Jean Chrétien reflects on time in office

Former Prime Minister’s memoir offers hope

Former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien was in Kingston Oct. 27.  
Photo supplied by Tricia Knowles

For Jean Chrétien, the art of storytelling is never far from politics.

On Saturday, the former Prime Minister sat down with Senator Jim Munsen at the Holiday Inn on Princess Street to talk about his new memoir, My Stories, My Time.

Reflecting on his time in office, Chrétien shared his experiences and lessons, and some never-before-heard stories from Canadian history during his lifetime in politics.

These difficult experiences included the fear and uncertainty that gripped Quebec as The Front du Liberation du Quebec bombed the province in support of independence in 1963-70. Serving as a member of parliament for Saint-Maurice in the 1960s to ’80s, Chrétien saw it firsthand.

For him, Quebec’s past turmoil is reflected in today’s political climate.

Recalling this time in his political career, Chrétien said the current violence happening in America—he referred to the recent shooting of the Pittsburgh Tree of Life Synagogue—will subside.

At the talk, Chrétien built a warm rapport with his audience, speaking to them as if they were close friends. He shared brief, revealing moments—like swearing after his pen broke while he signed the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982 in front of Queen Elizabeth.

Chrétien called this a “state secret,” saying that for years after it happened, he refused to tell anyone what he’d said to make the Queen laugh. The audience erupted into laughter—a common occurrence throughout his talk.

Chrétien displayed his skills as a humourist, which served him well both as a storyteller and politician. His transparency made him relatable and trustworthy. If he didn’t have the favour of the room when he arrived, he certainly gained it by the time he left.

In a short amount of time, he teased the audience with only a few stories from his memoir, saying that if they wanted to know more, they’d have to buy his book. He did, however, share more during the talk’s question period.

When asked how he felt about the Trump administration, Chrétien said he was prompted to sit down and write this book after feeling powerless as he watched the recent state of American politics.

Frustrated as he may be by President Trump, Chrétien doesn’t believe the problems facing Americans will last long. After working in politics as long as he has, he knows that state and national crisis inevitably pass.

As he smoothly transitioned from serious topics to more lighthearted ones, he proved his strength as a storyteller.

Chrétien’s memoir highlights his hard days in politics but also reveals his unrelenting sense of humour and mischievousness. With not one but two stories about him talking himself out of a ticket after getting pulled over by a cop, these kinds of candid contributions from a former Prime Minister are unexpected.  

However, while Chrétien may take a lighthearted approach to life, it’s not been always reflected in his politics.

Whether liberal or conservative, Chrétien’s talk represented an admirable set of values that are often missing from contemporary politics.

Reading his stories, audiences can find a sense of hope for the future—and an understanding that all things pass with time.

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