© Guardian file photo by Mitch MacDonald
Former Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chretien relaxes in his suite at the Delta Prince Edward before giving a speech at the P.E.I. Liberal Association’s annual fall dinner. Chretien chatted candidly with The Guardian about previous visits to P.E.I., his perspective on Island politics and premier Robert Ghiz. Guardian photo by Mitch MacDonald
Looking through P.E.I.’s gallery of premiers, former prime minister Jean Chretien can spot 10 familiar faces he knew during his four decades in public office.
Chretien shared a number of nostalgic stories about working with these individuals during his appearance Saturday as guest speaker at the P.E.I. Liberal Association's 34th annual fall dinner at the Delta Prince Edward.
While the former Liberal prime minister doesn’t do many speaking engagements anymore, Chretien said coming back to P.E.I. was for a special reason, as Premier Robert Ghiz had previously worked in his PMO's office before winning the provincial party's leadership.
As Canada’s newly-appointed representative to the Diamond Jubilee Trust, Chretien’s duty is to raise money for charities in the Queen’s honour.
The first cheque he received was from Ghiz, who also offered help with Chretien with his new duties.
“When I asked he said ‘I’m helping you, so you help me’,” said Chretien during an interview with The Guardian. “For me, I always loved to come to P.E.I. anyway, so coming back, for whatever reason, is important for me.”
Chretien also offered his perspective on Ghiz’s performance in the premier’s office, saying he has been “very impressed” and described him as “a joyful guy, relaxed and close to the people.”
Chretien also praised the provincial nominee program.
“Relatively speaking, the population of P.E.I. is growing faster than any other province because of the immigration policies and a lot of investment coming here from this program. It seems very well-managed so I’m very pleased with that,” said Chretien. “Because I’ve been associated to these programs when they were created. I left (office) almost nine years ago, so it’s good to see how it’s been used here.”
Before his resignation in 2003, Chretien made a number of decisions that affected P.E.I. He helped start the original economic expansion programs in the 1960s, which grew the entire Atlantic Canadian economy.
He was also Prime Minister when the controversial decision was made to build the Confederation Bridge, a risky move that paid off.
However, Chretien’s first introduction to P.E.I. came when he was only 20-years-old and had a brother attending St. Dunstan’s University for the final year of an arts program from Universite Laval.
At the time, many francophones came to St. Dunstan’s to finish their BA while learning English at the same time.
“That summer I came to visit here and I went to Cavendish and so on,” said Chretien. “That was my first introduction to you people.”
While Chretien thought about attending St. Dunstan’s, he ultimately didn’t. However, he found himself visiting P.E.I. often during his political career, which he said he always enjoyed.
It seems Chretien’s feelings for P.E.I. were mutual. While in the PM's office, Chretien had a perfect record on P.E.I., as the federal Liberals won all four Island seats during his three elections in 1993, 1997 and 2000.
P.E.I. is still a Liberal stronghold, with the party holding the provincial government and boasts three of four MPs on Ottawa.
Chretien offered his own explanation of this in one of his trademark quips, saying that Islanders are “people of good judgement.”
“Liberalism is a centrist party. We’re not of the hard right and we’re not of the hard left. We try to be moderate in everything and P.E.I. is a quiet Island and a good quality of life,” he said. “It’s not a place where you have very rich people, it’s not a place where you have very poor people. It’s a welcoming population and so it reflects the values we Liberals tend to propose.”