Justin Trudeau

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Date: 2016
From: Newsmakers
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Biography
Length: 2,036 words
Content Level: (Level 4)
Lexile Measure: 1170L

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About this Person
Born: December 25, 1971 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Nationality: Canadian
Occupation: Prime minister
Other Names: Trudeau, Justin Pierre James

Political newcomer Justin Trudeau led the Liberal Party of Canada to a resounding victory in the 2015 general election. The charismatic ex-high school teacher is the son of former Canadian prime minister Pierre Trudeau, who held power from 1968 to 1984 and is remembered as one of the nation's most admired politicians. "What I learned from my father," the younger Trudeau said during his campaign, according to Maclean's, "is that to lead this country, you need to love this country, love it more than you crave power."

Trudeau's elevation to Liberal Party leadership in 2013 and ascension two years later as the 23rd prime minister of Canada marked the first time in the nation's history that a second-generation politician was installed in the same office as his or her parent. Even Trudeau's birth on December 25, 1971, prompted headlines around the world, for it was only the second time that an infant was born into the family of a sitting prime minister; the previous one had been 102 years earlier. Pierre Elliott Trudeau had come to office in 1968 after rising through Liberal Party ranks. He was a lively, eloquent, and progressive political figure who broke so abruptly with the sober, insular traditions of previous Canadian leaders that pundits used the term Trudeau-mania to describe his popularity. Writing in the Atlantic, Stuart A. Reid recalled Trudeau's father as "cerebral ... yet dashing and spontaneous. Photographers caught him sliding down a banister, and performing a pirouette behind Queen Elizabeth's back. He dated Barbra Streisand at one point. He was known to wear a cape."

Endured Tabloid-Chronicled Family Turmoil

The marriage of Trudeau's parents had likewise ignited a minor media firestorm after details emerged following the small, private ceremony on March 4, 1971, in Vancouver, British Columbia, the home turf of his mother Margaret Sinclair, whose father had served in Canada's House of Commons and was at one point the minister of fisheries and oceans in a previous Liberal government. There was a 29-year age gap between the husband and wife, and their marriage began to unravel after the birth of Trudeau's youngest brother Michel in 1975. Trudeau, his next-younger brother Alexandre (Sacha), and Michel experienced a jet-setting, high-profile childhood during their father's years in office, which ended after a second stint as prime minister from 1980 to 1984. The Trudeaus had formally separated in 1977, a period that included paparazzi images of their mother decamping briefly with the Rolling Stones during a tour and dancing at legendary Manhattan discotheque Studio 54. The Trudeau sons lived most of the week with their father in Ottawa, the federal capital, and spent weekends with their mother. After Pierre Trudeau stepped down as prime minister in 1984 he settled in his Montreal birthplace, where all three sons were enrolled at the same academically rigorous private school their father had attended, the Collège Jean-de-Brébeuf.

Trudeau's mother was later diagnosed with bipolar disorder, a condition she recounted in the pages of her third volume of memoirs, Changing My Mind. She and Trudeau's father divorced in 1984, and she next married an Ottawa property developer, with whom she had two more children. Trudeau and his brothers remained close to both parents but relished the long hours spent camping, canoeing, and snow-trekking with their father. Even after his father left office Trudeau and his brothers sought to lead quiet lives out of the public spotlight. After graduating from Collège Jean-de-Brébeuf Trudeau majored in French and English literature at Montreal's McGill University then made a globe-circling backpacking trip with friends after earning his degree.

Delivered Tearful Farewell

Settling in the Vancouver area of his mother's family, Trudeau worked for a time as a nightclub bouncer and snowboarding instructor in the winter-sports resort towns of scenic British Columbia. At the suggestion of his aunt he returned to school to earn a second undergraduate degree, a bachelor of education, from the University of British Columbia. He worked as a substitute teacher before joining the faculty of a private school, West Point Grey Academy, where he taught French, math, drama, and creative writing. This period of his life was a particularly difficult one: In November of 1998, while backcountry skiing, his brother Michel, age 23, died in an avalanche, which swept him into Kokanee Lake, British Columbia where he drowned. Trudeau's parents were devastated, and his father's health declined precipitously following the tragedy. The 80-year-old ex-prime minister died in late September of 2000, and public memorial services triggered an outpouring of fond remembrances of the Trudeau-mania era and the achievements of Trudeau's father, whose legacy included staunching a Quebec separatist movement by turning Canada into an officially bilingual nation then securing one of the world's broadest, most egalitarian legal guarantees, Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

On October 3, 2000, Trudeau delivered a heartfelt eulogy at his father's funeral, which media pundits described as the first event of his future political career. Thanking Canadians for their expressions of sympathy, he recalled memories of life with his father and the ways in which he and his brothers were made to understand the seriousness of their home address at 24 Sussex, the Ottawa residence that is the official prime minister's residence. "We knew we were the luckiest kids in the world, and that we had done nothing to actually deserve it," he reflected, according to the Toronto Globe & Mail. He also touched upon the lessons of respect and tolerance his father instilled in the boys, who grew up exposed to political debate and partisan rivalries. In closing Trudeau spoke of his father's "deep love for and faith in all Canadians and over the past few days, with every card, every rose, every tear, every wave and every pirouette, you returned his love."

Trudeau entered the political arena cautiously, recalling how searing the spotlight had been for his mother when she was still a young woman. A few months after his father's funeral he acceded to an interview with the Globe & Mail in which he expressed some rue over the speech, which triggered massive requests from viewers of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation for replays in the pre-YouTube era. "I wanted to try and give everyone ... a bit of closure and give them one last good cry," Trudeau explained to Globe & Mail reporter Robert Matas, adding, "people talk about the eulogy and they talk about me. But it was about my father. I've turned into some sort of celebrity. But I'm not." In the same article he also stated that he had no immediate plans to run for office, although he remained a staunch Liberal Party supporter. "I don't think I'm ready for politics and I don't think politics is ready for me," he told Matas.

Elected Liberal Party Chief

In 2002 Trudeau returned to Quebec province to enroll in an engineering program at the École Polytechnique de Montréal/University of Montreal, and in 2005, Trudeau married television presenter Sophie Grégoire, a Montrealer who had been in the same class as Trudeau's youngest brother Michel in the 1980s. The two met at a charity event in 2003 and welcomed their first child, son Xavier, in 2007, who was followed by daughter Ella-Grace 16 months later. The couple made their home in Montreal, and in 2007 Trudeau won a primary race to become the Liberal Party candidate for Papineau, a Montreal riding, as electoral districts are called in Canada. His campaign attracted enormous media attention, with pundits deigning him a potential future party leader, and he won the seat in Canada's House of Commons on October 14, 2008, by a slim margin of fewer than 1,200 votes, beating out a Bloc Québécois candidate in the densely populated urban riding. He won a more sizable share of the vote in his 2011 election, which also returned Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party to power in Ottawa, the seat of government.

The 2011 general election marked a shift inside the Liberal Party, which had lost a dramatic number of seats to Harper's party and to a rising threat on the left, the New Democratic Party. Urged to step forward and run for the party leadership--a call his father had heeded back in 1968, also in a climate of internal party duress--Trudeau acquiesced and found himself sporting the signature Liberal Party red colors on April 14, 2013, and promising to restore voter confidence in the center-left major party.

Harper's government was beset by a number of scandals, including a multifront federal investigation into financial misdeeds that targeted three Conservative Party senators who had been appointed to the upper house by Harper. After nearly nine years in power, Harper resisted calls to resign and instead asked Canada's governor-general--the head of state in the Commonwealth nation--to issue writs of election for October 19, 2015. Trudeau and the Liberals had been working assiduously for this moment and had a solid list of candidates available to challenge New Left-friendly ridings in Ontario and ultra-liberal British Columbia, plus engaging choices in the Canadian Plains provinces of Alberta, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan, which had emerged as prosperous, energy-sector Conservative strongholds in the 1980s and '90s. Just days after the writs were issued, Trudeau participated in the first national debate for major-party candidates. He chided the incumbent prime minister Harper who, he asserted, "has consistently chosen to give opportunities and tax breaks and benefits to the wealthiest Canadians in the hopes that that would create growth," Trudeau said, according to Maclean's. "But that's not happening. And that actually goes to the heart of the question that's being posed in this election campaign: is Stephen Harper's plan working for you?"

Reignited Trudeau-Mania

Trudeau and the Liberal Party polled historic numbers on the October 19, 2015, making the largest-ever regain of seats in parliament in Canadian electoral history: The Liberals went from 36 seats out of 308 to 184, tallying a staggering 148 new legislators to support the progressive agenda Trudeau had promised during his campaign. The planks of his platform included electoral reform that would end a sitting government's executive power to appoint senators, who are not directly elected. Trudeau was sworn into office on November 4, 2015, along with a new 30-member cabinet. Half of his appointees were women, and Trudeau also earned praise from First Nations and other groups for installing a notably multicultural lineup of government ministers, including Harjit Sajjan, a Vancouver police detective and decorated veteran of the Afghanistan War who is a Sikh-Canadian.

Trudeau and his wife had a third child, son Hadrien, in 2014. The family does not live in Trudeau's onetime childhood home at 24 Sussex Drive, which as of early 2016 was undergoing renovations, but instead in Rideau Cottage in Ottawa, a small residence that is near Rideau Hall, where Canada's governor-general David Johnston lives. Trudeau is a blunt advocate on a number of progressive issues, including LGBT rights, decriminalization of marijuana, and maintaining Canada's generous social-welfare net. Like his late father, he readily summoned eloquent words about Canadians' singular national character and deeply entrenched collective spirit. "Maybe it's because our winters are so long, or the spaces between the communities so big," he told Reid in the Atlantic, "that we had to learn to count on the benevolence of strangers."


Born Justin Pierre James Trudeau, December 25, 1971, in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada; son of Pierre Trudeau (a politician) and Margaret Sinclair (a mental health advocate); married Sophie Grégoire (a television host), May 28, 2005; children: Xavier, Ella-Grace, Hadrian. Education: McGill University, B.A., 1994; University of British Columbia, B.Ed., 1998; enrolled in engineering program at the École Polytechnique de Montréal/University of Montreal, 2002-04; attended McGill University for a master's degree in environmental geography, c. 2005-06. Addresses: Home--Rideau Cottage, 1 Sussex Dr., Ottawa, ON K1A 0A1, Canada. Office--Office of the Prime Minister, 80 Wellington St., Ottawa, ON K1A 0A2. Web site--http://pm.gc.ca/eng.


Worked as a nightclub bouncer and snowboarding instructor, before 1998; middle-grade and high-school teacher, West Point Grey Academy, 1999-2002; involved with the social-advocacy group Katimavik and the Canadian Avalanche Foundation; elected to the Canadian House of Commons as a Liberal Party candidate representing Papineau (Quebec), 2008, 2011, 2015; elected leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, 2013; became prime minister of Canada, 2015.


  • Atlantic, May 2015.
  • Globe & Mail (Toronto, Canada), November 16, 1998; October 3, 2000; October 4, 2000; February 3, 2001.
  • Maclean's, November 2, 2015.
  • New York Times, April 17, 2013; December 5, 2015.
  • Vogue, January 2016.


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Gale Document Number: GALE|K1618006447