Meet the honorary class of 2004

Jean Chrétien on voting

Former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien received an honorary doctorate from Queen’s on May 27.
Former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien received an honorary doctorate from Queen’s on May 27.

He is the former Prime Minister of Canada, and the former Minister of almost everything else. “This is the first election since 1953 that I have not been involved in,” Jean Chrétien told a Queen’s convocation audience on May 27. He also said his wife, Aline, has told him, “retirement doesn’t mean you have to come home for lunch every day.”

Journal: How do you feel about getting an honorary degree from Queen’s University?

Chrétien: Well I think it’s one of the great universities in Canada. It’s a great institution with a great reputation. John Rae [Chair of the Queen’s Board of Trustees] has been a great collaborator of mine, and Mr. Baillie I’ve known for a long time, and of course the principal too. So it was a great occasion—I’m very, very pleased.

What kind of a role do you feel young voters are going to play in the next election?

If you listened to my [convocation] speech, I told the people that it’s very important to vote. And you know that if you don’t want to exercise your franchise you might come to regret that. In my speech I gave some examples of very close elections. And if you vote, after that, you have more right to go and say to the people who have been elected that you’re not happy with what they’re doing. If you don’t vote, you can’t complain.

Exactly. If you don’t vote, you can’t complain. If it’s not important for you, don’t complain if it’s not working your way. If you voted, you have the right to go to [your elected official] and say, “You told me this and you’re not doing it.” Sometimes we [politicians] cannot do everything that we want. I guess what we like to do is do our best, you know. On the whole, as I said in my speech today, I gave a list of a series of changes that did not exist before, and I was a big part of them. Medicare, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Kyoto—all kinds of them. And in many of them, I was a principal instrument, you know, like not going to war in Iraq. There are a lot of students who thank you for that.

But that was not an easy thing to do! But I did it, and you’re happy. (Laughs.) So if you voted for me, then you have the right to say that I was a good choice. And if I had done the contrary, you might have been mad at me. Many of these [decisions] you have to make, you cannot predict everything that will come. Sometimes you’re faced with situations like this one, which came suddenly, and you have to make a decision. It was not part of my program, or of any program.

Do you think the Calgary Flames have what it takes to win the Stanley Cup this year?

Well, I have a little bit of a prejudice there, because Martin Gélinas, he’s from Shawinigan [Chrétien’s hometown]. Oh yes, and he scored three winning goals that made the Flames. When I was in Calgary, we had a picture of him and his wife taken after he had scored the second time in a row. That time, it was Detroit, after they had played Vancouver. And then when they went to play the Sharks he did the same thing, too.

All final editorial decisions are made by the Editor(s)-in-Chief and/or the Managing Editor. Authors should not be contacted, targeted, or harassed under any circumstances. If you have any grievances with this article, please direct your comments to

When commenting, be considerate and respectful of writers and fellow commenters. Try to stay on topic. Spam and comments that are hateful or discriminatory will be deleted. Our full commenting policy can be read here.