“Walk in the snow”

When Pierre Trudeau announced his long-expected, inevitable, yet nonetheless surprising decision to retire as Prime Minister on February 29, 1984, he said he had made up his mind to resign during a contemplative walk in the snow through the empty streets of Ottawa the previous evening, in the midst of a fierce blizzard.

Collective nostalgia has obscured the recollection that Trudeau was often quite unpopular during different periods in office, including the long stretch from 1983 to 1984. Trudeau was perhaps, not so much taking a “walk in the snow” as he was indulging in the far older and more universal cliché of “reading the writing on the wall.”

Since then, Trudeau’s epiphany moment has been employed in reference to unpopular political leaders, as a euphemism for taking the hint and quitting ASAP. Many a pundit has counselled a long-in-the-tooth PM or Premier to take a “walk in the snow.” Not all do. Facing pressure to resign in February, 2002 Jean Chrétien (the longest serving PM since Trudeau) quipped that “I had a walk in the snow last night and I’m staying.” Rather than quit, Chrétien made significant changes to his cabinet – instead of a walk, a “shuffle in the snow.”

Image Source: Neil Baker, Geograph

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