In 1999, the top Canadian newsmaker of the century was voted out and the glory fell to the charismatic former Prime Minister, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, who was elected into office after WWII. Throughout that time period, Trudeau worked towards promoting countless emerging social issues in Canada in various ways, and greatly influenced the transformations of the nation into the one that is known now. Among those social changes were the arising force of feminism, the altering relationship with Quebec, and the growing cultural diversity within Canada.
Soon after WWII, “The Second Wave” of feminism swept the decade and the rights of women were largely demanded by feminists. Pierre Trudeau realized that the unbalanced status between the sexes was in the need of change and encouraged feminism by supporting it with new laws and measures. In 1967, Pierre Trudeau gained himself much attention by introducing an omnibus bill as the Justice Minister. In the bill, he showed his views and suggestions to many concerned issues including abortion. The law stated that an abortion would be legal if approved by a committee of three doctors.
However supported by feminists, the reform was doubted by the public. Trudeau stood firm and defended the bill with a famous saying, “there is no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation” (CBC 1967). The bill was later passed and it granted more rights to women who then became supporters of Trudeau, out of reason over passion. After their basic rights were guaranteed, Trudeau turned to focus on the lack of equality for female workers. In 1970, women were paid 59 cents to each dollar a man earned for doing the same amount of work.
In order to alter this situation, the Canadian Human Rights Act was passed under the Trudeau government. The Act prohibited sex discrimination, guaranteed equal pay for work of equal value and improved the status of female workers. In result, 47 percent of the married women were under employment in 1979, whereas eighteen years ago, only one in five of them were. From this information, it is clear that women were encouraged by the granted social rights which led to many changes in their lives.
In the meanwhile, Trudeau supported feminism not only in the society, but also within the federal government. The first female governor general in the history of Canada, Jeanne Sauve, was appointed due to the recommendations of Trudeau to the Queen. In a speech, he stated that “it is right and proper that her Majesty should finally have a woman representative here” and that this would be a “welcome revolution” for the society (CBC 1984). This appointment entitled women the rights to be at high rank in the federal legislature.
The carefully selected governor general had also been the first cabinet minister from Quebec, the first female Speaker of the House and the ideal candidate for the position. His actions revealed that the Prime Minister of Canada believed that women were as capable as men and should be promoted if ability is recognized. Therefore, Trudeau showed support to feminism and helped drive one of the most important social changes in those decades. As Trudeaumania swept up the nation, the Prime Minister was not only popular among men and women, old and young, but also supported in both western and eastern parts of Canada.
As a federalist, he contributed greatly towards making changes and improving French-English relationship. He believed that it was important to make efforts in keeping Canada together after the testaments it had been faced with and the growing separatism in Quebec. Trudeau decided that the solution was to grant more rights to the Francophone. Therefore he promoted the status of French to a national basis, granting Francophone the language rights by passing the Official Languages Act. The law of 1969 transformed Canada into an official Bilingual nation.
When the mixed criticizes appeared, he again defended the law by stating “of course a bilingual state is more expensive than a unilingual one, but it is a richer state” (Julian 14). This quote reflected his determination in promoting federalism and trust in the future of bilingualism in Canada. He was not alone. Among the Francophone, bilingual government services were extremely popular and were supported at a rate of 79 percent (Parkin 6). Later on, Trudeau and his government created the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in which the sections 16 to 22, specifically outlined the official language rights for Francophone again.
This time the reform focused on the co-operation between federal and provincial governments to ensure the official bilingualism services in Canada. The goal included allowing both Francophone and Anglophone to preserve their basic language rights and cultural identity, regardless of their geographic location or language backgrounds. The bilingual law is still supported by 76 percent of Canadians today according to a poll in 2002, 35 years after its initiation (6). However back then, many separatists criticized on the reforms of Trudeau and some went into action.
During the October Crisis, Prime Minister Trudeau refused to give in to the terrorists and he implemented the War Measures Act, ensuring the safety of Canadians from the extreme nationalists. “Just watch me” (CBC 1970), said Trudeau in an interview after the kidnapping of a provincial cabinet minister by the FLQ. He tried to protect the society from the threat that endangers French-English relationship, and he was supported by the Parliament and the Quebec Premiere.
In all, Pierre Trudeau contributed with great efforts towards portraying French-English relationship and holding Canada together as a nation. Apart from his federalism, Pierre Trudeau also encouraged cultural diversity within Canada. He promoted multiculturalism and immigration policies. “I believe a constitution can permit the co-existence of several cultures and ethnic groups with a single state” (Craats 23), stated Trudeau. He foresaw the importance of multiculturalism and drove social changes in Canada with the passing of the Canadian Multiculturalism Act.
The Act encouraged and protected citizens from different cultural backgrounds in preserving their traditions. Under the Act, heritage language classes and various programs welcomed all residents and helped them feel comfortable in Canada. Also, the reform of Immigration Act was passed, allowing more immigrants to be admitted to Canada. The barriers were reduced and immigrants were separated into three classes: family class, humanitarian class and independent class. The basis of selection was broadened and it successfully attracted more immigrants.
In 1970s, eighteen percent growth in total population appeared mostly because of immigration in the previous decade. After that, the Trudeau government passed the Citizen Act, which granted equal rights for all citizens. The law stated that native-born and naturalized Canadian citizens would both be entitled to citizenship rights and obligations equally. Citizens from foreign backgrounds were given the voting right, mobility right, language right and etc. This Act showed respect and recognition to all cultures based on multiculturalism.
With efforts, Trudeau and his government created laws that drove many social changes by encouraging multiculturalism in society. As one of the most popular politicians in the history of this nation, Trudeau led Canadians through the difficult years after world war two, and left a permanent mark on its society. Throughout that time period, Canada was driven into changes mostly influenced by Trudeau in terms of feminism, federalism and multiculturalism. Those changes left great impacts and had altered the daily lives of Canadians ever since.