Daniel Francis

Reading the National Narrative

Trudeaumania, Then and Now

Jan 14, 2014

Back in November the history department at Simon Fraser University sponsored an interesting panel discussion about Trudeaumania, past and present. You can watch it here.

It brought to mind my own brush with Pierre Trudeau back in the federal election of 1968. (I recently recalled this incident in a talk at Carleton University as one of the events which awoke in my younger self a dormant interest in Canada as a subject of study.)

You may recall that Trudeau became leader of the federal Liberal Party and therefore prime minister in April 1968. He was a very unusual politician, certainly by Canadian standards. He drove fast cars, dated movie stars, wore sandals in the House of Commons. He bore as much resemblance to his two predecessors, Pearson and Diefenbaker, as his son Justin does to Stephen Harper.

During the June election I was a university student working at a summer job in Vernon, BC, where Trudeau and his entourage made a campaign stop. He swept into town seated on the back of an open convertible wearing a white suit, flanked by two gorgeous women, clutching what had become his trademark bouquet of roses.

We were gathered in a park where he mounted the stage and gave a ten-minute speech filled with platitudes before he began to throw roses into the crowd. Despite the pointlessness of his remarks, the atmosphere was electric. It was if a rock star had come to town. You could feel that change was in the air. The old fogies who had been running Canada were on the way out.

A few days later I hopped a plane down to Vancouver so that I could vote in the election. It was the first, and last, time that I've ever voted Liberal (though interestingly one of the panel participants makes the case that Trudeau was really a social democrat).