May 1999
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Canadian Content Part X: Trudeaumania

by John Hansen

Canadians have a habit of being extremely unkind to their politicians. Perhaps this is because there are few true Canadian stars. There are stars who happen to be Canadian, yes, but few in the country can name a Canadian actor who makes his or her living here. Canadian films are viewed with distain by most moviegoers who opt instead for high-budget, lo-IQ fare such as Armageddon.

It's stands to reason, then, that there has never been an aura of power around our prime ministers. Heck, if I wanted to arrange a meeting with the prime minister, I can safely say all it would take would be a couple of calls. Or just make sure the RCMP assigned to protect him are on night duty so I can scale the fence into his residence. Whichever.

There is, of course, one exception to this rule: Pierre Trudeau. Often confused with cartoonist Garry Trudeau, Pierre was one of our few true stars. Like the comic strip "Doonesbury," he rose to fame during the counter-culture era and like the strip, seems rather irrelevant today.

Trudeau was elected in 1967 bouyed by the support of something the media called "Trudeaumania." Despite being in his forties, he had a youthful presence and a real hold on the baby boomers who were still dawdling around the country in VW bugs instead of Lincoln Navigators. His political style was formed by his highly intellectual background and was often thought of as a kind of philosopher king.

And, though not handsome in any conventional sense, did the ladies love him. A real French-Canadian Leon Phelps, if you will. Heck, he even dated (and when I say "dated" I mean they got it on) Barbra Streisand. He was entertaining the ladies while Clinton was growing a bad haircut and not smoking pot at Oxford.

His appeal grew as the 60's went own. He grew long hair, wore sandals, drove a convertable, hung out with John and Yoko, and was often referred to by Nixon as "that asshole."

Actually Nixon wasn't the only person calling him that. Many people felt that way as he didn't exactly go out of his way to endear himself to those who disagreed with him. In October of 1970 a terrorist group calling themselves the Front de Liberation du Quebec kidnapped and later killed a Quebec cabinet minister named Pierre Laporte. The group's goal was to spark a revolution that would see Quebec become a sovereign country. Prior to the murder, Trudeau, who hated separatists with a passion, decided he would kill any such notions by enacting the War Measures Act. It was this act (normally only to be used in time of war) that suspended every citizen's civil rights and effectively had Canada under a state of martial law for a few days although only people living in and around Montreal were really affected. When asked by a reporter how far he intended to take this, he shrugged and gave the now-famous reply, "just watch me."

The FLQ members responsible were soon caught and found guilty but Trudeau's intent to kill the idea of separatism failed. For over twenty years now Quebec has been electing separatist governments. On the plus side, Quebec never became our Northern Ireland.

But it was that seething arrogance that made him so remarkable. It was the only time we tolerated someone like that. These days, as you, when a Canadian's ego starts to get too big, as it happened with Jim Carrey, as it happend with Celine Dion, we just ship 'em to the US where they encourage that sort of thing.

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