He is as much a Montreal landmark as the cross on top of Mount Royal. On many a morning, he can be spotted striding purposefully down from his home on the mountain’s lower slopes towards the office he occupies on the 25th floor of a downtown skyscraper. Despite his 74 years, there is still vigor in his step, still style in his dress. But like the cross atop the hill where he lives and like the office where he works, Pierre Trudeau continues to project an image that is both distant and lofty. His personal affairs and private concerns remain now, as they have always been, closely guarded. And his newly published Memoirs does little to dispel the mystery.
“My private life? I left that part out,” Trudeau archly responded when asked about the issue last week at a news conference in Montreal to publicize Memoirs. That is not entirely true. In his book, the former prime minister does offer a tantalizing glimpse or two. He mentions, in four brief lines, his romance with and turbulent marriage to the former Margaret Sinclair. His divorce from her is dismissed in a paragraph. He talks at greater length of his three sons: Justin, now 21, Sacha, 19, and Michel, 18. His legal work, his extensive international network of influential friends and his many travels are also described, often in some detail. But much is left unsaid. In what is probably the most glaring omission, there is not a single
reference to either his two-year-old daughter, Sarah, nor the child’s mother, constitutional law expert Deborah Coyne. “I haven’t heard him mention Debbie for some time,” confides one Trudeau acquaintance.
Despite his apparently strained relationship with Coyne, Trudeau proclaims himself a contented man. “I lead a very happy life,” he writes in Memoirs. “I work, I travel, I enjoy the company of my sons, I meet interest-
The former prime minister continues to jealously guard his private life
ing people, I indulge my love of the outdoors and nature. I still ski every weekend I can during winter, I still set off in my canoe and I still scuba dive at least once or twice a year.” When he is in Montreal, Trudeau lives in an art deco house on Pine Avenue, overlooking the city’s downtown core. The house is a gem, designed and built by Canadian architect Ernest Cormier in 1930. Trudeau bought it in 1979. Since then, he has spent much time—and money—lovingly restoring
both the house and its furnishings to their original state.
Trudeau shares the residence with his three sons. Justin is currently in his final year of study at nearby McGill University. Sacha is a first-year student at McGill. Michel is entering his final year at the highly rated Collège Jean-de-Brébeuf, where his father—and much of Quebec’s ruling elite—once studied.
On most weekends, particularly during the summer months, Trudeau and his sons can be found at the Laurentian retreat 85 km northwest of Montreal that the former prime minister bought 30 years ago, just before he entered federal politics. In Memoirs, Trudeau describes the place as “a little house in the country.
. . much more modest than the prime ministerial retreat at Harrington Lake.” It is, in fact, a vast 2,000-acre swath of largely unspoiled wilderness that includes at least two private lakes.
Until recently, Deborah Coyne was a frequent summertime visitor to the property. That is no longer the case. Friends of both her and Trudeau say that their relationship has cooled considerably since the May 5, 1991, birth of Sarah. Trudeau sees the child and provides financial support to Coyne, who lives in a modest subdivision in the suburbs of Ottawa. But Coyne is no longer as welcome as in the past. This past summer, in fact, she was not a guest at the retreat— an ominous sign in the view of those who like to interpret Trudeau’s actions. While intimates are reluctant to discuss the matter, some suggest that relations between the two may have ruptured over what they describe as Coyne’s apparent desire for a more permanent arrangement with Trudeau, perhaps even marriage.
If it is true that Trudeau has recoiled from that prospect, it could well have something to do with his first marriage. In Memoirs, he accepts at least some of the blame for the collapse of his union with Margaret, who is 30 years younger than he is. “I was a neophyte at both politics and family life,” he writes. “I married late in life
. . . and I was learning about marriage and parenthood at the same time as I was learning about the workings of politics. So perhaps it was a little too much for me and, regrettably, I didn’t succeed all that well.”
Trudeau still sees his former wife during her frequent visits with their three sons. But the former 1960s flower child is now 44 and has another family. She is married to Ottawa real estate developer Fried Kemper; they have two young children: Kyle, 8, and Alicia, who is 4.
As for the children she bore with Trudeau, they are clearly the focus of his current life. When the three young men are not in school, they are often on the road with their father. In recent years, Trudeau has taken his sons on lengthy trips through France, England, China, Japan, Southeast Asia and Siberia. This past summer, he trekked through Mexico and California’s Baja Peninsula. As the finishing touches were being applied to Memoirs, he was scuba diving in Micronesia.
Money is obviously not a concern. Trudeau’s personal financial worth is yet another of his closely held secrets. However, sources in Montreal’s financial community estimate that he inherited around $4.5 million upon his father’s death in 1935; they say he has since tripled the value of that inheritance. “Pierre’s reputation for personal stinginess is legendary,” says one financial analyst with some ties to Trudeau’s interests. “But what is not widely known is the fact that the guy is a very canny investor.”
He is also a highly rewarded lawyer as a senior counsel at the blue-chip Montreal firm of Heenan Blaikie. Trudeau has a splendid office in the new IBM Tower in downtown Montreal, one of the tallest buildings in the city. His duties there, as Trudeau himself admits, are far from onerous. “They don’t overwork me,” he writes in Memoirs. “The way I practise law is ideal from my point of view. I don’t take clients of my own.
I don’t have to prepare witnesses or do the research for the cases. Instead, I’m available to the senior lawyers of the firm who want to discuss an issue with me.”
It is a privileged position. Moreover, it is one that has allowed him to escape an unenviable fate that has recently overtaken almost all of Quebec’s 15,000 practising lawyers—including the recently reactivated Brian Mulroney. As a result of a massive revision of Quebec’s Civil Code, virtually all lawyers in the province have been attending
60 compulsory hours of instruction on the new regulations. Trudeau was granted a special dispensation, freeing him from the mandatory classes.
In reality, however, Trudeau’s value to his firm has more to do with his political clout than with his knowledge of the law. And with the advent of Jean Chrétiens Liberal government in Ottawa, which includes five ministers who once served in Trudeau’s cabinets,
the former prime minister’s influence is bound to increase. As one veteran Liberal organizer remarks: “There’s nobody in that government who’s going to say ‘No’ to Pierre if he asks for a favor.”
By the same token, his long years in government have won him a wide network of friends and acquaintances overseas. He has handed out constitutional advice to Václav Havel, president of what was then Czechoslovakia, as well as Mikhail Gorbachev when he was president of the Soviet Union. Trudeau is
a charter member of an informal but highly influential international network of former heads of state and heads of government known as the InterAction Council. The group meets two or three times a year in various locations around the world to discuss global issues.
At home, Trudeau’s circle of intimate friends tends to be small, restricted to those who have been close to him all his life. “We have lunch about once a week, usually in a modest Chinese restaurant,” says Gérard Pelletier, the former cabinet
minister and ambassador to Prance who has been a Trudeau associate for almost half a century and who wrote most of the early part of Memoirs. Pormer cabinet minister Marc Lalonde is another frequent lunchtime companion, as are sena-
tors Jacques Hébert and Michael Pitfield, as well as Trudeau’s former
principal secretary Tom Axworthy, now executive director of the Bronfman family’s CRB Foundation in Montreal. All of those trusted friends seem to share a common trait: they are discreet. And that, by itself, speaks volumes about the kind of person that Pierre Trudeau has always valued—those who, like him, put a premium on privacy.
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