Enduring magnetism

BRUCE WALLACE September 7 1987

Enduring magnetism

BRUCE WALLACE September 7 1987

Enduring magnetism

His social calendar is constant fodder for gossip columns. And his arrival at public events still

causes heads to swivel, attracting stares usually reserved for movie stars and athletes. Three years out of power, Pierre Trudeau’s magnetism remains undiminished by the toll of age, fatherhood or the more mundane requirements of his law practice. Now 67, his friends say that the former prime minister has settled comfort-

ably into his jealously guarded private life, devoted to his three sons and uninterested in the minutiae of national politics. Says Gérard Pelletier, one of Trudeau’s oldest friends: “He pays no more attention to the newspapers or television now than he did when he was in office. But he is much, much more relaxed.”

Relaxed—but not unmoved. His new assault last week in Ottawa on the Meech Lake accord was yet another indication that Trudeau has lost none of the passion for the constitutional issue that first drew him into active politics 22 years ago. Friends and former employees say that they always expected Trudeau to contest bitterly any attempt to tamper with the constitutional formula that was his legacy to the country. “Trudeau entered politics with a specific agenda and vision of the country,” said Thomas Axworthy,

Trudeau’s principal secretary from 1981 to 1984. “It should not surprise anyone that he is unwilling to remain outside the political process when he sees his achievements being eroded.” Still, until the Meech Lake accord lured him back into the political spotlight, Trudeau had spurned all requests for interviews. His Montreal secretary dutifully tells reporters asking for interviews “not to hold your breath” that Trudeau will agree. Instead, the former

prime minister has used his retirement from politics to pursue such lifelong private pastimes as travel and wilderness adventures. Said one friend: “He loves to feel the cold bite of the air in the wild outdoors.” Trudeau’s travels in the past three years have included visits to China and the Soviet Union. Said Senator Leo Kolber, an old friend who accompanied Trudeau and businessmen Paul Desmarais and Bernard Lamarre on a six-day journey on the Trans-Siberian Railway last year: “He is an intellectual giant who is a remarkable man to travel with.”

Trudeau also retains his love of nightlife. Having ceded the news pages to the next political generation, Trudeau has instead chosen to dominate the social section of Montreal newspapers. Last month he made the gossip columns when he toasted the bride and groom at the Quebec pop wedding of

the year between former child singing sensation René Simard and MarieJosée Taillefer. Said Thomas Schnurmacher, gossip columnist for the Montreal Gazette: “Trudeau is easily the most talked about, recognizable Montrealer.”

Indeed, Trudeau is just as likely to be found at the opening of a downtown discotheque as he is at a glitzy social gala. Said one Montreal public relations operator: “Trudeau is on all my clients’ ‘A-list.’ And he just loves to show up at parties.” Trudeau often obliges Douglas (Coco) Leopold, a flamboyant Montreal promoter and personality, by agreeing to appear at restaurant and club openings, appearances that usually attract a phalanx of photographers.

Nor has Trudeau shed other well-known traits.

He keeps in shape by riding a stationary bike, lifting weights and swimming

in the indoor pool he added to his multi-storey home on the slope of Mount Royal. His legendary reputation for personal financial restraint led the owner of one establishment where Trudeau often eats lunch to remark that “the staff all complain that he is really stingy with his tips.” And Trudeau defies persistent attempts to link

him romantically with various women. Among his most frequent companions is Sophie Stanké, the attractive 23-year-old daughter of publisher Alain Stanké. But friends are loathe to discuss Trudeau’s personal relationships; some say that they fear being ostracized from his circle if they are not discreet.

Trudeau has also settled into a daily routine. During the school year, he sees his three sons, Justin, 15, Sacha, 13, and Michel, 11, off to school before setting out on the 10 minute, downhill walk from his art deco home on Pine Avenue to his office at the Montreal law firm of Heenan Blaikie. (His salary there remains undisclosed.) Except in rare cases, Trudeau does not deal directly with clients. Instead, he advises the firm’s lawyers on broad strategies for deal-

ing with governments, or opens channels of communication through his many international connections. Said Peter Blaikie: “Everyone in the office quickly found out that Trudeau was very accessible, approachable and relaxed.

He seems to have given up the perks of office without a backward glance.”

Still, Trudeau maintains a host of

high-profile international friendships developed over his 15-year tenure as prime minister. He joined former West German chancellor Helmut Schmidt and other former world leaders on the Interaction Council, a Vienna-based organization aimed at provoking debate and action on international issues. Said Axworthy, who sees Trudeau regularly: “We talk about nuclear affairs and foreign policy issues. But he doesn’t want to play an activist role except to be a part of groups that issue reports.”

In fact, most friends insist that Trudeau is not seeking to play an active political role. Said George Radwanski, who wrote a biography of Trudeau in 1978 and who discussed with him his first attack on the Meech Lake accord: “He is not acting out of any desire to regain the limelight. But who else had the national stature and

credibility to command the media attention required to fight this deal?” And Michael Pitfield, former clerk of the Privy Council and a close friend of Trudeau, said that he no longer pays any attention to politics at all. Said Pitfield: “There is a real misconception that he is doing this for the history books. He simply saw it as his duty, as

a former prime minister, to state his views so that there would be no doubt as to where he stood.” Trudeau’s friends say that he spends much more time fulfilling his role as a father than worrying about the machinations of Ottawa politics. Said Pelletier: “Most of his time is spent taking care of his sons.” Trudeau and the boys spent one month this summer travelling through France, and weekends are spent at Trudeau’s country retreat in the Laurentian mountains north of Montreal. And while he does not miss the daily thrust and parry of Ottawa, last week’s celebrated trip to Parliament Hill left no doubt that when Pierre Trudeau speaks, Canadians still listen.

BRUCE WALLACE