Just Watch Me: the Life of Pierre Elliot Trudeau, 1968 – 2000
By: Johnny English
Format/Source: Paperback; was a Christmas gift
This magnificent second volume, written with exclusive access to Trudeau’s private papers and letters, completes what the Globe and Mail called “the most illuminating Trudeau portrait yet written” — sweeping us from sixties’ Trudeaumania to his final days when he debated his faith.
His life is one of Canada’s most engrossing stories. John English reveals how for Trudeau style was as important as substance, and how the controversial public figure intertwined with the charismatic private man and committed father. He traces Trudeau’s deep friendships (with women especially, many of them talented artists, like Barbra Streisand) and bitter enmities; his marriage and family tragedy. He illuminates his strengths and weaknesses — from Trudeaumania to political disenchantment, from his electrifying response to the kidnappings during the October Crisis, to his all-important patriation of the Canadian Constitution, and his evolution to influential elder statesman.
I made it a point to read the second volume of Pierre Elliot Trudeau’s biography before school started as there was no way I was going to get through the 800+ page volume once the assignments started rolling in.
Reading this second volume of Pierre Elliot Trudeau’s life and time as Prime Minister, it occurred to me how Trudeau’s story is very much Canada’s story for the latter half of the twentieth century. Everything he worked towards–the economy, multiculturalism, the official languages, the repatriation of the Consitution–was all done out of love for Canada, transcending his early nationalism and embracing and defining a vision of Canada that he hoped people would carry moving forward. There are setbacks along the way of course, and lots of politicking going on, but Trudeau managed to someone rise to the occasion even when he was at a loss politically or his personal life was in shambles. But there was never any doubt that he had a vision for the country, and belief in the potential that Canada held.
What is also interesting was how lots of the problems that Trudeau faced during his time in office are problems that do still exist in some form right now. For example, the relationship between Canada and the United States is a bit fraught right now especially with the agenda and priorities happening in the United States. The topic of multiculturalism continues to appear in debates despite of our general acceptance of multiculturalism as a touchstone of our society. Reconciling the various priorities of the East and West parts of the country continue in varying degrees, and while the idea of separation has died down in recent years, it still pops up occasionally, especially in the light of recent regionalism issues in Europe.
The only drawback to this book–aside from its sheer length, which requires some dedicated time to get through–is how occasionally the author would insert his own perspective on an event. I forgot that he lived and worked through much of Trudeau’s time as Prime Minister, but still, I found the little anecdotes startling and off-putting in a biography.
Overall Just Watch Me: the Life of Pierre Elliot Trudeau, 1968 – 2000 was an illuminating read. Pierre Elliot Trudeau was really something special, his education and upbringing unique, his vision of Canada something precious and optimistic. You can easily see how he is written as a hero, painted larger than life, but he has his faults, and I think the biography did a good job in showing that. I highly recommend this biography if you’re interested in reading about the life of Pierre Elliot Trudeau.