WHAT’S THE STORY?

TODAY is the centenary of the birth of Pierre Trudeau, the most famous Prime Minister of Canada in the 20th century and possibly ever, and father of the country’s current PM, Justin Trudeau.

He was a charismatic individual who led his country as its 15th Prime Minister for a total of more than 15 years. Despite his French name, he campaigned against Quebec becoming an independent nation and he also brought in a new constitution guaranteeing civil rights for all citizens.

WHAT WAS HIS BACKGROUND?

JOSEPH Philippe Pierre Yves Elliott Trudeau was born in Montreal on October 18, 1919, to Charles-Emile Trudeau, a French-Canadian lawyer, and Grace Elliott, whose family immigrated from Roxburghshire in Scotland in the second half of the 18th century.

Trudeau pere, known as Charley, was also a successful businessman and the family lived in a wealthy suburb of Montreal. But Charley died when Pierre was 15. Trudeau’s mother, sister and brother all remained close.

A lifelong Catholic, he was first educated by the Jesuits. Trudeau then gained a law degree at Montreal University and studied at Harvard, Paris and the London School of Economics.

HOW DID HE GET TO THE TOP JOB?

TRUDEAU became known as crusading lawyer and intellectual, and having flirted with socialist ideas through the 1950s, he joined the centre-left Liberal Party in 1965 and was immediately elected for the safe seat of Mount Royal.

His rise was meteoric, becoming Minister of Justice in 1967. He was seen as young and vigorous as he brought in a law which decriminalised homosexuality and legalised abortions.

“There’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation,” he famously said.

When Prime Minister Lester Pearson resigned in 1968, Trudeau gained the Liberal leadership and on April 20 that year he became Prime Minister.

WHAT WERE THE HIGHS AND LOWS OF HIS CAREER IN OFFICE?

HIS popularity rose and fell with the Canadian economy.

At first there was “Trudeaumania” with the youth of Canada much in thrall to his dynamism. That faded, however, and though he won three terms as PM, he was defeated in 1979 only to return to office the following year.

It was constitutional issues above all that dominated his time in office, particularly Quebec.

WHAT CAN WE SCOTS LEARN FROM HIS DEALINGS WITH THE QUEBEC ISSUE?

THAT a nation that is part of a state can force great constitutional change in that state even if it does not win independence. Trudeau had been a Quebec nationalist at first but in power he opposed the Parti Quebecois and campaigned against Quebec’s secession in two referendum.

In 1970 he dealt with the Quebec terrorist crisis with a heavy-handed crackdown that was counter-productive, but he realised that Canada needed to change to reflect its multiple cultures. He brought in the policy of federal bilingualism and after the second referendum was only narrowly defeated, Trudeau promoted the “patriation” of the constitution – Canada would define its own constitution, protecting provincial government and bringing in a charter of rights and freedoms.

The point is that Canada was dragged kicking and screaming to reform, but reform it did.

HIS PERSONAL LIFE?

SEEN as a playboy – he once said of his politicking “I didn’t like to kiss babies, though I didn’t mind kissing their mothers” – Trudeau had relationships with, among others, Barbra Streisand.

He married in secret in 1971 the glamorous and much younger Margaret Sinclair, daughter of a Scottish immigrant, with whom he had three children, one of whom, Michel was killed in an avalanche at the age of 23.

Both Trudeaus had affairs and Margaret was famously photographed in Studio 54 with her friend Mick Jagger.

HIS RELATIONS WITH THE US?

IT all depended on who was president. He was neither scared of, or in awe of, the US, and was one of the first politicians to realise that Richard Nixon was not a nice man. He got on well with both Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter.

Nixon was quoted as calling him an asshole. Trudeau replied with his trademark wit: “I’ve been called worse things by better people.”

His successor as PM, Brian Mulroney, once said: “Trudeau had the office bulletproofed.

“I always contended that the reason he did it was because the American embassy is right outside. They probably wanted to shoot him.”

HIS LEGACY?

HIS work on the constitution of Canada is recognised as having changed the lives of millions for the better. Despite his recent well-publicised problems, his son Justin very much tries to emulate his father.

Pierre Trudeau died of prostate cancer on September 28, 2000, less than three weeks short of his 81st birthday. He was mourned across Canada and beyond.