Harper erred on Olympics: Chre­tien


Stephen Harper made a po­lit­i­cal blun­der by fail­ing to at­tend the Olympic open­ing cer­e­monies in China, Jean Chre­tien charged Mon­day as he de­nounced the sit­ting prime min­is­ter for burn­ing bridges and un­do­ing decades of good­will be­tween the two coun­tries with his swipes at the emerg­ing su­per­power.

The Chi­nese will not likely for­give the Cana­dian gov­ern­ment’s slights be­cause they have a “col­lec­tive me­mory there that is very im­por­tant and plays a big role,” the for­mer Lib­eral prime min­is­ter told a meet­ing of the Cana­dian Bar As­so­ci­a­tion.

“I would have been at the Olympics my­self,” said Chre­tien, who also lam­basted the Harper gov­ern­ment for alien­at­ing the Chi­nese by be­stow­ing hon­ourary Cana­dian cit­i­zen­ship on the Dalai Lama of Ti­bet.

“We’re black­balled,” Chre­tien said later to Canwest News Ser­vice. “We’re at the bot­tom of the lad­der with China. We’ve lost a lot of ground.”

Harper, cit­ing a sched­ul­ing con­flict, was one of a hand­ful of world lead­ers who skipped the lav­ish Olympics open­ing cer­e­mony on Aug. 8, widely de­scribed as China’s com­ing-out party. The prime min­is­ter’s fail­ure to at­tend has been viewed by crit­ics as snub­bing a coun­try he has re­peat­edly crit­i­cized for its hu­man-rights record.

Harper has had a tense re­la­tion­ship with Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Hu Jin­tao amid the prime min­is­ter’s as­ser­tions that he would not sac­ri­fice hu­man rights to reach busi­ness deals with China.

Dim­itris Soudas, a spokesman for Harper, shot back at Chre­tien, say­ing that he only at­tended one of six Olympic open­ing cer­e­monies dur­ing his 13 years as prime min­is­ter, when he went to At­lanta in 1996.

“For Mr. Chre­tien to sit there and say our re­la­tions with China are dam­aged be­cause the prime min­is­ter did not at­tend is hyp­o­crit­i­cal,” said Soudas, adding the gov­ern­ment sent a del­e­ga­tion led by For­eign Af­fairs Min­is­ter David Emer­son.

Chre­tien said re­la­tions be­tween the two coun­tries have steadily de­te­ri­o­rated un­der the Harper gov­ern­ment, re­vers­ing decades of hard-earned good­will that be­gan with Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment of John Diefen­baker, which sold wheat to China in the 1950s.

“Start­ing with Diefen­baker, and then with Trudeau, and all of us, we es­tab­lished very good re­la­tions with China,” Chre­tien told re­porters. “And sud­denly, you break a bridge. It would have been easy just to be there (at the Olympics).”

Jean Chre­tien

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