A Leader Looks Back

For­mer Prime Min­is­ter Jean Chré­tien on ad­vis­ing Justin Trudeau, tir­ing of Trump and telling his tales

Reader's Digest (Canada) - - Contents - BY COURT­NEY SHEA IL­LUS­TRA­TION BY AIMÉE VAN DRIM­ME­LEN

For­mer Prime Min­is­ter Jean Chré­tien on ad­vis­ing Justin Trudeau, tir­ing of Trump and telling his tales. COURT­NEY SHEA

Your book, My Sto­ries, My Times, comes out 25 years af­ter you were first elected prime min­is­ter. What mo­ti­vated this mo­ment of self-re­flec­tion?

When I’m sit­ting with fam­ily or friends af­ter din­ner, they of­ten ask me ques­tions about my 40 years in pub­lic life—and I find I have a lot of sto­ries to tell. My grand­chil­dren told me, “Grand-papa, these sto­ries will dis­ap­pear. Why don’t you write them down?” And so, for a full year, I wrote some­thing ev­ery week. The sub­ject var­ied, as if I had been writ­ing a col­umn for a news­pa­per.

You men­tion that writ­ing is some­thing you would do when you had tired of the “sur­re­al­ist va­garies” of Don­ald Trump. Care to ex­pand?

I’m very sur­prised by what’s go­ing on in the United States. Like many oth­ers, I’m watch­ing it on TV and, some­times, I don’t en­joy it. So it’s bet­ter to re­turn to my desk and gain back my seren­ity with my sou­venirs, my sto­ries.

What are your thoughts on liv­ing in the era of “al­ter­na­tive facts”?

In my time, to be ac­cused of ly­ing was a ter­ri­ble at­tack. If you al­leged some­body else in the House [of Com­mons] was do­ing it, that caused a big storm. The mem­ber [mak­ing the al­le­ga­tion] had to prove it or was sus­pended from the House. It doesn’t seem to be such a big prob­lem to­day.

You chose Joe Clark, an old ri­val, to write the fore­word.

Yes, and that’s why I asked him. I thought it would be a good mes­sage to send to peo­ple. We worked across the aisle from each other for more than 30 years. He was an op­po­nent of mine all that time, but even when we had to chal­lenge each other po­lit­i­cally, we re­mained civ­i­lized.

The Trudeau govern­ment oc­ca­sion­ally con­sults with you on cur­rent mat­ters. How does that work?

I’m not ad­vis­ing them on a daily ba­sis, but when they want to get my views on some­thing, they call me. I have known Justin since he was a baby—I was sit­ting in the House of Com­mons next to his fa­ther when he was born. Justin is a dif­fer­ent guy than I am, and as prime min­is­ter he has to do things his way. What’s im­por­tant, though, is the val­ues we share—val­ues that have ex­isted in our party for a long time.

Is there any­thing that stands out in that re­gard?

I was very pleased with the moves we made for the refugees from Syria. We took in a big num­ber of them, and it was not a con­tro­versy in Canada.

Did you al­ways dream of a life in pol­i­tics?

My fa­ther was the one who wanted me to be a politi­cian. When I told him that I wanted to be an ar­chi­tect, he said, “No, you will never be elected as an ar­chi­tect. You’re go­ing to law school.” So I did. In those days, when your fa­ther said some­thing, you did it.

Your fa­ther chose your ca­reer, and in the book, you write about how your mother chose your wife.

Well, I was very at­tracted to my wife, but it was my mother who did ev­ery­thing she could to make sure that we ended up to­gether. Jean Chré­tien’s My Sto­ries, My Times comes out Oc­to­ber 23.

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