Canada mourns loss of glamorous political maverick

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The Independent US

Canada's political establishment was yesterday mourning the death of Pierre Trudeau, the flamboyant former prime minister who dominated public life for nearly two decades. Mr Trudeau, who died on Thursday aged 80, had only this month revealed he was suffering from prostate cancer.

Canada's political establishment was yesterday mourning the death of Pierre Trudeau, the flamboyant former prime minister who dominated public life for nearly two decades. Mr Trudeau, who died on Thursday aged 80, had only this month revealed he was suffering from prostate cancer.

He was as well known abroad for his colourful lifestyle and glamorous wife as his political career.

Although he was born into a French-speaking Quebecois family, he believed passionately in a unified Canadian state and resisted the popular appeal of the Francophone separatist movement throughout his life.

Mr Trudeau was Prime Minister from 1968 to 1984, except for a break in 1979. His early years of rule were dubbed "Trudeaumania". He ushered in the metric system, made French an official language and, in 1982, enshrined a Bill of Rights in the constitution.

In many respects, he was a highly unorthodox operator in the staid world of Canadian politics. He wore sandals in parliament and called journalists "trained seals". He dated a string of actresses, including Barbra Streisand, before marrying Margaret Sinclair, who was half his age, in 1971. They divorced in 1977. Although he was named Canada's "newsmaker of the millennium", Mr Trudeau increasingly sought privacy after his retirement from public life in 1984.

Bill Clinton said yesterday:"Pierre Trudeau opened a dynamic new era in Canadian politics and helped establish Canada's unique imprint on the global stage."

But the close relationship Canada now enjoys with the US was not so cosy during the Cold War and the early years of Mr Trudeau's premiership.Richard Nixon insulted him during Watergate. Ronald Reagan lost his temper with Mr Trudeau over his policy to the Soviet Union. In a 1969 speech at the National Press Club in Washington, Mr Trudeau offered this take on sharing a continent with the US. "Living next to you is in some ways like sleeping with an elephant," he said. "No matter how friendly and even-tempered the beast, one is affected by every twitch and grunt."

The Canadian Prime Minister, Jean Chrétien, said yesterday: "Above all, the forces of change he set in motion continue to shape the soul of his people."

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