A term for the spontaneous, pro-Pierre Trudeau enthusiasm that gripped the Canadian electorate in the 1968 election campaign that propelled the Liberals to a majority government.
Trudeau had emerged as the surprise fourth-ballot victor at the Liberal Party leadership convention to replace sitting Prime Minister Lester Pearson.
Everything about the 48 year-old Montrealer set him apart from politicians of the day: he was a cosmopolitan, effortlessly bilingual, sandal and ascot-wearing bachelor whose insouciant and somewhat racy wit and penchant for stunts such as sliding down banisters and summersaulting off diving boards commanded attention. Canadians – especially women and young Canadians – fell headlong in love.
Timing was a key factor in Trudeaumania. Canadians had grown weary of the decade-long political standoff between septuagenerians Pearson and PC Leader John Diefenbaker (the latter having just been replaced as leader by the stolid Robert Stanfield). Expo 67 had injected the country with new confidence and energy. The 1960s youth revolution was reaching its high point. And change and upheaval – often stark and deeply unsettling, from the King and Kennedy assassinations and race riots in the US, to the student revolts in France, to the “Prague Spring” (and its suppression) in the Soviet block – were the order of the day internationally. Canadians were primed to fall in love with something – or someone – different – and they did.
The media quickly put a stamp on the phenomenon, and the term “Trudeaumania” was born, inspired by the coining of “Beatlemania” when the Fab Four took North America by storm four years earlier. Media also saw Trudeau as a kind of “Canadian JFK” – who similarly combined glamour, erudition and generational change in the 1960 US Presidential election.
Like any passionate affair, Trudeaumania was too torrid to last. Indeed, all it took was one full term in office before Trudeau lost his majority and barely eked through with a 2-seat plurality after a desultory re-election campaign in 1972 (see The Land Is Strong).
Canadians would give Trudeau two more majority governments, in 1974 and 1980 (along with an outright defeat in 1979), making him one of the country’s most electorally successful and long-serving Prime Ministers. By this time he was, in many ways, a polarizing leader; the teenage girls had stopped screaming at his rallies and the media had stopped gushing at his every quip.
But the hold of 1968’s Trudeaumania on the public and political imaginations remains strong. Its rosy, nostalgic hue colours memories of Trudeau’s entire long period in office. When baby boomers recall Trudeaumania, they are remembering their own youth.
Many would argue that memories of Trudeaumania played no small part in the political success of Canada’s second Prime Minister Trudeau: Pierre’s son Justin.
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