Everyone knew he was unhappy playing John Diefenbaker to Joe Clark’s Lester Pearson. For months in Liberal circles, he mused about his future with trusted confidants. But not even John Turner or Donald Macdonald expected Pierre Trudeau to do what he did last week, on the eve of the referendum in Quebec, even though throughout his vibrant 14 years on the national scene Trudeau has been
anything but predictable. Now drained, at times tearful, he was giving up the Liberal leadership to revert to—and restore—a fragile personal life.
Ever since football fans booed the national anthem in Exhibition Stadium, Trudeau has loathed his visits to Toronto. The joyless four days he concluded there last week before his announcement did nothing to banish thoughts of getting out. He tried, despite a festering toothache, to muster the political venom and intellectual inspiration demanded by 2,000 hungry Ontario delegates. But they knew, as did he, that the magic was gone. “You could tell the crowd was shifting away from him as leader,” says a member of the national executive. “They love him, but you knew it was all over.”
Trudeau decided not to stay around while the Liberal party—however bloodlessly—continued to challenge his position at the helm. Ever since the election there had been calls throughout English Canada for a leadership review in the first part of the new year and he faced a national
meeting on the subject last weekend. Since May 22, Trudeau has been listening, even though he appeared withdrawn and listless. His main concern was the Quebec referendum—the looming event that kept him from resigning in 1976, although that decision was a factor in the breakup of his marriage. Finally, Trudeau convinced himself that he could participate effectively from the sidelines, liberated from the conflicting demands of national office.
Predictably, however, Premier René Lévesque, while praising Trudeau, characterized the resignation as an an-
glo slap. “The page of ‘French Power,’ ” he declared, “is obviously, definitely turned.” If the jury is still deliberating that charge, Trudeau at least seems destined to react now mainly to the solutions of others—notably provincial Liberal leader Claude Ryan, who emerges as the undisputed leader of the federalist forces in Quebec. Conceivably Trudeau was persuaded, in light of Ryan’s recent successes in three byelections and Joe Clark’s “hands off” style, that his high-profile, confrontational style was unsuited to the
The obvious immediate beneficiary of Trudeau’s decision was the government of Joe Clark, struggling as a minority in Parliament with controversial policies and within the political family about the new price for oil and gas. There is now no threat of a winter election but, faced with a just-elected Liberal leader in the spring, Clark may wish to avoid an election until at least 1981.
The timing of Trudeau’s departure shifts attention to a party that, with last week’s byelection victory in Newfoundland,* believes it is on the rise. With an extravagant delicacy so prized by the party, possible Trudeau successors were prowling convention corridors in Toronto before his announcement, disavowing even the remotest interest in the job. Only Donald Macdonald, though, had a real sense of the occasion—on Saturday Trudeau nipped away from the hotel for a private chat with his old ally about his retirement plans.
That gesture, toward the man who
gesture, man organized Toronto for Trudeau in 1968, was the only indication of Trudeau’s preference for Macdonald over Turner. Turner termed talk of a leadership race “premature” even though his most trusted people arrived in Toronto for consultations. Macdonald, also a former finance minister who repeatedly rejected thoughts of leadership after leaving Trudeau’s cabinet in 1977, promptly opened the door by
*The NDP won the other in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan (see page 32). New party standings in the Commons: PC 136, Liberals 113, NDP 2 7, Social Credit 5.
saying he will make a decision in two weeks.
But first, in the extraordinary way that Liberals manage to organize tidy transfers of power, almost by accident, there was the matter of Macdonald’s Thursday meeting with John Turner—conveniently arranged days before Trudeau quit. On Thursday the two front-runners had lunch at Toronto’s York Club, an establishment otherwise favored by the medical profession. No accounting of decisions reached was quick to emerge from the muffled huddle, making the endless possibilities all the more rewarding in the savoring. Would one man defer to the other? Or, more probable, were they agreeing to a civilized match and a joint strategy for an anglo leader to emerge at a delicate moment in Quebec affairs?
The last thing either man needs is to alienate the 675 delegates from Quebec, a cohesive group which could tip the balance in a cluttered field—and, eventually, provide the base for a run at needed popular votes in Ontario and the West. Jean Chrétien also raises the prospect of “the Joe Clark factor”—after the master of the second choice who claimed the Conservative leadership in 1976 as if by stealth. After a roller-coaster ride with a mercurial, charismatic leader such as Trudeau, Liberals could be in the mood to consider some unlikely alternatives.
One thing was clear before the race began: the Liberal party and the nation are unlikely to see the like of Trudeau for a long time to come. When he entered the race in 1968, he declared with typical insouciance: “In the subconscious mind of the press, I think it started out like a huge practical joke on the Liberal party. Now, you’re stuck with me.” With his own special kind of symmetry, back before the press last week, he offered a parting shot: “If I can turn a phrase around, I guess I’m kind of sorry I won’t have you to kick around anymore.”
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