Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau entered the Ottawa Civic Centre to the blaring theme song from the movie Rocky and to the roaring cheers of about 8,000 placard-waving Liberals. After a lavish evening of entertainment, film clips and speeches, Trudeau bade farewell to his party and a national television audience, declaring, “Our dreams for this beautiful country will never die.” Then he turned and walked off the political stage that he has dominated for 16 years. True to form, Trudeau returned for a characteristically irreverent gesture: the famous pirouette. But backstage he reverted to his inscrutable, unemotional self. Asked how he felt about finally taking his leave, he shrugged and replied softly, “Fine.”
Although some Liberals were relieved to see Trudeau go, the carefully orchestrated farewell was designed to praise, not to bury, the controversial PM. Organizers tried to recreate the waves of Trudeaumania that swept the country in 1968, and thousands of devoted followers waved placards inspired by the signs Trudeau used in his leadership victory. Many of the party faithful paid $2 for a rose to wear in Trudeau’s style. And many, including cabinet minister Judy Eróla, shed tears as they recalled the historic Trudeau era. “At our last cabinet meeting I tried to picture what it would be like when he is gone,” Eróla said. “I cannot imagine anyone else in that position. It will be tough.”
Extolled: The $250,000 gala, broadcast live on both CBC and CTV networks, was the brainchild of Senator Keith Davey, the passionate Trudeau loyalist skilled at getting the most political mileage out of any event. Singer-songwriter Paul Anka and impressionist Rich Little returned home to Ottawa to headline the evening. On a Tuesday morning Air Canada flight from Toronto, Davey personally carried a painting by Toronto artist Charles Pachter, The Painted Flag, which Trudeau received during the farewell gala.
With his three young sons watching proudly, Trudeau unabashedly extolled the achievements of his governments since 1968. To loud cheers he recited a selected list of accomplishments: patriation of the Constitution; the defeat of “all those intellectuals of the PQ” in the Quebec referendum; the institution of federal bilingualism; promotion of women to high office; the advancement of minorities in public life; and the assertion of Canadian sovereignty in the
high Arctic. Trudeau’s major theme was the need for Liberals to maintain a commitment to reform. He declared that Liberals should “confront the powerful, confound the secure and challenge the conventional”—even when that involved challenging the provinces, multinational corporations or the superpowers of the world.
Few flaws in planning appeared as the gala evening unfolded, although the organizers could not get all the talent they wanted. Nova Scotian singer Anne Murray, for one, was unavailable to perform. But Nanette Workman, a U.S.born Montrealer who was recruited to sing the torchy rock song Heartbreaker, was glad to fill in. “This is the first time I’ve been in anything like this,” she said. “I’m not very political, but I love Trudeau. He’s a star. Like Mick Jagger.”
‘Devastated’ Inevitably, the focus of the evening was Trudeau. A series of short film clips evoked the highlights of his years in office, from his defiance of rioting separatists at the 1968 St. Jean Baptiste Day parade and the FLQ crisis
in October, 1970, to scenes of Trudeau performing a backflip into a swimming pool and driving his silver MercedesBenz roadster. In a formal tribute, Canadian film-maker Norman Jewison said that Trudeau “gave us stature, energy and above all a strong pride in a new destiny.” After the show, former Newfoundland premier Joey Smallwood
said he was “devastated” at Trudeau’s leave-taking. “He should stay for another 10 years,” said Smallwood as he marched from the Civic Centre. “There’s not another that can take his place, least of all John Turner.” Trudeau held a small party for the performers and a few close friends at 24 Sussex Drive after the event. He served a buffet dinner and mingled amiably with all the guests in one of the final parties that Trudeau will throw in the grey-stone mansion. And Trudeau savored the occasion. The guests did not leave until 1:30 a.m., an unusually late hour for Trudeau, who likes to retire early. Said one guest: “We stayed late. I don’t think he wanted the evening to end.”
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