Introduction to the Right Honourable Jean Chrétien


30 January 2008

Thank you very much Dr. Grenier, distinguished guests,members of the StFX and local communities, ladies and gentlemen. It really is for me, a double privilege tonight. The first privilege, of course, is to introduce the 20th Prime Minister of Canada, the Right. Honourable Jean Chrétien. It is combined with a second privilege which is to introduce Mr. Chrétien in the presence of another outstanding Canadian, a native son, and a very loyal and wonderful StFX alumnus, the Honourable Allan J. MacEachen, friend to many in the room.

There are many present for whom the combination of Chrétien and MacEachen summons up an entire era of Canadian political life, stretching all the way back to the Pearson governments of the 1960s. I extend a warm welcome to the veterans of our political history over the decades, as well as to everyone here tonight with an eye to the future. In particular, a welcome to high school students, to StFX students and really everyone who is passionate about the future of Canada.

Mr. Chrétien, I've been told your memoirs, My Years as Prime Minister, to date has sold over 100,000 copies. It's still available. I'm ready to do a real plug. This is not a book launch but it is available locally, it is available on the internet, and it is available at Indigo. And Mr. Chrétien is the proud author of a bestseller. And in that bestseller he has described politics as an art and a sport. Well, Mr. Chrétien, I think I can tell you that tonight this audience is full to the brim with spectators, with coaches, with players, past and future of all political persuasions. And who knows - and this I find the most captivating thing - who knows, maybe your successor, a successor as Prime Minister, is in the audience tonight, listening to you. And though the group is of multiple persuasions, I think we will forgive you if you wish that that future successor is of a Liberal persuasion. That was a non-partisan comment Mr. Chrétien.

In any event, dear friends, the first lesson to take from the career of Jean Chrétien is clear - work hard and stay in the game. Mr. Chrétien was elected to the House of Commons in 1963 at the ripe age of 29. He represented his beloved Shawinigan riding for all but 8 of the next 41 years. We know him now mainly as Prime Minister; however, before assuming that position, Mr. Chrétien had a long experience in government. Beginning in the 1960s, Mr. Chrétien served as Minister of National Revenue, Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, President of the Treasury Board, Minister of Industry, Trade and Commerce, Minister of Finance, Minister of Justice, Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources. And if I list these responsibilities in detail, it's not simply to conform to the historical record, it's really to make the point that the record of service to Canada of Jean Chrétien is deeper and more diverse than we often recall. From patriation of the Canadian constitution to the management of Canada's economic and social policy, Jean Chrétien had an exceptional record before becoming Prime Minister. And yes, he did become Prime Minister in 1993, almost exactly 30 years after his first election to the House of Commons. After two leadership conventions, after more than a few slings and arrows in the many partisan struggles, and after what in 1993 was a radical restructuring of the Canadian political scene, the rise of the Reform party and the Bloc Québécois, together with the near collapse of the Progressive Conservatives, all at the federal level, and the return to power of the Parti Québécois in the province of Quebec.

I personally remember vividly those first years of Mr. Chrétien's term as Prime Minister. I was working at that time in the private sector in the east end of Montreal. I remember the financial press describing Canada - and this was a quote - as 'an honorary member of the third world.' It was strong stuff. And our federal deficit was running at $40 billion a year. We had a weak economic performance, and so on. And I remember as well from that period the incredible tension leading up to the 1993 referendum.

Mr. Chrétien I remember as if it was yesterday, how the rain fell during your speech at the Verdun arena, several days before the referendum of '95. I was part of the crowd that could not find a place inside the arena. The cause was far from being won, and we began to be seriously afraid - in the rain at Verdun, that there would be a tragic result for Quebec and for Canada (translated from French).

In that 1995 referendum, Canada came as close to political crisis as any Prime Minister would ever wish. It was a turning point in history, when history mercifully failed to turn its back on Canada. Today, much of the turmoil of those earlier years is behind us and to some degree, pushed out of the public consciousness by so many changes. The passage of the Clarity Act, the relative eclipse of the Parti Québécois, the elimination of the federal deficit, the arrival of new challenges at the international level, 9-11, Afghanistan, Iraq, and so many changes on the Canadian domestic front, including the struggles over your succession within and beyond your own party. So many fascinating subjects to share in the room tonight.

But Mr. Chrétien, as you are with us, in a university setting, I want you and our audience to know how indebted St.FX and all of Canada's universities are to your leadership. Since 2001, St.FX students have received over $12 million in grants - grants, not loans - from the Millennium Scholarship Foundation; $12 million directly to students at St.FX in that period. And that was all part of a $3 billion investment in that initiative, the Millennium Scholarship Foundation for Canada Students. At St.FX today we have research chairs in fields as diverse as high performance computing, marine sciences, chemistry, business, social policy and renaissance cultural history, all funded directly as part of the 2000 Canada Research Chairs Mr. Chrétien established. And overall, research funding at St.FX, both from granting councils and the Atlantic Innovations Fund, has increased over 800% since 1996 and now brings an additional $10 million annually to this region through research programs originally supported, encouraged and funded by Prime Minister Chrétien. I know that these investments may not be the most scintillating subject for national media or for media here tonight, but on behalf of the university community I want you to know that your support for students and for knowledge will go down as one of the most farsighted achievements of your years as Prime Minister.

The 19th century essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson offered a great reflection which I think is relevant here tonight. His quote is "the reward of a thing well done is to have done it". Mr. Chrétien, welcome to St.FX. Please accept our thanks for your presence as the distinguished speaker for the Allan J. MacEachen Lecture in Canadian Politics, and please accept our welcoming applause as a small, but sincere reward for your service to Canada.


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