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Chrétien visits Trudeau tomb with ex-German leader Schmidt

Former prime minister Jean Chretien and former German chancellor Helmut Schmidt lay a wreath at the gravesite of former prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau in Saint-Remi, Que., on June 1, 2011.

Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press

Pierre Elliott Trudeau received a visit Wednesday from a few old friends - including two former world leaders.

Several prominent people made a pilgrimage to the late prime minister's tomb, including ex-prime minister Jean Chrétien and onetime West German chancellor Helmut Schmidt.

The visitors arrived Wednesday afternoon at the limestone mausoleum, with the 92-year-old Mr. Schmidt being pushed along in a wheelchair.

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Mr. Schmidt, a contemporary of Mr. Trudeau's who led West Germany from 1974 to 1982, asked to be taken to the site, Mr. Chrétien said. Canada joined what is today known as the G8 when those two were in office.

"There was a lot of respect between the two of them," Mr. Chrétien said, adding that Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Schmidt were good friends.

"They were both intellectuals."

A wreath was laid at the tomb before the 15-minute visit. At one point, the former German leader placed his hand over his heart and held it there briefly.

Tom Axworthy, Mr. Trudeau's former principal secretary, explained to Mr. Schmidt that the small town of St-Remi on Montreal's south shore was the traditional family home of the Trudeaus.

The longtime prime minister died in Montreal on Sept. 28, 2000, and it was his wish to be buried with his family. The mausoleum houses 13 family members, including Mr. Trudeau's parents and grandparents.

The visitors arrived Wednesday after attending a conference in Quebec City, the InterAction Council, which brought together former world leaders including ex-U.S. president Bill Clinton.

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Mr. Chrétien quipped that the former German leader, although wheelchair-bound, remains active: "He still writes an editorial every week in the newspaper in Hamburg and has a program on TV and speaks for an hour alone."

Mr. Chrétien was far less eager, however, to talk Canadian domestic politics.

During a chat later with reporters, he was asked whether Bob Rae - currently interim leader of the Liberal party - should become its longer-term leader eventually.

After this month's electoral drubbing, Mr. Chrétien was rumoured to be pulling strings in favour of Mr. Rae within the Liberal party. Mr. Rae eventually won the interim job but, first, he had to renounce plans for a longer-term bid.

All Mr. Chrétien would say was that he was "very happy" that Mr. Rae had accepted the interim position.

As for what comes after: "There will be a convention and they will decide," Mr. Chrétien said. "It's not for me to decide."

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