March 24, 2019

Canadian ex-Prime Minister fell out with Tony Blair over Mugabe: details emerge

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In his book My Stories, My Times, former Canadian Prime Minister Joseph Jacques Jean Chrétien recounts meeting George W. Bush and Tony Blair in Detroit prior to the invasion of Iraq.

He slipped off to the hotel bar with the British prime minister who tried to convince him that Iraq had to be attacked because Saddam Hussein was a ruthless tyrant.

If you want to start going after all the world’s tyrants, the Canadian prime minister told Mr. Blair, you might start with Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe. Well, said the British leader, there’s a big difference between Mr. Mugabe and Mr. Hussein.

“Tony,” Mr. Chrétien replied. “There is indeed a tremendous difference. Mugabe has no oil.” At that, he recalled how Mr. Blair went “white in the face, furious with me, and for many months our relations were no longer the same.”


Tony Blair and Robert Mugabe in 1997 Credit: BBC

Joseph Jacques Jean Chrétien is a Canadian politician who served as the 20th Prime Minister of Canada from November 4, 1993, to December 12, 2003.

Born and raised in Shawinigan, Quebec, Chrétien is a law graduate from Université Laval.

He was first elected to the House of Commons of Canada in 1963

Nor were they the same for Mr. Chretien with war enthusiasts Mr. Bush and his vice-president Dick Cheney. Man of malice Mr. Cheney is currently depicted in Vice, a pulsating film of hits and misses that Mr. Chrétien will enjoy – and Donald Trump, too.

One of the most popular Canadian prime ministers in recent history, Jean Chrétien has some stories to tell. Recounted with warmth, insight and humour, these brief and candid essays feature many behind-the-scenes stories from a long, distinguished and colourful career. Includes two sixteen-page colour photo inserts.

October 2018 marked twenty-five years since Jean Chrétien took the helm as prime minister. In this collection of short essays, he has picked up his pen to reminisce about his long years in the public eye, and the many luminaries he met and worked with.

Readers will learn why his commonsense judgment continues to influence our lives to this day, in ways both profound and subtle: from forging long-lasting relationships with foreign countries to making it easy to identify our national airline when we travel. Of course, many familiar names figure in these stories, including George W. Bush, Boris Yeltsin, Tony Blair, Jacques Chirac, Pierre Trudeau, Robert Mugabe, and Bill and Hillary Clinton.

As always, he reserves his greatest admiration for his wife of more than sixty years, Aline, his “Rock of Gibraltar.”

These stories offer his unique perspective: we are at the Prime Minister’s side on 9/11 when he is asked to give authorization to shoot down a passenger airliner that has not responded to identification requests. We learn how he attempted to correct the record as explained in his grandson’s history book on the so-called “Night of the Long Knives.” There are even glimpses of the young Jean, as a teen canvassing with his father, and as a young man who dared complain personally to Premier Maurice Duplessis about the food at his seminary. 
 

Survival in politics requires stamina, creativity and toughness, as well as the ability to share a laugh now and again: qualities that the self-described “little guy from Shawinigan” never lost. In these days of “alternative facts” and politics-by-Tweet, these stories are a necessary antidote, told by a leader who always held fast to his vision of what Canada was and what it could be.

ZOOMZimbabwe shares with you an excerpt from Chapter 13 of the book:

Chapter 13

“ALTERNATIVE FACTS” OF HISTORY

In February 2017, after he was sworn in, President Trump complained that the press was not telling the truth when they reported that the crowds for his inauguration were much smaller than they had been for President Obama in 2009. Kellyanne Conway, a close adviser to the new president, came up with the expression “alternative facts” to define their view of the situation. In a sense she was right, because if you claim something ad nauseam, even if it is not true, the “alternative facts” will impose themselves over time as accepted truth, even for many historians. Such myths become almost impossible to correct; too many people have incorporated them into their own stories as undisputed factual elements.

One night I received a phone call from my grandson Olivier, who told me how embarrassed he had been by a story that was served up to him at school about an agreement between the federal government and the provinces (minus Quebec and Manitoba), in the matter of the Charter of Rights and the patriation of the Constitution—and about my presumed role in the process. Apparently he was told that I’d spent the night in the corridors of the Château Laurier, betraying Quebec. Poor Olivier had felt humiliated.

I explained to him that after six o’clock that evening I met with no one from the provincial delegations; I spoke at 11 p.m. with Garde Gardom, the minister responsible for British Columbia, and at six o’clock the following morning with Roy Romanow of Saskatchewan. I had Olivier confirm with Aline that I was home before 11 p.m. As he had to do an assignment on the subject, he wrote the version I gave him, and his learned history teacher gave him the glorious grade of zero. Alternative facts, endlessly repeated since the dramatized packaging of the “night of the long knives,” are what all young people are taught in Quebec schools today. However, a documentary film called Canada by Night was produced in 1999 by Luc Cyr and Carl Leblanc; it exists, and it brings together the testimonies of the major players during those hours. It totally discredits the myth about that famous night. Despite the painstaking research and fact checking in the film, its limited distribution in a climate that is blind to the truth cannot compete with “alternative facts” repeated ad nauseam both before and after.

All this took place more than thirty-six years ago, and I’ve been saying the same thing ever since, as have all my colleagues. But no matter, the truth cannot prevail.

After that day’s meeting was adjourned, Romanow, Roy McMurtry (from Ontario) and I conferred and developed a compromise plan. I thought that the federal government ought to accept the overriding clause—the controversial “notwithstanding” clause—and I told them to go out and convince the provinces. But my job was even harder: I had to convince my boss, Pierre Elliott Trudeau. After dinner I went to 24 Sussex, and attempted without success to make the case to the prime minister and the five other ministers present. Around ten o’clock, Trudeau took a phone call, and when he returned his mood had changed. He asked me a few more questions before adjourning the meeting.

The other participants left, but he kept me back and told me that he could accept my plan if we obtained the support of seven provinces, representing 50 percent of the population; in other words, the amending formula proposed by the provinces and accepted by Quebec. Trudeau, however, had always wanted Quebec and Ontario to have a right to veto. What had happened to make him suddenly accept the notwithstanding clause that in the past he had always rejected?

The phone call that he’d received was from Premier Bill Davis of Ontario, his unconditional ally from the beginning. Davis had said that he accepted the compromise I had proposed at the end of the afternoon, and that he “would abandon ship if Mr. Trudeau did not agree to it.”

In fact, it was Bill Davis who broke the deadlock, but he did not get the credit, which was a pity. What broke up the group of eight provinces that had tried to derail the whole project was René Lévesque’s acceptance of an idea proposed by Trudeau that very morning in an attempt to undo the stalemate: the prime minister had suggested that Quebec might hold a referendum on the patriation of the Constitution and on the inclusion of a Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The proposition would allow René Lévesque to retake the initiative against Trudeau with this referendum, and none of the other provincial politicians wanted to oppose either a charter of rights or patriation, except Manitoba premier Sterling Lyon.

Fifteen years later another referendum was held in Quebec, amid an atmosphere of the end justifying the means, and Lucien Bouchard and the other bards of separation created out of whole cloth the supposed “night of the long knives” to incite resentment. Six days after the defeat of the Yes side, the intruder who gained access to 24 Sussex by night in order to assassinate me had apparently decided to do the job with a knife. Fortunately Aline was there to save my life. Hallelujah!

Meanwhile, and sadly, the alternative facts at the origin of many unwise moves are as deeply rooted as ever. Myths really do die hard. — ZOOMZimbabwe

 
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