Chretien, Jean


Chretien, Jean
▪ 1994

      On Nov. 4, 1993, Jean Chrétien was sworn in as prime minister of Canada soon after his Liberal Party won a large majority of the seats in the House of Commons in the October 25 general elections. Chrétien, who for years had topped public opinion polls as one of Canada's best-liked politicians, handily won in his Quebec riding of St. Maurice. Chrétien passionately embraced a united Canada and envisioned a nation in which all Canadians would feel at home in any part of the country. His vision was endangered, however, because the Bloc Québécois, a party dedicated to Quebec independence, had emerged as the official opposition party following the elections.

      Joseph-Jacques Jean Chrétien was born Jan. 11, 1934, in Shawinigan, Que. He studied law at Laval University, Quebec City, Que., and was called to the Quebec bar in 1958. Politics, however, had always attracted him. As a child he had joined his father in political activities. As a university student Chrétien served (1957-58) as vice president of the Liberal Students of Canada. He was first elected to the House of Commons in 1963 and represented his riding of St. Maurice until 1986, when he resigned to return to the practice of law. In 1990 he resumed political life when he was elected leader of the Liberal Party. Returning to the Commons as the member from the riding of Beausejour in New Brunswick, Chrétien was leader of the opposition for almost three years.

      When Chrétien arrived in Ottawa in 1963, he spoke only a few words of English. He rapidly learned that language, however, and quickly rose in party ranks. He astutely outmaneuvered his fellow members to capture nine successive Cabinet posts. In those positions he distinguished himself as an incisive and shrewd administrator. In 1965 he was appointed parliamentary secretary to the prime minister. The following year he was appointed parliamentary secretary to the minister of finance, becoming minister without portfolio in 1967 and in 1977 the first French-Canadian to hold the position of minister of finance. As minister of Indian affairs and northern development (1968-74), he created 10 national parks. As minister of justice and attorney general of Canada (1980), Chrétien had the difficult task of negotiating with the provincial governments and the British government to secure the repatriation of the Canadian constitution. At the time of the Quebec referendum on independence, Chrétien was given the task of coordinating the federal government's effort to keep Quebec in the confederation. In 1984 Chrétien became deputy prime minister.

      Chrétien, whom none could accuse of snobbery, cultivated the image of a rough-hewn man of the people. Self-assured, he possessed a keen political intuition. He was often underestimated by his opponents, most glaringly so in the 1993 elections, when some thought Chrétien could be defeated in his own riding. As prime minister he faced the immediate task of dealing with the burgeoning federal deficit, the economic problems of the country, and the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement. (DIANE LOIS WAY)

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▪ prime minister of Canada
in full  Joseph-Jacques-Jean Chrétien 
born January 11, 1934, Shawinigan, Quebec, Canada
 
 Canadian lawyer and Liberal Party politician, who served as prime minister of Canada from 1993 to 2003.

      The 18th of 19 children of a working-class family, Chrétien studied law at Laval University and was called to the bar in Quebec in 1958. Long interested in politics, he was first elected to the House of Commons in 1963 and was reelected thereafter through 1984. In the successive administrations of Lester B. Pearson (Pearson, Lester B.) and Pierre Elliott Trudeau (Trudeau, Pierre Elliott), Chrétien became a parliamentary secretary to the prime minister in 1965, a minister of state in 1967, and minister of national revenue in 1968. He served as minister of Indian affairs and northern development from 1968 to 1974 and in 1977 became the first French Canadian to hold the post of minister of finance. Known as an incisive and shrewd administrator, he went on to serve as minister of justice and attorney general (1980–82), minister of energy (1982–84), and deputy prime minister (1984).

      After losing to John Turner in a contest to succeed Trudeau as head of the Liberal Party, Chrétien resigned his seat in the House of Commons in 1986. He was reelected to Parliament in 1990 and took over the leadership of the Liberals that same year. Chrétien led his party to a landslide victory over the governing Progressive Conservative Party in national elections on October 25, 1993, and became prime minister of Canada on November 4. In 1995 he weathered a major crisis as voters in Quebec, a predominantly French-speaking province, narrowly rejected secession. Quebec independence remained a central concern, though the movement had weakened by the end of the 20th century. Chrétien's government focused on reducing the budget deficit, and in 1998 it passed Canada's first balanced budget since 1970. Chrétien was reelected in 2000, the first Canadian prime minister since 1945 to win three consecutive majorities. His relationship with the United States was sometimes tense, underscored by his refusal to commit Canadian troops to the U.S.-led war against Iraq in 2003. In social policy, he pursued progressive reforms, drafting a law in 2003 that would recognize same-sex marriages. Chrétien retired as prime minister in December 2003.

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Universalium. 2010.

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