conviction are a testament to his ability to rise above politics and transcend the pettiness we’ve come to expect from our politicians. He once said, "the worst type of slavery is the slavery to public opinion" and by that definition, he was definitely a free man. He toyed with the media, played roles for the public and did pirouettes for the monarchy.

He was an ideological visionary who had a great love for his country, not necessarily the one in which he lived, but the one he wished to create. He saw a Canada that was bilingual, multicultural, united and just. His Official Languages Act has enriched the lives of many, granting intellectual and linguistic opportunity to generation upon generation of Canadian citizens.

While abroad, he greatly admired Mao Tse Tung and forged a remarkably close friendship with Fidel Castro. He was feared, mocked and loathed by American presidents, and he responded to their criticisms with obstinance and wit. In conversation with Castro in the turbulent 1970s, he made it clear by saying , "Canadian policy towards the United States should be one of strong friendship but never one of servitude."

However, the aspect of Trudeau that kept him on top of the political game so long was his mastery of language. Whether it was an off the cuff remark about a ruined photograph or a well planned, well written and passionately delivered speech, the ease with which he evoked passion amongst his audience was unparalleled. A week before the 1980 Referendum, René Lévesque even conceded an inability to match Trudeau after his famous speech at the Paul Sauvé Arena when he said "mon nom est Québécois, mon nom est Canadien aussi."

I look to Pierre Elliot Trudeau as an example of what we all could be. Not because of his ideology, his policy, his style or glib remarks but because of his mindset. He relentlessly pursued that which he desired. He was passionate, determined and he loved the journey a great deal more than the destination. He was a brilliant man who showcased his brilliance, a charming man who showcased his charm, an arrogant man who showcased his arrogance. He opened our eyes and our minds as a nation and whether he was loved or hated he had the country watching, talking and getting involved.

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