Today in Canada's Political History: Pierre Trudeau Returns to Power

  • National Newswatch

After a series of events worthy of a novel and/or a movie, Pierre Trudeau was re-elected as Prime Minister on this date in 1980, a scant nine months after his defeat at the hands of Joe Clark and the Progressive Conservatives. Throughout this period Trudeau had Tom Axworthy at his side.  Dr. Axworthy has graciously agreed to serve as my guest columnist today and he recalls his boss's victory that historic date. I proudly served under Tom as a Fellow of the Queen's Centre for the Study of Democracy and I owe him a great deal for his mentorship so it is a great personal pleasure to welcome him to Art's History today.  Over to you, Tom. - ArtBy Tom Axworthy“Welcome to the 1980s” Pierre Trudeau told a jubilant crowd at the Chateau Laurier hotel on the evening of February 18, 1980 after the  networks had announced that he had won the 1980 election and would return as Prime Minister at the head of a majority government.Trudeau's fourth federal election victory was the culmination of an improbable series of events, proving once again that nothing is sure in politics. Only a few months before, in November 1979, Trudeau had resigned as Leader of the Liberal party after losing the 1979 election to Joe Clark's Conservatives.Views about Mr. Trudeau's record as prime minister 1968-79 were mixed: there was certainly a consensus that he was a charismatic leader who engaged and enraged Canadians in equal measure. He had clear successes such as the Official Languages Act or the recognition of the People's Republic of China but his economic legacy was spotty and most commentators described him as “ unfulfilled” largely because he had not been able to persuade the premiers to patriate the Constitution and entrench a Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the cause that had made him enter politics in the first place.Then political magic happened. Though they only had a minority of MPs in the House of Commons, the  Clark Conservatives brought in a budget with steep tax increases on gasoline that united the opposition parties sufficiently to defeat the budget on December 13, 1979.  An election was called.Encouraged by senior Liberals like Allan MacEachen, who organized a request by the caucus and Liberal party executive,  Pierre Trudeau put off his retirement plans and announced on December 18, 1979 that he would lead the Liberal party into the 1980 election.He cruised to victory.  Subsequent years saw a burst of prime ministerial energy to win the 1980 Quebec referendum and to patriate the Constitution with his beloved Charter in 1982.When he retired again in 1984 Pierre Trudeau was no longer “ unfulfilled”. On  the evening of February 18, 1980 he had received the rarest gift in politics: a second chance.[caption id="attachment_607330" align="alignleft" width="612"] Pierre Trudeau addresses a jubilant election night audience at the Chateau Laurier, February 1980[/caption]Arthur Milnes is an accomplished public historian and award-winning journalist.  He was research assistant on The Rt. Hon. Brian Mulroney's best-selling Memoirs and also served as a speechwriter to then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper and as a Fellow of the Queen's Centre for the Study of Democracy under the leadership of Tom Axworthy.  A resident of Kingston, Ontario, Milnes serves as the in-house historian at the 175 year-old Frontenac Club Hotel.