The Last Act: Pierre Trudeau, the Gang of Eight, and the Fight for Canada
The History of Canada
Between the morning of Wednesday, November 4, and the morning of Thursday, November 5, 1981, a fateful drama unfolded that changed Canada forever.
In one last attempt to renew the constitution with the consent of the provinces, Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau met behind closed doors in Ottawa with the ten premiers. It was the culmination of more than five decades of constitutional wrangling, and has been called the most important conference since the Fathers of Confederation got together in Quebec City in 1864. Faced with the threat of Quebec independence, the ambitions of Western Canada, and the provinces’ demands for more power, Trudeau was embattled. But he was fiercely determined to make Canadians fully independent and to entrench a Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
What happened that day still reverberates. It severed the last important link to Canada’s colonial past. It guaranteed individual liberty and minority rights in the future. It weakened the grip of the elites and gave ownership of the constitution to Canadians. But it came at a price.
Quebec alone refused to sign the final deal. René Lévesque, its separatist premier, claimed he had been betrayed by his allies in the Gang of Eight. The legend of the "Night of the Long Knives" took hold, precipitating a series of events that came close to destroying the country.
Thirty years later, author Ron Graham delivers a gripping account of the fractious debates and secret negotiations. He uses newly uncovered documents and the candid recollections of many of the key participants to create a vivid record of that momentous twenty-four hours. Authoritative and engaging, The Last Act is a remarkable combination of scholarly research and historical narrative.
Alberta also stepped forward to take Quebec ’s side in combating Ottawa. Politics has seldom seen stranger bedfellows than the stiff conservative from Calgary and the slovenly social democrat from the Gaspé. Circumstances made them as tight as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. They had a common enemy in Pierre Trudeau and the federal government. They respected each other’s courage and needed each other’s strength. . . . Lougheed was Lévesque’s sole line of communication to the Gang of Eight and the one premier he trusted to be with him to the very end. Calling him “the most remarkable man on the prairies in his time,” Lévesque concluded that the Albertan was “so passionately concerned about sovereignty in his own way that, even though opposing us, he can understand our position.”
“Likeable isn’t the right word,” Lougheed said of the Quebec premier. “He was shrewd, affable, and naturally friendly. He saw me as an ally, and we worked closely together to stop Trudeau’s unilateral action. But dealing with a separatist who had just tried to take Quebec out of Canada was always front and centre in my mind, and it made me uneasy about where we were at and where we would end up.”
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