Just watch me
Trudeau, who had in previous years been a strong proponent of civil liberties, spoke of the need for drastic action to restore order in Quebec. When questioned by CBC reporter Tim Ralfe on how far he would go in the suspension of civil liberties to maintain order, Trudeau replied "Well, just watch me."
Three days later, he invoked the War Measures Act, which led to police action against many Quebec dissidents and great public controversy.
Just Watch Me: Trudeau and the '70s Generation is the title of a 1999 documentary by Catherine Annau. The phrase has also been the title of several biographies of Trudeau, e.g., Larry Zolf's Just Watch Me: Remembering Pierre Trudeau (1984); Ron Coleman's Just Watch Me: Trudeau's Tragic Legacy (2003); and the 2nd volume of John English's biography, Just Watch Me: The Life of Pierre Elliott Trudeau, 1968–2000 (2009).
In March 2013, Trudeau's son Justin, while running for the Liberal Party leadership, evoked his father's memory during his campaign by repeating this phrase. It was in answer to a fellow airplane passenger's question in a handwritten note, asking Justin if he could beat Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The comment sparked a frenzy on Twitter, as well as mixed reaction from several commentators, some of whom saw the quote as a politically sensitive and risky one in Quebec. Two years later, Justin Trudeau became Prime Minister of Canada, beating Harper in federal election by a significant margin.
Excerpt from interview
The following is a partial transcript of the impromptu interview between Tim Ralfe of the CBC and Trudeau.
Tim Ralfe: …what you're talking about to me is choices, and my choice is to live in a society that is free and democratic, which means that you don't have people with guns running around in it.
Pierre Trudeau: Correct.
Ralfe: And one of the things I have to give up for that choice is the fact that people like you may be kidnapped.
Trudeau: Sure, but this isn't my choice, obviously. You know, I think it is more important to get rid of those who are committing violence against the total society and those who are trying to run the government through a parallel power by establishing their authority by kidnapping and blackmail. And I think it is our duty as a government to protect government officials and important people in our society against being used as tools in this blackmail. Now, you don't agree to this but I am sure that once again with hindsight, you would probably have found it preferable if Mr. Cross and Mr. Laporte had been protected from kidnapping, which they weren't because these steps we're taking now weren't taken. But even with your hindsight I don't see how you can deny that.
Ralfe: No, I still go back to the choice that you have to make in the kind of society that you live in.
Trudeau: Yes, well there are a lot of bleeding hearts around who just don't like to see people with helmets and guns. All I can say is, go on and bleed, but it is more important to keep law and order in this society than to be worried about weak-kneed people who don't like the looks of a soldier's helmet.
Ralfe: At any cost? How far would you go with that? How far would you extend that?
Trudeau: Well, just watch me.
Ralfe: At reducing civil liberties? To that extent?
Trudeau: To what extent?
Ralfe: Well, if you extend this and you say, ok, you're going to do anything to protect them, does this include wire-tapping, reducing other civil liberties in some way?
Trudeau: Yes, I think the society must take every means at its disposal to defend itself against the emergence of a parallel power which defies the elected power in this country and I think that goes to any distance. So long as there is a power in here which is challenging the elected representative of the people I think that power must be stopped and I think it's only, I repeat, weak-kneed bleeding hearts who are afraid to take these measures.
- "Justin Trudeau writes 'Just watch me' when asked if he can beat Stephen Harper" (article). Yahoo News. Yahoo.
- "CBC Archives: Just Watch Me, 1970" (video). CBCtv. YouTube. (also at "Pierre Trudeau: just watch me" (video). CBC.)