It was a small incident, close to the end of Pierre Elliot Trudeau's nearly 16 years as prime minister of Canada.

The year was 1984. The leaders of the Group of Seven industrial nations were in London for a summit. President Reagan had engineered a "photo op" to show off a model of the space station to his colleagues. Five leaders dutifully gathered around as cameras flashed. Mr. Trudeau floated some yards away, apparently uncomfortable with the corny politicking.

In a way, this sort of self-isolation and self-definition symbolized his approach to Canada. He fostered an economic and cultural nationalism that demonstrably showed independence from the US. He embraced Fidel Castro in a visit to Cuba in 1976. He tried to limit American investment in Canada. He recognized Red China long before President Nixon went to Beijing. He led campaigns for world peace and nuclear disarmament.

In fact, he often annoyed US officials. Yet, then as now, it remains useful for the US to have a friend that will sometimes challenge Washington.

Trudeau, who passed on last week, was a national hero to most Canadians. He was beloved for his entertaining flamboyance, prized for his intellectual prowess and wit, appreciated for his political achievements.

A French-Canadian, he defended Canada's unity against rising Quebec separatism. At the same time, he strove to make all of Canada language-friendly to both Francophones and Anglophones. He managed the process that removed a remaining vestige of colonialism by repatriating Canada's Constitution from Britain's Parliament. And he added a Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Trudeau's courage and savvy ranks him as a great leader in reshaping Canada for itself and for the world.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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