Presidents & Heads Of State

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Diplomat

Diplomat

Lester Pearson and the Suez Crisis
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Our Rascal John

Our Rascal John

The Childhood of Sir John A. Macdonald Canada's First Prime Minister
edition:Hardcover
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Justin Trudeau

Justin Trudeau

The Natural Heir
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Excerpt

Justin Trudeau was born a celebrity. He was making the news even before his birth on Christmas Day, 1971. Trudeaumania, a wave of mass infatuation, had swept his father to the leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada in 1968. This phenomenal surge of popularity had since waned, but the charismatic and “sexy” prime minister still had many surprises in store for Canadians.  In fact, nine months earlier, the fifty-one-year-old Pierre Elliott Trudeau had stunned the country by secretly marrying Margaret Sinclair, a beautiful twenty-two-year-old from Vancouver, in a Catholic ceremony. They had met on the beaches of Tahiti in 1967. And now the picture- perfect couple were about to have a baby, which hadn’t happened to a ruling prime minister for 102 years.  It was a happy event, and Canadians were overjoyed. Mother and infant (weighing in at six pounds, nine ounces) were doing well at the Ottawa Civic Hospital. The infant’s proud parents decided to baptize him Justin Pierre James, the last name in honour of Margaret’s father, James Sinclair, who had been an influential fisheries minister in the Liberal government of Louis St. Laurent.  “I had some ideas about my son’s name,” the prime minister said as he handed out cigars to the journalists and press photographers gathered at the hospital. “But my wife did as well. So he is going to be called Justin Pierre.” Then the new father stopped a beat: “I fear he may resemble me.”  The arrival of the Trudeaus’ first-born late on Christmas Day was announced on television: telegrams and congratulations flooded the little family. Margaret was soon receiving hundreds of hand-knit sweaters, bonnets, bibs, and bootees, as well as thousands of greeting cards. And when news spread that she was breast-feeding, a new avalanche of letters arrived, commending her decision, as she recounts in her book Beyond Reason.  It was the beginning of a frenetic lifestyle for the family. By the time Justin was one and a half, he already had his own suitcase. He appeared in public beside his beaming father at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, where he met Queen Elizabeth for the first time.   Two years after Justin’s birth, day for day, came the birth of his brother Alexandre, also known as Sacha. Margaret was ecstatic. She simply couldn’t believe her two babies were born on Christmas Day. Justin wasn’t shy about speaking in public. When accompanying his father to the hospital just before his mother gave birth, the little two-year-old made his first statement to the journalists gathered for the occasion. What did he want for Christmas? “Motorcycle!” came the answer.   Then, just as Justin was on the point of leaving with his father, the toddler turned to face the journalists, saying, “Happy birthday … and Merry Christmas!”   Margaret gave birth to a third son, Michel, on October 2, 1978. Justin’s second brother was affectionately nicknamed Micha or Miche. At twenty-eight years old, the ravishing Margaret had three children.  Justin Trudeau’s years growing up at 24 Sussex Drive, the prime minister’s official residence in Ottawa’s embassy district, were recorded by press photographers. He was photographed arriving at Rideau Hall, the governor general’s residence, carried like a package under his radiant father’s arm, and again in the prime minister’s office beside his parents. As a little boy, he often travelled overseas with his father. He was photographed at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, at the Acropolis in Athens with his brothers, in the Vatican during a private audience granted to his father by the Pope.  The Canadian photographer Peter Bregg accompanied Prime Minister Trudeau around the world and recalls that the Trudeaus did their best to shield their children from the media. Hired at nineteen by the Canadian Press in Ottawa, Bregg estimates he must have taken tens of thousands of photos of the prime minister, but very few of his children. He says the press kept a respectful distance from the Trudeau children. But exceptions were made when it came to the prime minister’s Christmas cards (the first of which showed Justin as an infant), special events, Canada Day, commemorative ceremonies, and official occasions of all sorts.  Not everyone gets to grow up at 24 Sussex Drive. Public life certainly has its ups and downs, and Justin recognizes he had a privileged childhood, although not a normal one. Few children are taken out of class to go meet the Queen of England.… The Conservative leader Joe Clark has said that his daughter Catherine and the Trudeau boys were practically brought up together and were subject to intense media attention. This led to an artificial environment “where the father’s perpetual vigilance could have been hard for a child to endure.”  Justin Trudeau seems to have adjusted well to the situation. His mother dreaded the overbearing presence of RCMP officers, but he didn’t mind the fact they were keeping tabs on the official residence twenty-four hours a day. As he confided in a 2009 interview to his former playmate Catherine Clark, host of the CPAC television show Beyond Politics: “We were raised with them always around. They were babysitters, uncles, aunts, drivers, friends; they used to play Frisbee with us; they were part of the environment in which we were raised. And I realize now, looking back, that they were also role-models for me.”   The first years at Sussex Drive were wonderful. Jack Deschambault served as chauffeur and drove the family everywhere. Sometimes Trudeau himself loaded the three boys into his Mercedes convertible and drove them to the prime minister’s retreat at Harrington Lake. Weekends in the country home were particularly enjoyable. “We were alone there, we went walking in the forest, it was a private place.”  Pierre Elliott Trudeau was not only adept at doing pirouettes: he was also a keen athlete. He initiated his children in karate and judo, and took them on canoe trips, ski excursions, and swimming. In the woods, he would imitate a mythical monster, the sasquatch, stomping playfully after the boys to frighten them.  Deep down, Trudeau was an adventurer who in his younger years had gone right around the world, getting himself into trouble and even being jailed for vagrancy. He taught his sons to take risks. One fine morning at Harrington Lake, the prime minister discovered Miche fooling around at the edge of his bedroom window on the second floor. “Please drop now, Miche. I’ll catch you.” His youngest son obliged, under the anxious gaze of the house guests.  At 24 Sussex Drive, life followed a regular routine. The prime minister would get home from the office at exactly 6:45 p.m. Once he had done his forty-four lengths (never more, never less, Margaret later wrote), his children were expected to be all set to join him in the pool or on the trampoline.  Contrary to popular conception, Trudeau kept office work and home life with his sons completely separate. According to his chauffeur Jack Deschambault, “he would get his foot in the door, set down his briefcase and the boys would jump in his arms. And off they went! Jumping into the pool or onto the trampoline!”  Margaret was getting restless, however. Much to her dismay, Pierre would plunge back into his papers once the boys had been tucked into bed. The young wife would later describe herself in Beyond Reason as being a “hippie without a cause.” She felt very much alone. She had developed a reputation at British Columbia’s Simon Fraser University as a left-leaning activist. Without any meaningful employment of her own, she struggled to find her own space in a public life that bored her and that she eventually would come to dread. In a newspaper interview in 1976, she clearly declared her independence and perhaps her dissatisfaction as well, when she said she wanted “to be more than a rose in my husband’s lapel.”  Margaret was a passionate flower child from Vancouver who hated society life and official protocol. She found the cocktail circuit suffocating, and would have preferred smoking a bit of grass and making her own clothes. She also made a few faux pas, for example, at an evening at the White House where she made a stunning appearance in a white dress that went down to her mid-calf, whereas protocol required her to wear a long dress. And on a state visit to Latin America, she didn’t understand why she was ridiculed for singing a song of her own invention in honour of Blanquita Pérez, wife of the Venezuelan president.  Margaret often felt isolated in her husband’s world, given his extremely demanding schedule and the way he could seem cold and distant. She found it infuriating that practically every evening he would go through “those damn brown boxes” of documents from the office until midnight.   As a young woman, Margaret valued her freedom, so when security measures were drastically tightened after the October Crisis broke out in 1970, she took it hard. She was with Pierre on Thanksgiving weekend when the phone rang in the middle of the night, plunging the country into a political crisis. Over the course of the phone call her husband learned that the Quebec provincial minister Pierre Laporte, who had been kidnapped by members of the Front de libération du Québec, was now dead. Pierre Elliott Trudeau had vowed never to negotiate with terrorists, but he had known Pierre Laporte personally and Margaret saw how devastated he was. She heard him sobbing.  From that evening onward, she couldn’t ride a bicycle along the Ottawa River without being accompanied by two RCMP officers. For the beautiful rebel, the bodyguards provided by the RCMP were no better than “prison guards.” Margaret soon managed to shake them off once and for all, but her children would remain under police protection.  Once the 1974 election campaign got underway, Pierre was persuaded to have Margaret at his side. She enjoyed crossing the country from coast to coast, often bringing little Sacha along, and becoming a celebrity in her own right. The public found this twenty-five-year-old woman delightful, and warmed to the anecdotes she shared about her family and young children and her life as a mother. She managed to humanize Pierre Elliott Trudeau, who was increasingly considered cold and arrogant. She definitely contributed to his election victory, but once the campaign was over she returned sadly to oblivion. She waited for a phone call, a word of thanks or congratulations, but in vain. It was at this point that she began to feel exploited, broken. Official protocol and never-ending ceremonies were now a nightmare for Margaret, and she fled them whenever she could. Her marriage suffered as a result.  One day, in a fit of anger, she tore down a piece of a Canadian quilt work hanging in the stairwell of the prime minister’s residence because it bore an embroidering of Pierre Trudeau’s personal motto, “Reason before passion.” She ripped the letters off the quilt one by one and threw them at the bottom of the stairs. Margaret would later write that her husband found this behaviour “inexcusable.”  The children sometimes witnessed their parents quarrelling, for example, when Pierre would criticize Margaret for what he considered her extravagant spending on clothes. There was no reconciliation in sight. In spring 1977, six-year-old Justin lived through the bewildering drama of his parents’ separation. Sacha was four and Michel just two. Pierre and Margaret decided to keep their children in the dark about what was really happening. “We told them I was going to look for work and I would come home as often as I could,” Margaret wrote in her second book, Consequences

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Sir John's Table

Sir John's Table

The Culinary Life and Times of Canada's First Prime Minister
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