I only lived within smelling distance of Trudeaumania
, on the wrong side of the Great Big Undefended Border, but the mania reached nonetheless -- PET, plus a fascination with bilingual
boxes of Capitaine Crouche
, reruns of Gilligan's Island
dubbed en français
on SRC, and the PA announcers at the Forum
and Parc Jarry (...numéro sept... l'arrêt-court...
), led me to start learning French. It was only years later that I learned that the Prime Minister wasn't
trying to get everybody to speak both official languages. Never mind
He was always ahead of his time: the first "Mr. Mom" PM, after the young missus ran off to party with the Stones (or something); the first cabinet minister to go "business casual", in his sandals and such in the House of Commons -- long before multimillionaire Lamar Alexander campaigned for president in a lumberjack shirt to show how "real" he was, Trudeau dressed like the swinging law prof he was. PET was sincerely difficult, which remains a breath of fresh air, in the face of an endless stream of politicians who are all about demonstrating how "real" they are, and how they "understand" your problems (and have "solutions") and "feel your pain".
Long before George W. Einstein insulted a New York Times reporter off-mike, then made up some lame excuse for his outburst, Trudeau gleefully gave a group of detractors the binary four, and coyly coined the phrase fuddle duddle to "cover" for his use of one of Those Seven Words in a House debate. He even had his "go ahead, make my day" moment: the "Just watch me" statement, in response to growing threats of FLQ violence; but unlike George Bush, this wasn't some lame campaign catchphrase -- the PM invoked the War Measures Act a year or so later, after the kidnappings of James Cross and Pierre Laporte.
He was the larger than life leader of a not-actual-size country, with more charisma in his little (uh...) finger than, etc, etc, and that got him over the hump in the opinion polls and elections over the years -- he was hated in every region and stratum of the country at one time or another, whether he'd provoked the souvereignists, the Rest of Canada, the wheat farmers, Uncle Luigi, Aunt Tess, or the oil men because of this or that policy.
He's gone, but you can still smell some faded perfume of the mania, from the bilingual food packaging, to the news update on some Radio-Canada affiliate in a heavy anglophone part of the country (you wonder if anyone's actually listening), to some of the saner separatists, to the neo-con (emphasis on the last syllable) efforts by people like Ralph Klein and Mike Harris (and even people like Harris' predecessor, nominal socialist Bob Rae, and nominal Liberal Paul Martin) to reverse the growth of the welfare state that had gained steam in the early years of Trudeau's rule.
But beyond the charisma and controversy, there's this one thing that remains with me, just a simple sentence, but one that has had staying power over the years:
"The state has no place in the nation's bedrooms." -- Justice Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, 1967
I lift my bong to you, sir.
Well, I would if I had one.