Former prime minister Jean Chretien participates in an interview in Ottawa on Friday, Oct. 5, 2018. Former Liberal prime minister Jean Chretien in hospital in Hong Kong. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Former PM Jean Chretien scoffs at the notion Canada’s unity is under threat

Former Liberal prime minister said Tuesday that Canada has suffered worse threats in the past

Jean Chretien scoffs at the notion that Indigenous protests and western alienation are a threat to Canada’s national unity.

The former Liberal prime minister said Tuesday that Canada has suffered worse threats in the past and has always managed to survive.

He recalled the 1960s and 70s, when radical separatists with the Front de liberation du Quebec (FLQ) were setting off bombs, kidnapped the British trade commissioner and killed a Quebec cabinet minister.

“That is a few years ago and we’re still together, more united than ever,” Chretien told reporters after reminiscing about his 40-year career in federal politics at an Ottawa conference focused on his decade as prime minister.

Some politicians and pundits have lately been arguing that Canada is broken, unable to reconcile the land rights of Indigenous Peoples and the need to fight climate change with the economic benefits of developing natural resources.

Those competing demands have collided over the past few weeks as blockades popped up across the country in support of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs fighting a natural gas pipeline in northern B.C.

The barricades, one of which remains south of Montreal, paralyzed train traffic and damaged the economy.

But Chretien, who served as Indian Affairs minister for more than six years under Pierre Elliott Trudeau, said there have been periodic protests by Indigenous Peoples for decades and they’ve all been resolved one way or another.

“Do you think that this problem will break the nation?” Chretien asked and then answered. “No. Because Canada is stronger than that. We always face a problem and resolve them … Don’t have an inferiority complex.”

He urged a questioner to “relax” and put the recent protests in perspective.

ALSO READ: Chretien says Trudeau has handled blackface issue properly

“You’re young, you will see a lot of problems until you get my age,” the 86-year-old said.

During his time as Indian Affairs minister, Chretien and the elder Trudeau faced major backlash for a 1969 policy proposal, known as the White Paper, that called for abolishing the Indian Act and eliminating Indian status, among other measures. The Liberal government of the day withdrew the proposal the following year.

The anti-pipeline blockades have added to frustration in Alberta, where many blame the Trudeau government’s environmental policies for the province’s inability to get its crude oil to coastal waters for export overseas.

That was compounded by Teck Resources’ recent decision to scrap plans for a new oilsands mine in Alberta, citing the unresolved conflict between climate change policy and resource development.

Talk of Alberta separating from Canada has escalated since Justin Trudeau’s Liberals were re-elected last fall but Chretien said such talk makes no sense.

“The separation of Alberta will not take them closer to the Pacific. They will still be having (to build) the pipeline to go through B.C. or United States or the North and so on.”

While Chretien exuded confidence in Canada’s ability to weather storms, he wasn’t quite so optimistic about the rest of the world.

During the conference, he bemoaned the fact that democracy is “receding” in countries around the globe, including Hungary, Poland, Turkey and the United States. And he deplored the growth of ”false news” and the impression that ”the truth doesn’t matter anymore.”

Chretien said it’s “troubling” that media in the U.S. have documented many instances in which President Donald Trump has lied and yet ”there is not a ripple in the river.”

Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Jean Chretien

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Greater Victoria survey shows third of respondents did not pay, or partially paid rent for April

Survey of 70 respondents says 40 per cent expect they will not be able to pay May rent

Nanaimo, Royal Jubilee to be Vancouver Island’s COVID-19 frontline hospitals

Other Island hospitals will be admitting COVID-19 patients and will be used in a support role

Advocates call safe drug supply a victory but worry about logistics in pandemic

Pandemic contributes to scarce supply, advocates worried about potential impact on the streets

BC Transit extends free fare, installs vinyl barriers in some buses

Free fare will now be offered until April 30

Paramedics called to Oak Bay golf course as man crashes bike into sand trap

Oak Bay police respond to social distance concerns

B.C. clears more acute hospital beds as COVID-19 case growth slows

Province holding about 40% of beds empty for peak still to come

75-year-old woman rescued from Cowichan Lake

Victim taken to hospital, but expected to recover

Not to become bored the game plan for COVID-19

Board game with an Island map developed by Island family just the remedy for filling time at home

As 500K+ apply for emergency benefit, Trudeau says aid coming for Canadians left behind

Canada Emergency Response Benefit provides $2,000 per month

UPDATE: UK PM Boris Johnson moved to intensive care after COVID-19 symptoms worse

He has been quarantined in his Downing St. residence since being diagnosed with COVID-19 on March 26

Travellers, travel agents ‘in agony’ over refund policies and customer service

Many Canadian carriers are offering customers flights rebookings or travel vouchers — but not refunds

Introverted and extroverted kids likely to react differently to COVID-19 restrictions

B.C. child psychologist says your parenting approach can’t be one-size fits all in social isolation

B.C. begins taking submissions for $2M COVID-19 research fund

Rural health, impact of shifting hospital resources among priorities

Most Read