Keeping up with the Trudeaus

There seems to be much love lost since Justin Trudeau delivered the eulogy that served as his political coming-out party.

Forget that there was no “je t’aime, papa” in his victory speech Monday night. He never even mentioned his papa – or his mama.

But he did acknowledge Pierre Trudeau’s parenting skills with a promise to his three kids.

“I can tell you there will be difficult moments as the children of the prime minister,” he said in French, “but dad will be there for you.”

Sounds like his dad was mostly MIA when Justin was in his playpen at 24 Sussex.

When he was not yet three, during the spring and summer of 1974, I probably saw more of Pierre and Margaret Trudeau than their kids did. As a reporter for UPI, I certainly witnessed the prime minister and his child bride at their worst and weirdest.

I first caught up with them during Trudeau’s campaign against the underwear baron, Bob Stanfield.

They were in some small-town hockey arena in B.C, where Margaret was pushed on stage to do her best Nellie Forbush imitation: I’m in love, I’m in love, I’m in love, I’m in love, I’m in love with a wonderful guy.

It played as equal parts sweet and sickening, this 25-year-old standing at the podium, asking people to vote for the geezer she married.

There were reprises across the country. Audiences lapped it up. Trudeau won re-election on July 8th.

The next time I saw the couple together was a month later, during a state visit by King Hussein of Jordan.

The king had flown his royal jetliner to the annual air show in Abbotsford, B.C., where he and his third wife, Queen Alia, hooked up with the Trudeaus.

That evening, I sat in the bar of the Hotel Vancouver with the rest of the press corps while the middle-aged monarch and his young wife, and the middle-aged PM and his young wife, were upstairs in a suite. They could have been entertaining the Manson Family for all I cared.

I was taking too much pleasure watching that scumbag Richard Nixon resign on the TV in the bar.

Soon after, I transferred from Vancouver to UPI’s Canadian headquarters in Montreal.

I was in the office that September when one of our reporters in Ottawa called with a tip that Margaret was in the psychiatric wing of the Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal, and that her husband was on his way to visit her

By this time, I had covered Trudeau often enough that he recognized me.

So, when he arrived at the hospital with a two-man security detail – they stayed in the car – he knew the one guy waiting for him was a reporter.

“What are you doing here?” he snapped.

“How’s your wife doing?” I responded.

“And how would that be your business?”

I tried to make the case for the public’s right to know. He countered with his best harrumphs and shrugs of dismissal. I followed him into the lobby, to the elevator doors.

“Fuck off,” the prime minister of Canada said.

My comeback was to call the desk and file a bulletin advisory on the UPI wire that Trudeau was at the hospital. That brought a small army of reporters and camera crews to the Royal Vic.

Trudeau kept us waiting for two hours before – surprise – emerging with Margaret.

They took a little stroll. We trooped after them. Then he surprised us again.

He guided Margaret to a scenic spot, a lovely backdrop of just-turning leaves on a late summer day, and nodded to his wife, indicating she was ready to take questions.

How are you feeling? a radio reporter asked.

“I’ve been in the hospital for the past 10 days,” she said in nearly a whisper, “under psychiatric care for severe emotional stress.”

What do you ask next: How nuts are you?

She looked very pale and seriously stoned. The prime minister had handed us a sedated and wounded kitten. Any question we’d ask would carry the stench of blood dripping from the mouth of a jackal.

“Thank you all for your concern and I hope you’ll leave me alone for a while,” she concluded.

We did – for a few years anyway, until she went on the lam after a tryst in Toronto with the Rolling Stones.

By then, in 1977, I too was in The Big Smoke, working for the Sun, the Tory tabloid with a rabid hate for Trudeau.

Another young reporter and I were called into the boardroom, where all the paper’s top editors were assembled.

“We’d like you two to go to New York,” said one.

“To find Maggie Trudeau,” said another.

“To get the real story on why she’s run away from Pierre,” said a third.

The real story, we were told, was Margaret bolted because her husband wanted her to join him in a gay and lesbian sex orgy at 24 Sussex.

These guys were nuttier than she was.

“Don’t worry,” I told my colleague after the meeting, “we’ll go to New York, check into The Plaza, order room service, interview a few doormen and bartenders, and come home in a couple of days.”

And that’s what we did.


A longer, more detailed account of this and many more stories are told in my book: The Expat Files: My Life in Journalism.


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