Never judge a book by its cover, especially a Canadian classic. To my Americans, stay for a bit and hear about a great Canadian, and a personal hero of mine. A man who rose to be one of Canada’s most popular and longest serving Prime Ministers despite being partially deaf, paralyzed in the face, and Teddy Kennedy unintelligible, meet Jean Chretien.
Chretien led Canada for 10 years (1993-2003), winning 3 elections, eliminating the deficit and putting a substantial dent into the Canadian debt pile. The amazing thing about Chretien is that he did all this while Canada, and the rest of the world, wondered aloud “um, what the hell did he just say?” Eddie Murphy’s take on James Brown sums it up quite well.
But like the proverbial honey badger, Jean Chretien don’t care, he said and did as he wanted. And the people loved him for it. To help you understand the man, and enigma which is Jean Chretien, here are 3 of my favorite Jean Chretien moments:
1.) The Shawinigan Handshake – Chretien puts a protestor in a chokehold
In 1996, Chretien was confronted by a anti-poverty protester at a flag day rally in Quebec. So what does Jean Chretien do when a protestor gets up in his grill? Easy, he grabs the guy by the neck, and chokes him!
That’s right, Jean Chretien don’t care if he has his Ray Bans on, he’ll still put your ass on the floor!
2.) Chretien’s views on the use of pepper-spray
During the APEC summit of 1997, the usual band of anarchists and student protestors were hell bent on disrupting the conference. The Mounties (aka the Canadian policemen in red with the hats) broke out the pepper spray and proceeded to blind an entire cohort of UBC students. Outrage soon followed.
When publicly questioned by a student over the Mounties’ use of pepper-spray, watch as Chretien expertly parries the question:
“pepper? what pepper?! I put pepper on my plate!” – Jean Chretien
You done got pepper-sprayed by the police? Here’s a tissue, Jean Chretien don’t care.
3.) Chretien refuses to support the U.S. invasion of Iraq
In 2003, George W. Bush asked Chretien for Canada’s support in the upcoming invasion of Iraq. Shockingly, Chretien said no. That Chretien would so publicly reject Canada’s pimp and protector was as much a shock to the US as it was a point of pride for Canadians. Chretien’s reasoning was sound: he wanted proof that Saddam Hussein was building WMDs before he’d support the war. But that’s not the best part, when answering questions to the press about what would be acceptable proof, he delivered quite the insight:
“A proof is a proof. What kind of a proof? It’s a proof! A proof is a proof. And when you have a good proof, it’s because its proven.” – Jean Chretien
Never underestimate the power of confusion, that might be Jean Chretien’s greatest teaching. I half think Chretien was purposely slurring his speech, its hard to debate what you can’t understand. He was a lion of a Prime Minister, he never backed down or skirted the issues, sure you might not know what his position was, but you knew he had one and that he would defend it.
Plus. it’s hard to not like a guy who confronts a would-be assassin with a Eskimo statue, but that’s just the kind of guy Jean Chretien is. Heck, if he isn’t doing anything these days, I hope he comes back to save the day, like Joe Clark, except with fewer chins and far better chances. Ok Leroy, let’s do this: bring back Chretien!
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