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Ten years ago: Pierre Trudeau

September 28, 2010 |  6:00 am

image from If Pierre Trudeau's life were a movie, at least part of it would be a '70s spy-thriller spoof costarring Barbra Streisand (whom the former Canadian prime minister dated in real life). A heady montage would feature the energetic, popular premier -- who was elected in 1968 on a tide of "Trudeaumania," the phenomenon spun by his irreverence, bachelorhood and glamour -- sliding down a banister at Buckingham Palace and making an obscene gesture at protesting constituents, which he really did. And that sequence would run over the rhythmic piano chords of a Beatles track, since Trudeau once welcomed John Lennon and Yoko Ono to his office in Ottawa.

Flashy though he was -- Trudeau once charged five grizzly bears up a hillside -- he was also a firm statesman, a defender of Canada's unity against its own linguistic and cultural divisions, and a champion of civil rights. Long after colonial rule, Canada existed as an act of British parliament; Trudeau brought the constitution home, appending a Bill of Rights-like charter in the process. And when he died, on Sept. 28, 2000, mourning for Trudeau bore the full weight of his generational 16 years as a head of state. (He served until 1984, with a few months off imposed by voters in the 1979 elections.)

Trudeau's politics featured trademarks of the left. He constructed a European-style welfare state and, earlier, as justice minister, liberalized laws on divorce, abortion and homosexuality. But he also disdained the "bleeding hearts" who protested his swift and severe crackdown on violent Quebecois separatists in October 1970. Trudeau's martial reaction was "overkill," his biographer said in The Times' obituary, "but there's no question it was a success."

The obituary has more on the grizzly-charging incident and on Trudeau's relationship with his wife, Margaret, whom he married in 1971 and who betrayed him for -- as is really only fitting -- the Rolling Stones.

-- Michael Owen

Photo: Trudeau in London, in 1975. Credit: Agence France-Presse