Chrétien Leaves at Ease Even if Bush Is Displeased

Chrétien Leaves at Ease Even if Bush Is Displeased
Posted by CN Staff on November 13, 2003 at 22:25:34 PT
By Clifford Krauss
Source: New York Times 
Ottawa — The departing prime minister, Jean Chrétien, defended keeping Canadian troops out of Iraq, pushing for gay marriage and liberalizing drug laws in an interview this week that made clear his lasting differences with the Bush administration."I don't think a kid of 17 years old who has a joint should have a criminal record," he said flatly on Monday in the broad-ranging interview in his elegant official residence as he prepared to retire after 10 years in office.
While careful not to gloat about his decision not to send Canadian troops to Iraq, Mr. Chrétien, who is 69, was not apologetic either. "Of course he was not happy," he said, recalling President Bush's obvious displeasure. "I did not expect him to send me flowers."Democracy would "take time to penetrate in the spirit of the people" in Iraq, he said. In the meantime, he advised giving a larger role to the United Nations, similar to that in Afghanistan, where Canada has 2,000 troops.Mr. Chrétien insisted that "relations are not bad at all" with the United States, and he still keeps a photograph of himself and President Bush in the foyer of his residence on the Ottawa River. But his positions left him clearly at odds with Washington on issues defining the core values of the two nations, ranging from Iraq and his support for the Kyoto climate treaty, to his proposed bills to expand marriage rights and decriminalize small amounts of marijuana.Such stances may well mark Mr. Chrétien in history as a social activist and a leader who helped define the Canadian character as separate from that of its powerful southern neighbor, a place that even he seemed surprised to inhabit. "If you told me I would do that, I would not have believed you," he said of his decision on gay marriage, which he arrived at after two provincial courts ruled that the federal definition of marriage as union between a man and a woman was discriminatory. "I'm a practicing Roman Catholic."At the same time, Mr. Chrétien seemed comfortable with Canada's social liberalism. His government has authorized the opening of a supervised heroin injection clinic in Vancouver and the distribution of methadone and heroin in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver to hard-core drug users beginning in January in an effort at curbing overdoses, crime and the spread of AIDS."I'm happy we are experimenting," he said. "I'd like to find out if there is not a better way than to fill the jails with people involved with drugs. It's not solving the problem."In his time in office, Mr. Chrétien brought a near bankrupt federal government back to solvency, doubled the size of the national park system, reformed campaign financing and championed increased international aid to Africa.When he kept the army out of Iraq, he broke historical precedent by becoming the first Canadian leader to refuse to send troops to a war being fought by this country's two closest traditional allies, the United States and Britain.The decision has been popular, even with Mr. Chrétien's successor and political nemesis, former Finance Minister Paul Martin, who takes over leadership of the Liberal Party on Friday.But it is Mr. Chrétien's decisions on social issues that may define his tenure, and Canada's future. Mr. Martin said he, too, would support the marijuana reform with amendments to raise monetary penalties, and agree to follow court rulings to legalize same-sex marriage that have made Canada only the third country behind the Netherlands and Belgium to do so.As the eighth of nine surviving children in a working-class Québécois rural family, Jean Chrétien grew up with facial paralysis, a form of dyslexia and partial deafness.So determined was he to get his way, he once pretended to have appendicitis just to get out of a boarding school he loathed, taking his mock pain all the way to the operating table.From a youth of brawling, Mr. Chrétien graduated from law school and then began a 40-year career in the House of Commons at the age of 29 barely speaking a word of English. His English is still halting (he is not eloquent in French either), but his folksiness has given him a reservoir of popularity through a series of scandals and a nearly disastrous defeat in 1995 when Quebec almost voted to separate from Canada."A few votes the other way and he may have gone down in history as one of the worst prime ministers," said Lawrence Martin, his biographer. Mr. Martin concluded that while Mr. Chrétien never had a commanding vision for Canada, "he was a triumph of instincts."Mr. Chrétien long governed in the shadow of the two modern Liberal giants, Lester Pearson and Pierre Trudeau, and only 18 months ago his government appeared to be sputtering badly. Several senior aides were forced to resign in scandal. Mr. Martin's plotting to take over the Liberal Party led to a nasty break between the two, and a near open rebellion in the Liberal parliamentary ranks.Ever the stubborn street fighter, Mr. Chrétien counterattacked with bold moves that left his opponents dazzled, including successfully pushing for ratification of the Kyoto climate control accord and increasing outlays on social programs.He says he will now go back to work as a lawyer, and just maybe learn to cook a few more dishes than spaghetti. He will certainly play a lot of golf as well, although he says he avoids playing with millionaires who talk about their wives' $15,000 dresses. "That bores me," he said with a giggle.Mr. Chrétien winced when reminded that a Canadian bishop suggested he was risking the fires of hell by deciding not to appeal an Ontario court decision extending marriage rights to gays and lesbians."God and I will decide that," he said with a guffaw. Then quickly correcting himself to appear a tad more modest, he added, "We'll discuss and he will decide."Source: New York Times (NY)Author: Clifford KraussPublished: November 14, 2003Copyright: 2003 The New York Times Co.Contact: letters Website: Articles:Cauchon Hopes Martin Will Resurrect Pot Billétien Jokes About Trying Pot
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