Pierre Trudeau's Just Society: Bold Aspirations Meet Realities of Governing

Chestney, Jason Michael
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Faculty of Graduate Studies and Research, University of Regina

This thesis considers Pierre Trudeau’s first term as prime minister from 1968 to 1972 to determine his success in delivering on his key promise of a Just Society made during the 1968 electoral campaign. Trudeau had promised that his government would remove all social and economic barriers to allow the full participation of all citizens to enjoy all of the democratic, social, and economic benefits Canada had to offer. It investigates why, in the span of less than four years, the central message embodied in Trudeau’s 1968 electoral platform largely disappeared from his government’s agenda. This thesis contends that the Just Society fell victim to a variety of factors, notably the realities of governing which require a bureaucratic and pragmatic approach rather than an idealistic one, opposition from significant segments of the Canadian public, and the difficulty inherent in the political system of implementing idealistic reforms within a four-year election cycle. As prime minister, Trudeau found that his lofty and laudable ‒ and inherently ambitious and idealistic ‒ plans to remake Canada became a casualty to a pragmatic policy-making process that required him to deal with the realities of governing a large, diversified, and often divided, country that Canada was. The Just Society’s disappearance from the Liberal Government’s agenda and rhetoric also parallels the drop in the popular enthusiasm for Trudeau himself, or the “Trudeaumania” euphoria, that had marked Trudeau’s entry into prime ministerial politics. The notions of a Just Society and Trudeau were closely connected, it is argued here, and the Canadian public had high expectations in 1968, largely because of his ambitious promise of the Just Society. Many voters were disappointed when he failed to deliver on his promise. Through exploring the failure around his promise of a Just Society, this thesis offers a new interpretation of Trudeau, the challenges around the ambitious promises he made about a Just Society, and the realities of governing a modern, diverse and regionalized democracy. By 1972 the idea of a Just Society had largely disappeared from Trudeau’s, and the Liberal party’s, political discourse.

A Thesis Submitted to the Faculty of Graduate Studies and Research In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts in History, University of Regina. iv, 51 p.