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There is no back burner for hot broadcaster

March, 2010

Four years after leaving his position as anchor of the CBC’s suppertime news program in Montreal, Dennis Trudeau doesn’t consider himself retired.

The truth about Trudeau, who cuts a fine figure at 62, is that he’s been almost as busy since giving up the day-to-day pressure of being a chief newscaster.

He can be heard opining on international events, at 12:30pm daily on French station Corus Quebec’s Dutrizac Apres Midi.

He’s a columnist and feature writer for Montréal Centre Ville, a bilingual quarterly magazine published by Quebecor Media. Last month, he became a vice-president of Reporters Without Borders Canada, a global organization that raises awareness of press-freedom issues worldwide.

Before the closing of Corus’s AM 940 outlet in January, Trudeau did a seven-month stint as the station’s morning man.

“Private radio – you know how it is – and one morning it was over,” he says. “But I was very glad I did that because it was a good refresher for me.”

Another “retirement” gig for Trudeau is leading discussions and moderating events for corporate clients. He says there is a cultural difference between the public and private sectors.

“When you have clients and you supply them with what you’re contracted to supply, they’re happy and you’re happy.” He adds, laughing: “It’s not the same as the CBC.”

Trudeau was never Denis Trudeau. He was born in Ottawa to English-speaking parents and his mother’s maiden name was Dennis.

He traces his ancestry to the first Trudeaus who arrived in New France around 1659, but his family have been English speakers for generations.

“One Trudeau married an Irishwoman and the rest is history,” he says.

Though he spoke English growing up and attended English universities, Trudeau’s French is impeccable. “It’s 40 years of trying,” he says. “In life, if you don’t have the will, you never do it. It’s about being immersed – and living with a francophone doesn’t hurt either.”

Trudeau and his wife, Suzanne Jobin, a lawyer, live in a three-storey, 120-year-old heritage house in Outremont. “We found it on the way to a book launch by Robert Bourassa in 1985,” he says. If he has a complaint, though, it’s that their only child, Samuel, has grown up and left home.

Trudeau graduated from the University of Ottawa in 1968 with bachelor’s degree in political science and philosophy. He then took the one-year journalism diploma program at University of Western Ontario, graduating at the top of his class and voted “the journalist most likely to succeed.”

This last bit of information comes from longtime friend and fellow journalist Irwin Block, who remembers that Trudeau would read many newspapers every morning during his long career at CBC. Trudeau listed them: “All the Montreal papers, the Globe and Mail, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times.”

Says Block: “Dennis has always distinguished himself as a journalist who can take the most complex issue, through extensive research master it, and develop those elements that are of the greatest public interest. Add to that a voice that is made for radio and a certain charisma and you have our multi-media Trudeau.”

Starting in print journalism in the early 1970s, Trudeau worked for the Canadian Press, the Gazette and the Montreal Star. He joined CBC Radio in 1979 as host of the Quebec morning show Daybreak, then moved to Montreal’s Daybreak in 1981.

He gained prominence as host of Cross-Country Checkup and went on to co-host As It Happens. In 1987, he made the leap to TV, anchoring the CBC’s local 6pm news.

In the almost two decades Trudeau anchored the news, the CBC’s suppertime program consistently finished second in the ratings, after to CTV’s 6pm news, hosted at the time by Bill Haugland.

While he admits there was rivalry between the programs, Trudeau says: “I never felt a personal, individual rivalry with Bill. He’s a nice man and we got along well.”

Of all the things he covered as a TV journalist, from the free trade agreement and the Meech Lake Accord to the 1995 Quebec independence referendum and the 1989 École Polytechnique massacre, one event stands out.

During the Oka crisis in 1990, he read a report on air that a Sûreté du Québec officer had just been shot. At the same instant, a spotlight in the studio exploded loudly.

“I reacted like, ‘whoa’,” he says.

A video of the incident is on YouTube.



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