September 29, 2000 (36th Parliament, 2nd Session)


Joe Clark

Progressive Conservative

Right Hon. Joe Clark (Kings—Hants, PC)

Mr. Speaker, I would first like to offer my condolences to the family of the late Pierre Elliott Trudeau.
The loss of one so strong is almost impossible to believe. We share the family's sorrow and their pride for what he was, for what he did and for what he gave to a generation of Canadians in terms of leadership.
We knew Mr. Trudeau was ill. We knew even that he was suffering from a terminal illness. And yet, the news of his passing was a shock to us all, because this passing represents more than the disappearance of a man. Pierre Elliott Trudeau represented a bold new page in the nation's history, and now the page has been turned.
We may each draw from his experience, but our purpose today, in this parliament that he towered above, is to express our respect for and our recognition of the talents and devotion of this extraordinary man.
I feel particularly fortunate to be able to pay my final tribute to Pierre Elliott Trudeau from the floor of the House of Commons. He was an enigmatic man, tough and kind, cold-blooded and sympathetic. While I never thought I knew him well, it was here that I knew him best.
He was Prime Minister when I first entered parliament and then for seven years we stood directly across this aisle from one another, two sword lengths apart.
Our parliamentary system requires that the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition disagree. I did not need the prompting of the system. On the issues for which Mr. Trudeau is most admired, including particularly his view of Quebec and Canada, I profoundly disagreed. Yet everyone who served here during those times knew we were in the presence of a man of high intellect, of great and unquestioned integrity, of deep substance, and of real dedication to his concept of the public good.
Not every politician is lucky in his timing. Pierre Trudeau was. He burst into the Canadian consciousness when the country was confident and stretching, ready to change, ready to soar. He became Prime Minister in that incandescent year of our centennial. He came out of the city of our great Expo and he used those talents and that timing and those origins to change Canadian society.
The Canadians whom those changes suited applauded him and will feel forever grateful. For example, whatever his motive in bringing forward the charter of rights and freedoms, the impact of that initiative was profound on those Canadians who came here from regimes where respect for rights was not part of the natural fabric of society. Those Canadians now feel more comfortable, more equal, here in their own country.
At the same time many of those Canadians whom Mr. Trudeau's changes offended became estranged from their own country. That happened in Quebec with the 1982 constitutional changes. It happened in the west with the national energy program. It is ironic that a Prime Minister whose mobilizing purpose was the unity of his country should have so exacerbated the differences within our own family.
I think there is a reason for that. His intellect guided him more than his intuition did. In a sense, he was too rational for this country which, after all, was formed and grew against logic. Pierre Trudeau had a clear view of what he thought our country should be. He used his powers of office and of persuasion to make us that kind of country, whether we were or not.
I am quite content to let history judge the legacy of his governments. That will not be a narrow accounting of laws and popularity. It will be an assessment of how a leader changed a society and, critic though I was of his signature initiatives, I expect that assessment will be positive and strong. He changed more than laws. He changed our image of ourselves at home and in the wider world, where he modernized and extended the international vocation of Canada.
What I would want us to remember today, hours after the passing of this extraordinary man, is precisely Pierre Trudeau's impact as a leader, his determination to be an agent of change, his capacity to transform society. People who would never vote for him or rarely agree with him admired his passion, his intellect, his courage. He became a symbol, almost an incarnation of what many Canadians hoped we could be. No one can dispute the positive power of his example. He was a force who, for better and for worse, transformed our country.
In that famous 1968 election I was on the other side with Robert Stanfield. I will never forget the eloquence with which Pierre Trudeau invoked and mobilized the spirit of this country in that first campaign, but he moved beyond eloquence to action, bold action. Like our first controversial Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, Pierre Trudeau would have built the railway.
He was a Canadian of vision, of vigour, of determination, of substance and of strength. May his soul rest in peace.

Subtopic:   The Late Right Hon. Pierre Elliott Trudeau
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