However he may be remembered in the history books, we radical youth of the 60s had no romantic delusions about Pierre Elliott Trudeau. He refused to stick his neck out over the American carpet bombing of Southeast Asia, and he used the FLQ crisis to suspend civil liberties and jail his opponents.
But when I finally met him, he was not at all what I expected.
I was barely 20, toiling for an obscure left-wing group that occasionally sent me to heckle some enemy of the people or other.
One day, about a dozen of us were sent out to Oakville to give Trudeau a rough reception in a shopping mall where he was to appear.
A few weeks earlier, Trudeau had turned to a group of workers picketing Parliament and told them, "Mange de la merde." These were "les gars de Lapalme," more than 600 former employees of a private contractor who had delivered the mail in Montreal.
The work belonged in the public sector, of course, but the Lapalme drivers were long-time employees who'd been abruptly canned, by cabinet decision -- with Trudeau's approval. The remark incensed Quebecers, and the FLQ made the Lapalme workers a key issue in their famous manifesto.
Sharp suit So there we were at the Oakville mall, waiting for the PM to show up. Suddenly, there he was, walking casually into the mall. Sharp suit, red rose, the whole bit.
I filled my lungs, stepped forward and yelled, "Hey, Trudeau, you told the Lapalme drivers to eat shit, and that's what we're here to tell you!"
He turned his head, looked right into my eyes, smiled sweetly and said, "I love you." It was incredible.
He said it over and over. I was thinking to myself, "Boy, this must seem weird to all these shoppers."
Within seconds, I had a lot of company. One huge guy grabbed my right arm and another grabbed my left. But no strangeness, or humour, on the part of my adversary would deter me from my important duty. "You told the Lapalme drivers to eat shit, and that's what we're here to tell you," I bellowed over and over.
"I love you, I love you," repeated Trudeau.
Later, our work done, I spotted a black limo making a wide sweep across the parking lot. It headed toward us, then slowed and pulled up close. The rear window buzzed open, and there was Trudeau! He was grinning from ear to ear. I spun around and pointed at him yelling, "Hey, it's Trudeau!"
He reached out the window, grabbed my fingertip and gave it a little tug. Then another tug. I gasped, speechless. He laughed again. The window shot up and the limo screeched away.
Really weird We stood there looking at each other. "That was weird."
"Yup, really weird."
"He fired all those guys, right? And then told them to eat shit!"
"Yup, no doubt about it, that's what he did. Threw them out on the street and told them to eat shit."
"Wow, and he seems like such a fun guy!"
As the limo pulled away, I told myself we'd certainly helped him enjoy his afternoon at the mall.
Rob Fairley is a consultant to unions and social change groups