Former PM Chretien on inflation concerns, current affairs


OTTAWA —
Former prime minister Jean Chretien says he is concerned about the future of Canada’s economy, with inflation at a near 20-year high, saying that Canada is “moving into a dark alley.”

In an interview with Evan Solomon, host of CTV’s Question Period, Chretien said that while he thinks the federal government “had no choice” when it came to going deep into deficit to respond to the COVID-19 crisis, there “will be difficult circumstances coming.”

“We’re printing money like crazy,” he said. Asked if that worried him, he said “yes.”

“We’re moving into a dark alley, but we’ll have to go to the end of the alley.”

Speaking about inflation concerns—the annual rate hit 4.4 per cent last month— Chretien reflected on his own experience dealing with economic challenges as prime minister. 

With the economy and rising cost of living top of mind for many Canadians, Chretien said Canada will “have to face it.”

“With the pandemic… it was so unusual that they have done something that is unusual,” he said. “The reality will hit and we’ll face it, but they had no other choice.”

In the wide-ranging interview, Chretien spoke about his new book: ‘My Stories, My Times, Volume 2’—which he describes as offering readers a peek “behind the curtain” of his life—but also weighed in on current affairs.

ON EQUALIZATION

Speaking about Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s referendum question on federal equalization payments, Chretien called it “a waste of time completely.”

“Because you need a change in the Constitution, and to do that you need seven provinces to agree. Good luck,” he said.

Chretien said that prime ministers have to deal with provinces “complaining,” as part of the nature of the federation.

“If you’re a mayor and you have a problem, what do you do? You blame the provincial government. If you’re a provincial government and you have a problem, what do you do? You blame the federal government. We cannot blame the Queen and so once in a while we blame the Americans. You know if you can pass the buck, it’s not bad,” he said.

ON CHINA

Speaking about the state of Canada-China relations, he said that the federal government needs to deal with the reality that China is a superpower like the Americans, and that the Canadian government shouldn’t think they could tell them what to do.

In Chretien’s view, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government handled the matter of formerly detained Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor differently than he would have, saying they “were the victim of the government of America.” 

“The United States forced us, and the government decided to go along with it, because they thought that they had no choice. I thought they had a choice,” he said, referencing the proposal of a prisoner exchange, which the government has said would have been rewarding hostage diplomacy.

ON RECONCILIATON

Chretien—who was the minister of Indian affairs under former prime minister Pierre Trudeau—was asked whether he takes some responsibility in light of the continued discoveries of unmarked graves at former residential school sites.

“They were there since a long time, and you know the last one was closed by me when I was prime minister. We had to manage the problem at that time,” he said. 

Asked if he would apologize for his role in Canada’s residential school legacy— which included proposing a highly controversial and ultimately withdrawn ‘white paper’ that was viewed by Indigenous people as assimilationist as it proposed among other things to eliminate ‘Indian status’— Chretien said his focus was on looking forward.

He also declined to “Monday morning quarterback” on Trudeau’s trip and subsequent apology for spending the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation in Tofino. 

ON CANADA’S ‘GOOD RECIPE’

Chretien was asked what his biggest worry is about Canada right now, and offered an optimistic response.

“I think we’re still in the best position than anybody else, you know. Why? It is because we have a good system of governance… We have changed governments here peacefully… we have a country where there is a lot of understanding… We don’t have a very high level of discrimination. There is some, no doubt about it, we try to fight all the time to make sure there is not,” he said.

“When you’re 38 million people, there’s always problems. But… We’re prosperous, we have a lot of resources, we have probably one of the best educated populations in the world, we have the benefit of having two official languages, we have citizens that come from all over the world, we don’t pay much attention to the colour of the skin, the religion, the language. We tell everybody be comfortable with what you are.”

“I think we have a good recipe, and if that recipe was to apply everywhere in the world, the world would be better,” he continued.

Chretien also said that while “of course” he still loves being engaged in politics, “I don’t want to practice it anymore.”





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