So Justin Trudeau has decided to take the plunge! Hold on to your seats Canada. This could be an interesting ride. And it’s going to be particularly interesting to me, because thanks to a few quirks of fate, I have a long personal history of sorts with the Trudeau family. Let me explain.
In the fall of 1965, I was a charter student at the brand new institution of learning known as Simon Fraser University, which had just opened on the outskirts of Vancouver. Guess who else was a charter student then at that great edifice of concrete on top of Burnaby Mountain? She was the wife-to-be of a great Canadian Prime Minister – Margaret Trudeau – or Margaret Sinclair as she was then known.
“Maggie,” as she came to be known, came from a fine upper crust North Vancouver family with an illustrious political pedigree because her father was Jim “Jimmy” Sinclair, former federal fisheries minister and the first Canadian politician of note to visit the then Soviet Union.
I’d like to say I hung around in Maggie’s crowd at SFU, but alas my crowd was much more mundane. But I do recall hearing about her because even then she and her sister Rosalind were great beauties and campus celebrities. Fast forward a few years and I was in an audience close to the stage listening to the now First Lady of Canada introduce her famous husband, Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, about to give a political speech to an adoring Vancouver crowd. (Believe it or not, federal Liberals were adored in Vancouver in those halcyon days.) The dewy-eyed Margaret caused quite a stir at the time because she ended her gushing introduction by saying “Pierre taught me how to make love.”
Again fast forward a decade and I was a lowly reporter in Kamloops who had the thrill – and it was a thrill of sorts – of covering Prime Minister Trudeau on three of his election campaigns as he came through Kamloops as he inevitably did. Two of these were memorable for very different reasons. On the first occasion, I was just off the stage in the smelly old KXA, the barn-like building that passed for a convention centre in Kamloops in those days. As Pierre was about to speak – he and Margaret were long separated by this time – his handlers decided to introduce him by having a distant Kamloops cousin of his come to the stage and shake his hand.
I was on the edge of the stage myself in those days long before Gestapo-like security protection of major politicians and I had my trusty camera and notebook in hand ready to do a story. The elderly cousin walked unsteadily across the stage towards the much younger Prime Minister gripped his hand and promptly pitched forward and fell dead at his feet of a massive heart attack.
Well, as you can easily imagine, all hell broke loose. I was less than 20 feet away and the only thought that passed through my mind was that I better get a picture of this or my editor would have my entrails for dinner. So as everyone else on stage closed in, I joined them and got my pic of the tragic scene. A few seconds later, dark mutterings began rumbling from the security Gestapo and Trudeau’s handlers about the “ghoul” taking pictures. I quickly realized that if I didn’t get my butt out of there fast I was soon going to be on the floor too. So I escaped only to read in the Globe and Mail the next day of Trudeau’s handlers cursing the unidentified reporter taking the ghoulish pictures. And before we go on, let me say I’m not proud of my behavior during this incident, but in journalism, as any other profession, you do what you have to do.
A few years later, I covered Trudeau in Kamloops again in much different circumstances. This time it was in a local hotel lobby and I was in a scrum of reporters and Liberal supporters when I did something I’d never done before – I shook his hand.
Why, you may rightfully ask, did I violate the sacred journalistic cannon of impartiality and commit an act of seeming bias? Well, to begin with, I never voted for him or his party, but I was a great admirer of the strongest Canadian political leader I’d ever seen and the man that uttered to a breathless CBC reporter during the FLQ crisis the three gutsiest words in Canadian political history – “just watch me” – and promptly imposed the War Measures Act and prevented what could have been violent revolution from engulfing the country. Those with less sterner backbones have criticized Trudeau to this day for violating our civil liberties by putting tanks in the street to prevent a potential insurrection.
I think he was a hero for doing this. I think he saved a country. And now his first-born son is running for his job in what’s sure to provide us with some more grand political theatre a la Trudeau.
All I can say is bring it on.
Gerry Warner is a retired journalist and a Cranbrook City Councillor. His opinions are his own.