The joy of contradiction
Ideas and cheap Chinese food mixed well for political intellectual
Saturday 30 September 2000
PEGGY CURRAN The Gazette (Montreal, Canada)
La Maison du Egg Roll seems an unlikely hangout for a prime
minister, even a prime minister as unpredictable as
Trudeau. Tucked in the bleak western
end of Notre Dame St., kitty-corner from a St. Vincent
de Paul shop here, a Dollarama
there, it's hard to picture the eggheads of Cite Libre gnawing
on constitutional niceties with their General Tao chicken or moo goo guy kew.
But Trudeau took to the place from the first time he went there in 1982 with Donald
Johnston, the Liberal MP whose riding office was across the street. The food was OK and
the price was right. Besides, St. Henri is about as far as you can get from the
traditional political parade grounds of Westmount, Outremont and Sussex Drive.
It's the kind of contradiction that might have amused Trudeau, who
spent a good part of his political life standing convention, and
conventional thinking, on its head. This was the shy loner who
pirouetted behind the queen's back. The Jesuit-trained intellectual who
gave the finger to his critics and swore in the House of Commons. The
swinging bachelor who became Canada's most celebrated divorced dad.
The author of Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms who brought in
the War Measures Act, the pacifist who didn't flinch when nationalists
pelted him with rocks.
At the Maison du Egg Roll yesterday, most of the lunchtime crowd of
young mothers, pensioners and businesspeople were too intent on piling
their plates from the $5.50 buffet to fret about
clause or repatriation. Few even glanced at the giant television screen
showing vignettes and tributes to Trudeau, who died of prostate cancer
Thursday afternoon. Three young diners - one a teenager, two in their
mid-20s - offered only blank stares when asked what they knew about
the man widely perceived as the most influential Canadian of the 20th
Customers who did care expressed the mixed feelings that Trudeau's
name can still arouse throughout the country, but especially in Quebec.
"He was brilliant, he was cultured, he was open to the world and had
strong views on north-south dialogue," said Louis-Paul
Thauvette. "But he also had this strong vision of a unitary state, which
he tried to impose on the rest of the country, and I had trouble with
"He didn't pull any punches. I liked that," said Georges Durivage. "He
spoke his mind. We can do that, so why shouldn't politicians?"
Antonio Pensato felt Trudeau had "a real impact on the Canadian
scene." But he also remembered a few scary moments in 1970 when
soldiers stormed in to search his office, which was located on the route
for the funeral procession of murdered cabinet minister Pierre Laporte.
"When I was little, I remember my mother and her friends thought he
was very sexy," said Micheline Girard, who sees parallels between
Margaret Trudeau and Diana, the princess of Wales: "How difficult it
must be to live with a head of state. The image is with you all the time;
you can't hide from it.
"But he was a good man, a family man. You knew that his children were
Warren Allmand, another Montreal Liberal who arrived in Parliament in
1965, said Trudeau's strong views and determination to get things done
were bound to polarize people. Right from the start, Trudeau's meteoric
ascent raised hackles among old-school politicians horrified by his
policies, his candour and his clothes.
"He joined the Liberal Party in 1965 and within 2 1/2 years this beatnik
professor and known intellectual was the prime minister," said Allmand,
who served as solicitor-general and Indian-affairs minister during the
"He came across as someone who had the courage to take on the big
institutions, the churches."
Before Trudeau, even therapeutic abortions were against the law,
druggists sold contraceptives under the counter, homosexuality was
illegal, lotteries were controlled by the underworld, and it took an act of
Parliament to get a divorce. Where earlier politicians had avoided such
sensitive issues, the new justice minister moved swiftly to reform
Canada's antiquated Criminal Code.
"All the progressive elements rallied behind him, branding him as a
different kind of politician," Allmand said.
"Conservative-minded people thought he was an ally of the devil. They
asked themselves, 'Who is this man who wears sandals and dresses like
Now head of Rights and Democracy, a federally funded human-rights
advocacy group, Allmand defends Trudeau's use of the War Measures
Act during the 1970 October Crisis. "Critics say it was necessary, but
we didn't know that then," he said.
JOHN KENNEY, GAZETTE / Pierre Trudeau was greeted by young Liberal Philippe Drolet
at a party at the Maison du Egg Roll this year
celebrating the 50th anniversary of Cite Libre magazine.
Trudeau in Architectural Digest, 1986