6 April

Trudeau Elected Prime Minister

On the night of April 6, 1968, after seven hours of voting, Canadians suddenly realized that their next Prime Minister would be Pierre Elliott Trudeau, a perfectly bilingual bachelor playboy who had flashed from obscurity to the most powerful position in the nation in one year. In fact, he had only been a member of Parliament since 1965 and did not enter the cabinet until April 4, 1967, when he became Minister of Justice.

Trudeau's victory was the result of a spectacular leadership convention conducted in American hullabaloo style. The nation watched on television as he defeated seven other strong contenders in the most fantastic political spectacle in Canadian history. One of them was Paul Martin who had been a member of Parliament for thirty-five years and who had often served as acting Prime Minister. The others were Robert Winters, Joseph Greene, Paul Hellyer, Allan MacEachern, Eric Kierans, and John Turner.

Trudeau's election as leader of the Liberal Party meant that he would become Canada's fifteenth Prime Minister on April 20. Yet some of the most experienced political observers in Ottawa knew little about his background. Few Canadians know much about it today.

He was born in Montreal in 1919, son of wealthy lawyer Charles-Emile Trudeau and Grace Elliott. He studied law at the University of Montreal and political economy at Harvard, with further studies in Paris and London. Then he spent years travelling through most of the world.

Gradually Trudeau became active in Quebec politics and supported the socialist New Democratic Party in the general election of 1963. He attacked Liberal leader Lester Pearson for reversing his stand on nuclear arms for Canada, saying, "Power offered itself to Mr. Pearson; he had nothing to lose except his Honour. He lost it, and his entire party lost it with him."

Yet Trudeau became Liberal M.P. for a Montreal constituency in 1965. The Liberal party accepted him reluctantly, but they had to admit him in order to get the powerful Quebec Labor leader, Jean Marchand, to be a candidate.

The new Prime Minister's flamboyant life style and eccentric manner in conducting government affairs soon attracted attention the world over. Many people for the first time sat up and took notice of Canada because of this man who took it upon himself to ignore the conventions of statesmanship. In 1971, at the age of 51, Trudeau became the first prime minister to wed while in office when he married 22-year-old Margaret Sinclair. On Christmas day of the same year a son was born to them. Justin Pierre Trudeau was the second child born to a prime minister during his term of office (see Dec. 25).


6 April

-1609    Henry Hudson, an Englishman in the service of Holland, began the voyage that took him along the coast of Newfoundland.

-1851    Britain transferred control of post offices to Canada. A uniform rate of postage was introduced.

-1860    The Allan Steamship Line won the contract for a weekly postal service to Liverpool.

-1885    General Middleton set out from Qu'Appelle to attack Riel's force at Batoche.

-1886    Vancouver was incorporated.

-1908    Robert F. Peary sailed from his base at Sydney, Cape Breton, on the first leg of his successful voyage to the North Pole.