Joseph Jacques Jean Chrétien, (generally known as Jean Chrétien) (born January 11, 1934), is a Canadian politician who was the twentieth Prime Minister of Canada from November 4, 1993, to December 12, 2003, and leader of the Liberal Party of Canada from 1990 to 2003.
Chrétien practised law in Shawinigan until he was first elected to the Canadian House of Commons as a Liberal from the riding of Saint-Maurice–Laflèche in the 1963 election. He would represent this Shawinigan-based riding, renamed Saint-Maurice in 1968, for all but eight of the next 41 years.
After re-election in the 1965 election, he served as parliamentary secretary (junior minister) to Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson (1965) and then to Minister of Finance, Mitchell Sharp (1966). He was selected for appointment as Minister of National Revenue in 1968 by Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau.
After the June 1968 election, he was appointed Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development. His most notable achievement in this role was the 1969 White Paper, a proposal to abolish the Indian Act. The paper was widely opposed by First Nations groups, and later abandoned.
During the October Crisis, Chrétien told Trudeau to "act now, explain later", when Trudeau was hesitant to invoke the War Measures Act. 85% of Canadians agreed with the move. In 1974, he was appointed President of the Treasury Board; and beginning in 1976, he served as Minister of Industry, Trade and Commerce. In 1977, following the resignation of Finance Minister John Turner, Chrétien succeeded him. He was the first francophone Minister of Finance, and remains one of only three francophones to hold that post.
Early in his career, Chrétien was described by Dalton Camp as looking like the driver of the getaway car, a condescending assessment which stuck with him, and which was often cited by journalists and others throughout his career, and usually ironically considering his eventual success.
The Liberals lost power in 1979. When they regained power in 1980, Chrétien was appointed Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada. In this role, he was a major force in the 1980 Quebec referendum, being one of the main federal representatives "on the ground" during the campaign. His fiery and emotional speeches would enthrall federalist crowds with his blunt warnings of the consequences of separation. He also served as Minister of State for Social Development and Minister Responsible for Constitutional Negotiations, playing a significant role in the patriation of the Constitution of Canada in 1982. He was the chief negotiator of what would be called the "Kitchen Accord", an agreement which led to the agreement of 9 provinces to patriation. His role in the dealings, however, would forever follow him in his native Quebec, who did not ratify the Constitution (although the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that Quebec was bound by it). In 1982, Chrétien was appointed Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources.
After Trudeau announced his retirement in early 1984 as Liberal Party leader and Prime Minister, Chrétien sought the leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada. The experience was a hard one for Chrétien, as many of his longtime Cabinet allies supported the Turner campaign. He was thought to be a dark horse until the end, but lost on the second ballot to John Turner at the leadership convention that June. Iona Campagnolo would ominously introduce Chrétien as, "Second on the ballot, but first in our hearts." Turner personally appointed him Deputy Prime Minister, and selected him for appointment by the Governor General as Secretary of State for External Affairs (foreign minister). Relations between the two were strained, especially after the Liberals were severely defeated in the 1984 election. He was one of only 17 Liberal MPs elected from Quebec (the party had won 74 out of 75 seats in 1980). He was also one of only four MPs from the province elected from a riding outside Montreal.
In 1986, Chrétien resigned his seat and left public life for a time. Now working in the private sector again, Chrétien sat on the boards of several corporations. These corporations included the Power Corporation of Canada subsidiary Consolidated Bathurst, the Toronto-Dominion Bank, and the Brick Warehouse Corporation, among others.
Chrétien would be a major focal point of dissatisfaction with Turner, with many polls showing his popularity. His 1985 book, Straight from the Heart, recounting his early life in Shawinigan as well as his years spent in the Canadian House of Commons as both a Member of Parliament and Cabinet Minister, as well as recounting his failed 1984 leadership bid, was an instant best-seller.
Chrétien's principal opponent, Paul Martin, was generally seen as the ideological heir to John Turner, while Chrétien was the ideological heir to Trudeau. A key moment in that race took place at an all-candidates debate in Montreal, where the discussion quickly turned to the Meech Lake Accord. Martin attempted to force Chrétien to abandon his nuanced position on the deal and declare for or against it. When Chrétien refused to endorse the deal, young Liberal delegates crowding the hall began to chant "vendu" ("sellout" in French) and "Judas" at Chrétien. Martin continues to state he had nothing to do with the response from the floor, or a similar outburst by his supporters at the convention, in which Chrétien defeated Martin on the first and only ballot. However, his reputation in his home province never recovered.
In December, Chrétien returned to the House of Commons after winning a by-election in the safe Liberal riding of Beauséjour, New Brunswick. The incumbent, Fernand Robichaud, stood down in Chrétien's favour, which is traditional practice when a newly elected party leader doesn't have a seat in Parliament.
Chrétien later revealed himself to be as staunchly federalist as Trudeau. However, he supported the Charlottetown Accord while Trudeau opposed it.
When Progressive Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney began to lose ground in the polls, Chrétien was the major beneficiary. In particular, Chrétien reaped a major windfall after Mulroney introduced an unpopular Goods and Services Tax.
Campbell, however, had little luck overcoming the tremendous antipathy toward Mulroney, despite a substantial bounce from the leadership convention. Chrétien saw an opportunity, and on September 19, he dropped a bombshell by releasing the entire Liberal platform. The 112-page document, Creating Opportunity, quickly became known as the Red Book because of its bright red cover. It was a very specific and detailed statement of exactly what a Chrétien government would do in office.
The Liberals did not promise to remove the GST altogether as a revenue producing agent. Instead, the Red Book pledged to replace the GST "with a system that generates equivalent revenues, is fairer to consumers and to small business, minimizes disruption to small business, and promotes federal-provincial fiscal cooperation and harmonization."
Chrétien promised to renegotiate of the North American Free Trade Agreement, and reform to the unemployment insurance system. Above all, he promised to return Canada to fiscal solvency. As proof, the Red Book gave costs for each of the Liberals' policy goals the first time a Canadian party had gone to such lengths to prove that its proposals were fiscally responsible. In their first mandate in the 1993 election, they attempted to merge the GST, however most provinces refused to accept this change after the election. The Conservatives put forward the idea that Chrétien had actually promised to "Scrap the GST" leading to wide public misperception.
The Red Book gave the Liberals the reputation as the party with ideas, since none of the other parties had anything comparable. The Liberals quickly surged to a double-digit lead in most opinion polls. By October, it was obvious that the Liberals would win at least a minority government. Even at this stage, however, Chrétien's personal approval ratings were far behind those of Campbell. Realizing this, the Tory campaign team released a series of ads attacking Chrétien. The second ad, released on October 14, appeared to mock Chrétien's facial paralysis, and generated a severe backlash from all sides. Even some Tory candidates called for the ad to be yanked. Campbell was not directly responsible for the ad, but ordered it off the air over her staff's objections. However, she didn't apologize and lost a chance to contain the fallout from the ad.
Chrétien, taking advantage of the furor, likening the Tories to the children who teased him when he was a boy in Shawinigan. "When I was a kid people were laughing at me," he said at an appearance in Nova Scotia. "But I accepted that because God gave me other qualities and I'm grateful." The speech, which one Tory described as one Chrétien had waited his whole life to deliver, moved many in the audience to tears. Chrétien's approval ratings shot up, nullifying the only advantage the Conservatives still had over him. All told, the ad flap all but assured that the Liberals would win a majority government.
On October 25, the Liberals were elected to an overwhelming majority government, winning 177 seats the third-best performance in the Liberals' history, and their most impressive win since their record of 190 seats in 1949. The Tories were nearly evicted from the House of Commons, winning only two seats in the worst defeat ever suffered by a governing party at the federal level. Chrétien himself yielded Beauséjour back to Robichaud in order to run in his old riding, Saint-Maurice. However, he was unable to lead the Liberals back to their traditional dominance in Quebec. He was one of only four Liberal MPs elected from that province outside the Montreal area.
On November 4, 1993, Chrétien was appointed by Governor General Ray Hnatyshyn as prime minister. While Trudeau, Joe Clark and Mulroney had been relative political outsiders prior to becoming prime minister, Chrétien had served in every Liberal cabinet since 1965. This experience gave him a masterful knowledge of the Canadian parliamentary system, and allowed Chrétien to establish a very centralized government that, although highly efficient, was also lambasted by critics as being a "friendly dictatorship" and intolerant of internal dissent.
Chrétien turned most of his attention to clearing away the massive debt he had inherited from the Mulroney / Campbell era. He was assisted by Martin. The government began a program of deep cuts to provincial transfers and other areas of government finance. During his tenure as Prime Minister, a $42 billion deficit was eliminated, five consecutive budget surpluses were recorded, $36 billion in debt was paid down, and taxes were cut by $100 billion (cumulatively) over 5 years, the largest tax cut in Canadian history. There were, however, undeniable costs associated with this endeavour. The cuts would result in fewer government services, most noticeably in the health care sector, as major reductions in federal funding to the provinces meant significant cuts in service delivery. Moreover, the across-the- board cuts affected the operations and achievement of the mandate of most federal departments. Many of the cuts would be restored in later years of Chrétien's period in office.
One of Chrétien's main focuses in office was preventing the separation of the province of Quebec, which was ruled by the separatist Parti Québécois for nearly the Prime Minister's entire term. After the 1995 referendum very narrowly defeated a proposal on Quebec sovereignty, the government passed what became known as the Clarity Act, which said that no Canadian government would acknowledge a Quebec declaration of independence unless a "clear majority" supported sovereignty in a referendum based on a "clear question", as defined by the Parliament of Canada. The size of a "clear majority" was left unspecified.
On November 5, 1995, Chrétien and his wife escaped injury when André Dallaire, armed with a knife, broke in the Prime Minister's official residence at 24 Sussex Drive. Aline Chrétien shut and locked the bedroom door until security came. It is said Jean was ready to defend himself with a sharp-edged Inuit carving.
Chretien called an early election in the spring of 1997, hoping to take advantage of his position in the public opinion polls and the continued division of the conservative vote. However, the election call came during a major flooding emergency in Manitoba, which led to charges of insensitivity. The Progressive Conservatives had a popular new leader in Jean Charest and the New Democrats' Alexa McDonough led her party to a breakthrough in Atlantic Canada, where the Liberals had won all but one seat in 1993. In 1997, the Liberals lost all but a handful of seats in Atlantic Canada and Western Canada, but managed to retain a bare majority government due to their continued dominance of Ontario.
In 1999, Chretien supported Canada's involvement in NATO's bombing campaign of Yugoslavia over the issue of Kosovo. The 1999 NATO bombing of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was NATO's and Canada's first deliberate non-defensive aggression against another sovereign state.
The government under Chrétien's prime ministership also introduced a new and far-reaching Youth Criminal Justice Act, which replaced the old Young Offenders Act, and changed the way youths were prosecuted for crimes in Canada.
Chretien was known to be friendly in foreign policy towards the People's Republic of China. He led four "Team Canada" trade missions to China, and sharply increased the amount of trade between the two countries during his tenure as Prime Minister. Under his leadership, China and Canada signed several bilateral relations agreements.
Following the September 11 terrorist attacks upon the United States, North American airspace was shut down and many Canadians opened up their homes to stranded travellers. Chrétien praised Operation Yellow Ribbon, saying that it was one of the ways it showed the best of Canadians in a time of tragedy for their American friends and neighbours down south. In response to those attacks, Canadian forces joined with multinational forces that invaded Afghanistan to pursue al-Qaeda forces there.
Chrétien directed the Crown not to support the US-led 2003 invasion of Iraq. His reasoning was that the war lacked UN Security Council sanction; while not a member of the Security Council, Canada nevertheless attempted to build a consensus for a resolution authorizing the use of force after a short (two to three month) extension to UN weapon inspections in Iraq. (Critics also noted that, while in opposition, he had also opposed the first US-led Gulf War.) Although criticism from right-wing opposition was vocal, the move proved popular with the Canadian public in general. In December 2003, it emerged that the government had prepared plans for Canada to send as many as 800 Canadian troops to Iraq if the UN Security Council had authorized it; however, a UN request for an increased deployment of Canadian soldiers to Afghanistan removed this option from the table. This led some of Chrétien's anti-war critics on the left to accuse the Prime Minister of never really being fully opposed to the war. Nonetheless, Canada was the first non-member of the US-led coalition to provide significant financial aid to the post-war reconstruction effort, relative to Canada's size. This move allowed Canadian companies to bid on reconstruction contracts.
The other major controversy of the Chrétien years was the sponsorship scandal. The lingering repercussions of the scandal reduced the Liberal Party to a minority in 2004, and contributed to the government's defeat in 2006.
Chrétien came under fire for backtracking on some of his promises, most notably the GST. Instead of scrapping it, he replaced it with the Harmonized Sales Tax in three Atlantic provinces. However, Chrétien claimed that the fiscal situation was far worse than expected. Despite slipping poll numbers, he advised the Governor General to call an election for 1997, a year ahead of schedule. Many of his own MPs criticized him for this move, especially in light of the devastating Red River Flood. He was reelected with a considerably reduced mandate. However, they still finished with 95 more seats than the next-largest party. The Liberals rebounded in 2000, nearly tying their 1993 total.
Throughout his prime-ministership, Chrétien faced only weak opposition in the House of Commons. This was partly because he governed with majorities for the whole time, and with quite large ones for most of it; and partly because of the peculiar state of the opposition parties. During his first parliament, the Official Opposition was the Bloc Québécois, which was more concerned with gaining sovereignty for Quebec than with playing the customary role of a parliamentary opposition. That role was to some extent taken on by Reform, which had become the leading right-wing party, and which held only marginally fewer seats than the Bloc. The Bloc faded somewhat in the 1997 election, while the Reform Party gained and so took over as Official Opposition for next parliament. Reform, though, began as a Western protest party, and never altogether lost that character. Moreover, Reform was seen as too extreme by most Canadians, especially those east of Manitoba, where the party never had much success. Even after Reform renewed itself as the Canadian Alliance, in 2000, it gained only slightly on Chrétien. The other two parties in the House of Commons, the left-wing New Democratic Party and the formerly powerful, centre-right Progressive Conservatives, held only a few seats each, and their parliamentary effect was accordingly slight. While the Canadian Alliance and Progressive Conservatives eventually merged in 2003, it was around the same time that Chrétien quit politics.
In 1996, Chrétien was confronted by a protester, Bill Clennett, during a walkabout in Hull, Quebec. The prime minister responded with a choke-hold. The press referred to it as the "Shawinigan Handshake" (from the name of his home town).
Chrétien was involved in a controversy again in November, 1997, when the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit was held on the University of British Columbia campus in Vancouver. The APEC summit was a summit of many Asian and Pacific countries, and students on UBC's campus protested the meeting of some of these leaders because of their poor human rights practices. One of the leaders most criticized was then Indonesian President Suharto. Demonstrators tore down a barrier and were pepper-sprayed by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). Other peaceful demonstrators were subsequently pepper-sprayed as well. There was debate over whether the action was necessary. Chrétien responded to the media's questions about the incident at a press conference. He was asked about the pepper spraying by a Vancouver-based comedic reporter known as "Narduwar the Human Serviette", a frequent contributor to Canada's MuchMusic network, known for his high pitched voice and odd attire, who told Chrétien that there was a song released by a punk rock band called "The Nomads" (a fictitious band Nardwuar had made up) called "The Suharto Stomp. Nardwuar then asked Chrétien "Do you think, if you were say 40-years younger, that you too would be writing punk songs about Suharto and protesting against APEC?" Chrétien replied that he himself had protested as a student, and that in a democracy, protests were to be expected. Nardwuar followed up by telling the Prime Minister that "Some of the protesters were maced." Chrétien asked "what do you mean by that?" Nardwuar then clarified "Mace? Pepper Spray?" Chrétien then stated abrubtly "I don't know, these techniques did not exist in those days," which received big laughs from everyone in the room. Nardwuar simply smiled at Chrétien's joke, and the Prime Minister concluded his answer by adding "For me, pepper, I put it on my plate," with a smile while pantomiming shaking pepper onto a plate. This line also received laughter. However, allegations soon arose that someone in the Prime Minister's Office or Chrétien himself gave the go-ahead for the pepper spraying of protestors. Chrétien denied any involvement, and it has never been proven.
Chrétien maintained a high approval rating near the end of his term thanks to several developments. The cooperation of federal, provincial, and municipal governments enabled Vancouver to win the right to host the 2010 Winter Olympics. The election victory of the federalist Jean Charest in Quebec was largely seen by the rest of the provinces as a vote of confidence in Chrétien's unity efforts. His decision not to participate in the Iraq war was popular with a large majority of Canadians.
Chrétien's final sitting in the House of Commons took place November 6, 2003. He made an emotional farewell to the party on November 13 at the 2003 Liberal leadership convention. The following day his rival Martin was elected his successor. U2 lead singer Bono attended the Convention and made a speech, joking "I'm the only thing these two can agree upon."
On December 12, 2003, Jean Chrétien officially resigned as prime minister, formally handing power over to Paul Martin. According to Canadian protocol, as a former prime minister, he is styled "The Right Honourable" for life. Mr. Chrétien joined the law firm of Heenan Blaikie on January 5, 2004, as counsel. The firm announced he would work out of its Ottawa, Ontario, offices four days per week and make a weekly visit to the Montreal office.
Jean Chrétien testified for the Gomery commission regarding the sponsorship scandal in 2005. Earlier that year his lawyers tried, but failed, to have Justice John Gomery removed from the commission, arguing that he lacked objectivity. Chrétien contends that the Gomery commission was set up to make him look bad, and that it was not a fair investigation. He cites comments Gomery made calling him "small town cheap", referring to the management of the sponsorship program as "catastrophically bad", and calling Chuck Guité, a "charming scamp". Subsequent to the release of the first report, Chrétien has decided to take an action in Federal Court to review the commission report on the grounds that Gomery showed a "reasonable apprehension of bias", and that some conclusions didn't have an "evidentiary" basis. Chrétien believes that the appointment of Bernard Roy, a former chief of staff to former Progressive Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney, as chief counsel for the commission was a mistake, as he failed to call some relevant witnesses such as Don Boudria and Ralph Goodale.
In general, Chrétien supported Pierre Trudeau's ideals of official bilingualism and multiculturalism, but his government oversaw the erosion of the welfare state established, and built, under William Lyon Mackenzie King, Louis St. Laurent, Lester Pearson and Pierre Trudeau. His government advocated neo-liberal policies on a number of economic fronts, cutting transfer payments to the provinces and social programs, supporting globalization and free trade and implementing large personal and corporate tax cuts. However, in 1999 his government negotiated the Social Union Framework Agreement, which promoted common standards for social programs across Canada.
Chrétien was repeatedly attacked by both his opponents and supporters for failing to live up to certain election promises, such as replacing the GST and renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). He also came under fire for cancelling the purchase of new military helicopters to replace the aging Sea Kings which were plagued with mechanical failures. Some point to the "No" result of the 1995 Quebec referendum on separation as a political victory for Chrétien, while others interpret the extremely slim margin as a near-disaster for which Chrétien, as de facto leader of the "No" campaign, was responsible. However, some argue that his post-referendum efforts at addressing the separatist issue, notably through the Clarity Act, will cement his legacy as a staunchly federalist prime minister.
One of the most pressing issues in Chrétien's final years in office was Canada's relationship with the United States. Chrétien had a close relationship with President Bill Clinton, after attacking Brian Mulroney for being too friendly with both Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, but when George W. Bush took office in the United States, relations began to cool. Very soon after his retirement, Chrétien's legacy was marred by the sponsorship scandal. Although implicated, no direct evidence has been found directly linking him to it. Nevertheless, many of his closest and longtime political allies were fired from government jobs by his successor Paul Martin, with whom he had fought a bitter leadership battle. The scandal also put a question mark over Chrétien's preferred style of governance, which had been in question long before his retirement due to various scandals, particularly involving cabinet minister Alfonso Gagliano.
Martin, who was cleared by Justice Gomery, moved to sharply distance himself from the Chrétien legacy, although this was also due to the at times bitter political rivalry between the two men. Chrétien's supporters have accused Martin of trying to elude responsibility by blaming the scandal on the former. In an unprecedented move, many of Chrétien's most loyal ministers were not included in Martin's cabinet and many of those were also forced to contest their nominations in uphill contests against Martin's appointed candidates. As a result, most of them were forced to retire, although Sheila Copps contested and lost the Liberal nomination in her riding. The Chrétien-Martin rift has also divided the Liberals in the 2004 and 2006 elections, with some Chrétien supporters complaining of being sidelined despite their extensive campaign expertise.
During his tenure as Prime Minister, Chrétien was active on the world stage and formed close relationships with world leaders such as Jacques Chirac and Bill Clinton. His name was rumoured as a replacement for Kofi Annan as Secretary General of the United Nations.
Jean Chrétien is an Honorary Member of The International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation
Jean and Aline Chrétien also have 2 sons: Hubert (b. 1965) and Michel Chrétien (b. 1968).
Hubert is a leading Scuba diving instructor, and a pioneer in teaching Scuba diving to people with disabilities.
Michel, Chrétien's youngest child, was adopted as a Gwichʼin child from an Inuvik orphanage by Jean and Aline in 1970. At the time Jean Chrétien was the Minister of Indian Affairs. He was born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. He was arrested for drunk-driving in 1988. In addition to past heroin and cocaine addictions, Michel is an admitted alcoholic, and was convicted for drinking and driving in 1998. He later received a nine-month suspended sentence after pleading guilty to assault after throwing an object at a former girlfriend's six-year-old son the same year. The child incurred Chrétien's wrath by taking down a Christmas tree early. Chrétien threw a tobacco-rolling tray at the boy, injuring him slightly. In the 1990s, he was sentenced to three years in prison for sexually assaulting a 27-year old Montreal woman, allegedly taking her home from a bar, then tying her up and forcing sex on her. Michel Chrétien spent the three years between trial and incarceration with his birth mother, Anne Kendi, a counsellor at Northern Addictions, a Yellowknife detox centre. She had recognised her son, then 23, from pictures in a newspaper during his trial. In 2003, Michel was charged with 3 counts of sexual assault, when an 18-year old woman accused him of having non-consensual sex with her after she passed out from heavy drinking at his apartment in Yellowknife. His trial lasted four days before he was acquitted by a 6-male, 6-female member jury. He worked at Pluridesign's Canadian office for a time, having been hired by Jacques Corriveau. Michel is a talented graphic artist and has worked as a furniture designer.
Former Premier of New Brunswick and Canadian Ambassador to the United States, Frank McKenna said "In terms of the personality of Jean Chrétien, what you see is what you get, with few surprises. As a political leader, what you need to know about him is that, more than anything else, he is a pragmatist."
Chrétien would often make light of his humble, small-town origins, calling himself “le petit gars de Shawinigan”, or the “little guy from Shawinigan.”
Upon his first election in 1962, Chrétien did not speak English. While in parliament, he found two mentors who were anglophone: Mitchell Sharp and Lester Pearson. He didn't learn to speak English until age 30.
His nephew, Raymond Chrétien was appointed by his uncle as the Ambassador to the United States.
In April 2007, Chrétien and Canadian book publishers Knopf Canada and Editions du Boréal announced they would be publishing his memoirs, My Years As Prime Minister, which will recount Chrétien's years as Prime Minister. The book was announced under the title of A Passion for Politics. It arrived in bookstores in October 2007, in both English and French, but the promotional tour was delayed due to heart surgery. As well Straight From the Heart was republished with a new preface and two additional chapters detailing his return to politics as the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada and his victory in the election of 1993. Publisher Key Porter Books timed the re-issuing to coincide with the publication of My Years As Prime Minister
On 1 October 2007 Chrétien was playing at the Royal Montreal Golf Club, north of Montreal, at a charity golf event. Playing alongside a cardiologist, he mentioned his discomfort, saying he "had been suffering some symptoms for some time" and the doctor advised he come for a check up. After examination, Chrétien was hospitalized at the Montreal Heart Institute, with unstable angina, a sign a heart attack might be imminent. He underwent quadruple heart bypass surgery as a result on the morning of October 3 2007. The operation forced Chrétien to delay a promotional tour for his book. He is "expected to have a full and complete recovery".