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Trudeau’s Last Stand

Cool intelligence.

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Pierre Trudeau laughed quite a lot during his last television interview, with Hana Gartner. She mentioned to him that he was now, in the Canadian popular perception, right at the top, ranking just ahead of Mother Teresa. His dry comment was that “when I was in politics, I certainly would not have been more popular than her. That’s because in politics you have to make the tough decisions.” The F.B.I. acknowledges it spied on him for over 30 years, which must stand as an endorsement of the first order. And all those famous sound bites: “government does not belong in the bedrooms of the nation”; “just watch me”; or, from his remarks at the Proclamation Ceremony for the Canadian Constitution, April 17, 1982, “The Canadian ideal upon which we have tried to live, with varying degrees of success and failure for a hundred years, is really an act of defiance against the history of mankind. Had this country been founded upon a less noble vision, or had our forefathers surrendered to the difficulties of building this nation, Canada would have been torn apart long ago.”

Trudeau was always one for reason over passion, while knowing it is something of a shell game, given how difficult imbedded attitudes can be, and how these attitudes are then fed by passion. One aspect of his legacy is what Canada will come to know as the Trudeau Foundation. It fulfills one of his mandates: to proudly nurture the unique, if still young, cultural identity of this country. Again in his own words, “We peer so suspiciously at each other that we cannot see that we Canadians are standing on a mountaintop of human wealth, freedom and privilege.” That this man wanted to further the Canadian identity through education and reasoned debate and self-awareness, is why the Foundation exists, and why he has never been more popular than now.

In a punchy article written for the first issue of Cité Libre in 1950, Pierre Elliott Trudeau struck the iconoclastic tone that would later mark his public career. He egged on his compatriots in the smug society of mid-century Canada: “Let’s batter down the totems, let’s break the taboos. Better yet, let’s consider them null and void. Let us be coolly intelligent.” Half a century later, Trudeau’s vision of a passionate yet rational public discourse finds expression in the work of the Foundation created to honour his memory.

Like its namesake, the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation is unique. Interdisciplinary, intergenerational, and international, the Trudeau Foundation promotes dialogue between outstanding scholars in the social sciences and humanities, and creative individuals with an interest in issues of public policy in government, the professions, business, the arts, and the voluntary sector. The Foundation’s goal is to generate and enhance public debate on society’s most pressing issues and to provide citizens of Canada and the world with a deeper experience of democracy. Entirely non-partisan, the Foundation strives to give voice to diverse, often conflicting, perspectives.

Endowed in 2002 with an initial grant of $125 million from the Government of Canada, the Foundation is governed by a distinguished independent and pan-Canadian Board of Directors. The Foundation will soon solicit contributions from the private sector.

The programmes of the Trudeau Foundation focus on four themes that shaped the life and career of Pierre Trudeau: human rights and social justice, responsible citizenship, Canada and the world, and humans and their natural environment. These themes are explored in domestic and international contexts.

A Trudeau Network: Fellows, Scholars and Mentors

The Foundation identifies and supports creative individuals who want to make a difference to the communities in which they live, and enables them to participate in the debates that will shape our collective future. Three intersecting programmes single out Fellows, Scholars and Mentors who have the ability to influence change in Canadian and world society.

The Trudeau Fellows Programme seeks out the finest thinkers in a range of disciplines in the humanities and social sciences, naming up to five Fellows each year. Fellows are nominated through a confidential process that draws upon the ideas of hundreds of distinguished Canadians from many walks of life. No one can apply to be a Trudeau Fellow. Fellows receive a prize of $150,000 paid over three years, plus additional funds for research and work-related travel. Trudeau Fellowships recognize outstanding achievement, measured against the highest international standards, and encourage Fellows to continue to make extraordinary contributions in their fields.

Trudeau Scholars are outstanding doctoral students pursuing research of compelling concern, touching upon one or more of the four themes of the Foundation. They promise to become leading national and international figures. The Foundation grants up to 15 new scholarships every year.

Universities across Canada and around the world nominate potential Trudeau Scholars. Priority is given to students studying in Canada, but exceptionally awards are made to Canadians studying abroad. Up to one quarter of the Trudeau Scholars may be foreign students studying in Canada. Trudeau Scholars are expected to demonstrate academic achievement at the level of the most competitive scholarship programmes worldwide, such as the Rhodes, Commonwealth or Fulbright awards. They must also possess an outstanding ability to engage in lively exchange with other researchers and scholars, and a desire to contribute to public debates.

The first Trudeau Scholars are an exciting group. Drawn from eight Canadian and two foreign universities, they are researching issues as diverse as linguistic politics in indigenous communities in Latin America, nuclear fuel waste management, oceans policy in Southeast Asia, the effect of mining operations on indigenous communities, legal constructions of gender in the Islamic world, and the foundations of moral responsibility in the corporate sector.

Scholars can hold their Trudeau awards for up to four years, and the students receive $35,000 per year. What makes the awards truly unique is that they also include an additional $15,000 per year to facilitate research-related travel and to ensure that Trudeau Scholars spend part of their years of study outside their home province, in Canada or abroad. Canadian students are surprisingly tied to their provinces of origin. Most students, even at the graduate level, do not venture far from home. One of the goals of the Trudeau Scholars programme is to encourage greater mobility for the best Canadian students, providing them with a wider perspective and broader experience.

The ambition of broadening the graduate school experience is also advanced by the third element of the Trudeau Foundation, the Trudeau Mentors Programme. Trudeau Mentors are outstanding professionals who pursue policy analysis and implementation in their daily work. The goal is to link these creative people with exceptional researchers and scholars. Up to twelve professionals working in Canada or abroad are appointed Trudeau Mentors each year. They continue working in their various occupations, but are connected to the network of Trudeau Fellows and Scholars, and are assigned to work with specific Scholars.

“My experience as a volunteer in Malawi, Central Africa, when I was 18, gave me a dramatic introduction to the plight of refugees. Subsequent work with the UN’s refugee agency, in India, Cameroon and Guinea, has deepened my commitment to the refugee issue. I chose this area of study to help find new ways of ensuring the protection of refugees, not only in Africa, but around the world. Receiving the Trudeau Scholarship was not only a tremendous affirmation of what I am trying to do—like a way of saying that refugees do matter—but has also made me feel closer to Canada’s long and proud humanitarian tradition.”—James Milner

Trudeau Mentorships recognize outstanding creativity in policy analysis and implementation in government, business, the voluntary sector, the professions or the arts, matched with a strong ability to engage in lively exchange with other professionals, researchers and scholars. Like Trudeau Fellows, the mentors are selected through a confidential nominating process that draws on the wisdom of hundreds of Canadians who propose exciting candidates to the Foundation.

Building Hope and Faith in the Future

Pierre Trudeau believed that a mature and confident Canada could make outstanding contributions to the wider world. The Trudeau Foundation is dedicated to the proposition that Canadians have much to offer to each other and to world society. We need to learn together and to celebrate the accomplishments of our gifted citizens and residents. We also need to reach out to include in our debates the perspectives of outstanding thinkers from outside Canada. Just as a country is built every day through the construction of basic shared values, global society is built through the constant negotiation of diverse values.

Over the next few years, the Trudeau Foundation will build up its network of distinguished Canadians of all ages. It will draw in creative minds from around the globe. But the true aim is to turn this network inside out, so that the ideas it generates are not only shared with Canadians, but actually generated through discussions with a much wider network of engaged citizens.

Pierre Trudeau knew that the life of the mind is best fed by strong engagement with life in the community. He made himself a student of the world, as an academic in Montreal, Boston, Paris and London, as an outdoorsman and “child of nature”, and as a public intellectual, journalist and activist. He applied learning and reason to everything—from canoe tripping to constitution building. He was a man of reason who exuded deep passion. In public life, that reason and passion were directed to building up an informed and responsible citizenry: “[E]ach of us must do all in our power to extend to all persons an equal measure of human dignity—to ensure through our efforts that hope and faith in the future are not reserved for a minority of the world’s population, but are available to all.”

By celebrating accomplished and creative individuals who are willing to batter down the totems, the Trudeau Foundation challenges all Canadians to contribute to the cool—but passionate—intelligence that can build hope and faith in the future.


Post Date:

Nov 1, 2003
Bentley