Longing for a Suave Prime Minister

Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau taking the quickest route.

Did you know Barbra Streisand almost became Canada’s equivalent of the First Lady?

Back in January 1970, she made headlines by showing up at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa on Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s arm. The next day, her presence in Question Period caused a ruckus as reporters breathlessly followed her through the halls of Parliament. Even the parliamentarians got in on the spectacle. Progressive Conservative MP George Hees declared that he had a question for Trudeau, “if he can take his eyes and mind off the visitors’ gallery long enough to answer.”

On that visit, Streisand also made it out to Harrington Lake — the PM’s official country residence — but a planned snowmobile trip didn’t materialize because an overnight rain had made the snow slushy. So sad.

Reflecting on it all in a Playboy interview seven years later, Streisand noted, “He’s a wonderful leader and a very young-minded, spirited, hip figure who goes to parliament in sandals.” Yeah, that’s right; back then Canada’s leader was groovy!

Streisand wouldn’t reveal if Trudeau had actually proposed, but simply noted that “certain realities” prevented her from marrying him. She was definitely keen on the idea: “I thought it would be fantastic. I’d have to learn how to speak French. I would do only movies made in Canada. I had it all figured out. I would campaign for him and become totally politically involved in all the causes, abortion and whatever.”

When Trudeau’s relationship with Streisand didn’t pan out, he quickly landed on his feet, marrying 22-year-old “flower child” Margaret Sinclair. He’d met her on a beach in Tahiti 4 years earlier. What’s a 30-year age gap when you throw a bit of Trudeaumania into the mix?

That marriage famously flamed out — Margaret was spotted dancing at Studio 54 on the night Trudeau lost the 1979 election the Joe Clark — and in subsequent years Trudeau moved on to other women, including classical guitarist Liona Boyd, and actresses Kim Cattrall and Margot Kidder, who pegged the number of his lovers at 40.

Yes folks, at that point in time, the Prime Minister of Canada was a ladies man. When Maude Barlow was introduced by someone as Trudeau’s Women’s Affairs advisor, she couldn’t help herself, and clarified: “No, no, I’m his advisor on women’s issues. He looks after his affairs all by himself.”

Clearly, the man had charisma.

While on most days I find myself bemoaning the lack of substance in the political sphere — and am adamant that “I’d go for a beer with him” is not a reason to vote for someone — I do wish our leaders were more interesting. Sure, Trudeau was a bit of a playboy, born into wealth, who jetted down to New York periodically to hit the discos. And policy-wise, he has no shortage of detractors. But he’s also consistently regarded as one of Canada’s top PMs by both the public and the academics who assess these things. He was a smart, hard-working, tough politician with plenty of accomplishments to his name… who also happened to have some panache.

It’s hard to imagine a politician these days driving up to Parliament Hill in a Mercedes convertible, or having words like “panache” and “debonair” attributed to him or her. Those are typically un-Canadian characteristics, to be sure. Jack Layton had some of it — though his style was eco-chic, so he showed up on a bike instead of in a convertible. Bob Rae has a touch, but it looks like he’ll be exiting stage left pretty soon. Michael Ignatieff had some cool factor when he was hosting TV shows, but couldn’t seem to muster it up once he was a politician. Justin Trudeau has a bit of his father’s flare — and impressed in the boxing ring — but doesn’t seem to have his father’s intellect.

Stephen Harper? Well, he can play Beatles songs … and he likes cats! I guess it could be worse.

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Nicholas Klassen is a Vancouver-based writer, digital strategist and former senior editor at Adbusters magazine.