Does the name Jean Chrétien sound familiar? Perhaps it should. It certainly is to the Westminster politicians who sought his advice as they fought to keep Scotland a part of the union.
Does the name Jean Chrétien sound familiar? Perhaps it should.
Mr Chrétien, now 80, was a long-time player in international politics, representing Canada at countless G7 meetings, Nato conferences and various heads of government events.
Still, he didn’t attract much of an international following.
The three-time elected Canadian prime minister was short and leathery-looking and his English was pretty awful. Perhaps that’s why they use to stick him to the second row of those end-of-summit group photographs.
There are a few things you should know about Jean Chrétien however. The product of a sawmill town in northern Quebec, he was tough – fists up, slug-it-out, take-no-prisoners sort of tough.
He was also enormously experienced. In fact, you would struggle to find anyone who knows more about home-grown independence movements, population-splitting referenda and the hard-nosed constitutional negotiations which inevitably follow.
Jean Chrétien spent 10 years as prime minister of Canada and led the federalist, ‘pro-Canada’ campaign against separatists from Quebec. The pivotal moment in this long-running existential crisis came in 1995 when Mr Chretien and the federalists won the slimmest of victories in the second of two hard-fought referenda (50.58 per cent voted “non” – 49.42 per cent voted “oui”).
Thus, the leader of the Scottish ‘no’ campaign, Alistair Darling and a succession of Scottish secretaries – Alistair Carmichael MP and Michael Moore MP – knew exactly where to go for advice when they were planning the ‘Better Together’ campaign in Scotland.
“They came to see me in Ottawa and I met them two or three times in London, plus Mr (Alistair) Darling,” said Mr Chrétien in an interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
“They asked me questions about my experience and I (told) them about my experience and what are the problems and solutions and we debated everything for many hours. I am glad that those who took advice from me won.”
Mr Chrétien noted, with some satisfaction, that members of the separatist Parti Québécois who went over Scotland to observe the referendum must have returned to Canada, “a little less cheerful.”
“It’s always more complicated to manage the no side than the yes side, because the yes side is appealing to the heart and the nostalgia of the past and so on. And when you deal with the no, you deal with the reality of life,” Mr Chrétien said.
The former Canadian prime minister said David Cameron studied his ‘non’ victory speech ahead of the British leader’s own plea for national unity last week.
“My daughter told me she was at a wedding on Saturday and Prime Minister Cameron said he was working on his speech, and he had a nice speech in hand to do that.” Asked if Cameron was studying his 1995 speech, Chrétien said “yes.”
It seems certain that there will be a continuing need for the former Canadian prime minister’s advice, with Mr Chrétien underlining the difficulties of negotiating devolution from Westminster to Holyrood.
“The way (David Cameron) is talking he will have to look at the Canadian model… for us, we have this system which has evolved over 150 years (but) for them, they have to start on day one so it is going to be very complicated.”
“They will have decide which powers they transfer (to Scotland) and what level of devolution they want to make and everybody is going to have a strong own view of that,” said Chrétien, who recalled his own experience of negotiating with Canadian provinces, including Quebec, in a various attempts to get them to sign up to a modified constitutional document.
“It took many, many meetings, and a lot of experts and splitting hairs of words and all that jazz and it is going to (create) very complex problems and I wish them good luck.”
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