Former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau- Essay

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It has been 10 years since the death of former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. The passing of this anniversary provides an occasion to reflect on his leadership traits and legacy for our country. In 1984, I was nine years old when Trudeau resigned and from my memories, I do recall his strong vision of a united Canada, sharp wit, and flamboyant style. When he passed away in Sept 2000, I was in Ottawa at the time and saw the out pouring of emotion and accolades to his achievements. It was clear from this event, whether you admire Trudeau or not, he was not simply a good prime minister, but a remarkable prime minister who impacted many Canadians in his lifetime.

From this experience, I asked myself what distinguishes a typical leader, from a great leader. In Trudeau’s case, his consummate leadership skills were not based solely on intellect or technical skills, rather than, on his enhanced emotional intelligence which include greater self awareness, self regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills.

For the analysis of Pierre Trudeau’s leadership style, his emotional intelligence will be explored to illustrate his exemplary performance as Prime Minster.

Leadership Analysis:

In 1968, Pierre Trudeau was elected as Prime Minister and “symbolized the burgeoning hopes of a nation long relegated to the often smothering shadow cast by its dominant southern neighbour. He was young, intelligent, brilliantly articulate and physically vigorous, and enraptured the youth of the country with all the sex appeal and flamboyance of a rock star, something never before seen in Canadian politics.” [i] (Appendix A)

Self Awareness:

One of Trudeau’s greatest leadership traits is his self -awareness. Here, he has displayed a high degree of self confidence and a strong understanding of where he headed. One example is his “Just watch me” phrase that was made famous during the October crisis in October 1970 (Appendix B). “Trudeau, who had in previous years been a strong proponent of civil liberties, spoke of the need for drastic action to restore order in Quebec. When questioned by a reporter on how far he would go in the suspension of civil liberties to maintain order, Trudeau replied “Well, just watch me.” Three days later he invoked the War Measures Act, which led to police action against many Quebec dissidents and ended the crisis.” [ii]

2.2 Self Regulation: Trudeau had an ability to control his impulses and moods. For example, during his election campaign in 1968, while attending the Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day parade in Montreal, Quebec separatists were rioting and throwing rocks and bottles at where Trudeau was seated. Instead of taking cover, he remained in his seat and faced the rioters, showing no feeling of fear. “The image of a politician illustrating such courage impressed the Canadian people, and he handily won the election the next day.” [iii]


Trudeau strived to transform our nation to one that was proud of its bilingual heritage. In his first acceptance speech as Prime Minister, Trudeau, with great feeling, expressed the following ambition for his country: “Canada must be unified; Canada must be one; Canada must be progressive; and Canada must be a just society.”

Social Skills:

In the 1968 leadership race for the Liberal Party, a nickname of “Trudeaumania” was coined to describe the excitement that surrounded Pierre Trudeau’s candidacy. This nickname persisted throughout the federal election campaign and also, for the duration of Trudeau’s early years as Prime Minister. At this time, plenty of young adults were predisposed to the 1970s counterculture and “identified with Trudeau, an energetic nonconformist who was relatively young. They were dazzled by his charm and good looks, and a large fan base was established throughout the country. He would often be stopped in the streets for his autograph or for a quick photograph.” [iv]


Since the post – Trudeau era, has there been a political personality that has brought our nation together and inspired us tackle the many issues of the 21st century and develop a distinct “Canadian” approach to prevailing over them? From my own experience and observations, there has not been a leader since Trudeau’s retirement that has exhibited “bold” leadership style. “Perhaps pollster Michael Adams said it best of Trudeau: He represented the high mark of Canadian idealism, the last real coherent articulator of a Canadian vision of the country. Love him or hate him, we are all Trudeau’s children.” [v]


The following documents have been used in the preparation of this document and are useful references to provide additional information about the comments in the assignment.

Appendix A: Profile of Pierre Trudeau

“Joseph Philippe Pierre Yves Elliott Trudeau,[1] (October 18, 1919 – September 28, 2000), usually known as Pierre Trudeau or Pierre Elliott Trudeau, was the 15th Prime Minister of Canada from 20 April 1968 to 4 June 1979, and again from 3 March 1980 to 30 June 1984.

Trudeau began his political career campaigning for socialist ideals, but he eventually joined the Liberal Party when he entered federal politics in the 1960s. He was appointed as Lester Pearson’s parliamentary secretary, and later became his Minister of Justice. From his base in Montreal, Trudeau took control of the Liberal Party and became a charismatic leader, inspiring “Trudeaumania”. From the late 1960s until the mid-1980s, he dominated the Canadian political scene and aroused passionate reactions. “Reason before passion” was his personal motto.[2] He retired from politics in 1984, and John Turner succeeded him as prime minister.

Admirers praise the force of Trudeau’s intellect[3] and they salute his political acumen in preserving national unity against Quebec separatists, suppressing a violent revolt, and establishing the Charter of Rights and Freedoms within Canada’s constitution.[4] His detractors accuse him of arrogance, economic mismanagement, and unduly favouring the authority of the federal government in relation to the provinces, especially in trying to control the oil wealth of the Prairies.[5]

Trudeau remains well-regarded by many Canadians.[43] However, the passage of time has only slightly softened the strong antipathy he inspired among his opponents.[44][45] Trudeau’s charisma and confidence as Prime Minister, and his championing of the Canadian identity are often cited as reasons for his popularity. His strong personality, contempt for his opponents and distaste for compromise on many issues have made him, as historian Michael Bliss puts it, “one of the most admired and most disliked of all Canadian prime ministers.”[46] “He haunts us still,” biographers Christina McCall and Stephen Clarkson wrote in 1990.[47] Trudeau’s electoral successes were matched in the 20th century only by those of Mackenzie King. In all, Trudeau is undoubtedly one of the most dominant and transformative figures in Canadian political history.[48][49]

Trudeau’s most enduring legacy may lie in his contribution to Canadian nationalism, and of pride in Canada in and for itself rather than as a derivative of the British Commonwealth. His role in this effort, and his related battles with Quebec on behalf of Canadian unity, cemented his political position when in office despite the controversies he faced-and remain the most remembered aspect of his tenure afterward. Some consider Trudeau’s economic policies to have been a weak point. Inflation and unemployment marred much of his prime ministership. When Trudeau took office in 1968, Canada had a debt of $18 billion (24% of GDP); when he left office in 1984, that debt stood at $200 billion (46% of GDP), an increase of 83% in real terms.[50] Though his popularity had fallen in English Canada at the time of his retirement in 1984, public opinion later became more sympathetic to him, particularly in comparison to his successor, Brian Mulroney. Pierre Trudeau is today seen in very high regard on the Canadian political scene. Many politicians still use the term “taking a walk in the snow, ” a throw-away line Trudeau used to describe his decision to leave office in 1984. Other popular Trudeauisms frequently used are “just watch me”, the “Trudeau Salute”, and “Fuddle Duddle”.”

Source: From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia –, accessed on November 11th, 2010

Appendix B: Overview of the October Crisis of 1970

“The October Crisis was a series of events triggered by two kidnappings of government officials by members of the Front de libération du Québec (FLQ) during October 1970 in the province of Quebec, mainly in the Montreal metropolitan area.

These circumstances ultimately culminated in the only peacetime usage of the War Measures Act in Canada’s history, done by Governor General of Canada Roland Michener at the direction of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, having been requested by the Premier of Quebec, Robert Bourassa, and the Mayor of Montreal, Jean Drapeau.

The invocation of the act resulted in widespread deployment of Canadian Forces troops throughout Quebec, and in Ottawa gave the appearance that martial law had been imposed, although the military remained in a support role to the civil authorities of Quebec. The police were also enabled with far-reaching powers, and they arrested and detained, without bail, 497 individuals, all but 62 of whom were later released without charges.

At the time, opinion polls throughout Canada, including in Quebec, showed widespread support for the use of the War Measures Act.[1] The response, however, was criticized at the time and subsequently by a number of prominent leaders, including René Lévesque, Robert Stanfield,[2] and Tommy Douglas,[3] who believed the actions to be excessive and the precedent to suspend civil liberties dangerous. The criticism was reinforced by evidence that police officials had abused their powers and detained, without cause, prominent artists and intellectuals associated with the sovereignty movement.[4]

The events of October 1970 galvanized support against violence in efforts for Quebec sovereignty and highlighted the movement towards political means of attaining greater autonomy and independence,[5] including support for the sovereigntist Parti Québécois, which went on to form the provincial government in 1976.”

Source: From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia –, accessed on November 11th, 2010

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