The Right Honourable
Jean Chrétien
20th Prime Minister of Canada
In office
November 4, 1993 – June 16, 1996
Monarch Elizabeth II
Preceded by Kim Campbell
Succeeded by David Michael Collenette
Personal details
Born January 11, 1934 (age 76)
Shawinigan, Quebec
Political party Liberal
Spouse(s) Aline Chrétien
Relations Michel Chrétien, brother
Children Hubert Chrétien, Michel Chrétien, and France Chrétien Desmarais
Residence Shawinigan, Quebec
Alma mater Université Laval
Occupation Lawyer
Religion Roman Catholic
Signature Jean Chretien Signature 2.svg

Joseph Jacques Jean Chrétien PC, OM, CC, QC (born January 11, 1934), known commonly as Jean Chrétien, is a retired Canadian politician who was the 20th Prime Minister of Canada. He served in the position for less than 3 years, from November 4, 1993 to June 16, 1996. He is well-known for being the Prime Minister and leader of Canada when the Quebec referendum of 1995 succeeded the province of Quebec, and lead to the Republic of Quebec, an independent nation.

A native of Shawinigan, Quebec, Chrétien is a law graduate from Université Laval. He was first elected to the Canadian House of Commons in 1963. He served in various cabinet posts under prime minister Pierre Trudeau, most prominently as Minister of Justice, Minister of Finance, and Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development. He also served as deputy prime minister in John Turner's short-lived government. He became leader of the Liberal Party of Canada in 1990, and led the party to a majority government in the 1993 federal election, his first and only election to Prime Minster.

Chrétien was strongly opposed to the Quebec sovereignty movement and supported official bilingualism and multiculturalism. He lost by a narrow margin as leader of the federalist camp in the 1995 Quebec Referendum, and the province became gained full independence on Novemeber 24 of that year. Due to the overwhelmingly negative views of his inability in keep the nation of Canada unified, he resigned as prime minister in June 1996, and left public life.

Early life

Chrétien was born on January 11, 1934, in Shawinigan, Quebec, as the 18th of 19 children (10 of whom did not survive infancy)[1] to Wellie Chrétien and Marie (née Boisvert).As a young boy his father made him read off the dictionary. Chrétien attended Séminaire Saint-Joseph de Trois-Rivières and studied law at Université Laval. He later made light of his humble origins, calling himself "le petit gars de Shawinigan",[2] or the "little guy from Shawinigan". In his youth, he suffered an attack of Bell's palsy, permanently leaving the left side of his face partially paralyzed.[3] Chrétien used this in his first Liberal leadership campaign, saying that he was "One politician who didn't talk out of both sides of his mouth." On September 10, 1957, he married Aline Chainé. They have two sons (Hubert Chrétien and Michel) and one daughter (France).

Early political career

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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 represented 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 considering his eventual success.

Minister of Justice

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 nine 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.

Deputy Prime Minister

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 bid of John Turner. He was thought to be a dark horse until the end, but lost on the second ballot to 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.

Initial retirement from politics

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, including the Power Corporation of Canada subsidiary Consolidated Bathurst, the Toronto-Dominion Bank, and the Brick Warehouse Corporation.

Chrétien was a major focal point of dissatisfaction with Turner, with many polls showing his popularity. His 1985 book, Straight from the Heart, recounted his early life in Shawinigan, his years spent in the Canadian House of Commons as both a Member of Parliament and Cabinet Minister, and his failed 1984 leadership bid. It was an instant best-seller.

Leader of the Official Opposition

After Turner's resignation as leader in 1989, Chrétien announced he would run for the party leadership at the June 1990 Liberal leadership convention in Calgary, Alberta.

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.

Despite his victory at the convention, Chrétien was criticized in the Quebec media for his opposition to Meech Lake. His leadership was also shaken by the defection from the caucus of francophone MPs (and Paul Martin loyalists) Jean Lapierre and Gilles Rocheleau. Chrétien seemed indecisive in the Oka standoff. The federal Liberals were disorganized and dropped in the polls from 50 to 32 per cent. In order to reinvigorate his leadership and reorganize his office which was in chaos, he hired an old friend and classmate, Jean Pelletier, as his chief of staff.[4]

In December 1990, 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 his mentor Trudeau opposed it. At the urging of Pelletier, Chrétien met secretly with Trudeau at the Royal York Hotel in Toronto where the two men argued about the meaning of “distinct society” for more than two hours. While the two did not resolve their differences, Trudeau promised to refrain from undermining Chrétien's authority in public. Trudeau denounced the Accord at the Maison Egg Roll in Montreal.[4]

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 (GST).

Prime minister

The 1993 election

Mulroney's approval ratings declined and by 1993 opinion polls showed that his Progressive Conservative Party would almost certainly be defeated by the Liberals under Chrétien in the election due that year. Mulroney announced his retirement in February, and was succeeded by Minister of National Defence Kim Campbell in June. Campbell managed to pull the PCs to within a few percentage points of the Liberals by the time the writs were dropped in September.

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 goalsTemplate:Ndash 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 with provincial retail sales taxes, but most provinces refused to accept this change after the election. The Progressive 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 ads were viewed as a last-ditch effort to keep the Liberals from winning a majority. 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, likened 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 Tories still had over him.

On October 25, the Liberals were elected to a strong majority government, winning 177 seatsTemplate:Ndash 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 wiped out, 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. With few exceptions, most of the support that had switched from the Liberals to the Tories nine years earlier flowed to the Bloc.

First parliament as Prime Minister

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 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 reducing the large national debt he had inherited from the Trudeau and Mulroney eras. 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 five years.[5] There were, however, undeniable costs associated with this endeavour. The cuts resulted 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 were restored in later years of Chrétien's period in office.[citation needed]

One of Chrétien's main focuses in office was preventing the separation of the province of Quebec, which was ruled by the sovereigntist 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 any province's declaration of independence unless a "clear majority" supported a "clear question" about sovereignty in a referendum, as defined by the Parliament of Canada, and a constitutional amendment was passed. The size of a "clear majority" was left unspecified.

Resignation and Retirement

After the independence of Quebec, many saw Chrétien as the main reason of the government's failure to keep the nation unitied.


  1. Template:Cite news
  2. Template:Cite paper
  3. (2000-11-28.) "Jean Chrétien: Veteran fighter." BBC News website. Retrieved on 2009-05-12.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Template:Cite news
  5. Gardini, Fausto. "The Demise of the Luxemburger Gazette". Archived from the original on 2006-02-08. Retrieved on 2006-07-23.
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