Canada Kicks Ass

Chretien keeps going and going...
Date: Friday, December 12 2003
Topic: Canadian Politics


Thursday was his last full day in office, but Prime Minister Jean Chretien ended his career as he began it 10 years ago, on the run.


It was vintage Chretien. His brisk stride never faltered, he took the stairs two at a time. He wore a smile and kept a twinkle in his eye. And he even told the press gallery he'd miss them. He started his official day with a 7:40 a.m. call from the White House. President George W. Bush was on the phone to congratulate him on his long career and wish him well in retirement.

The two chatted for about 10 minutes on several topics.


By 9 a.m., Chretien was in a cavernous old drill hall a few blocks from Parliament Hill, waiting to greet visiting Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao.


As he waited for his guest to arrive, Chretien waded into a crowd of schoolchildren gathered for the welcome.


"Bonjour, hello," he said over and over again to the shy faces.


Asked if he will miss this kind of thing, Chretien's voice became wistful: "Yes, a bit."


As Wen arrived, Chretien offered a big grin. He couldn't resist, even in the closing hours of office, to make a sales pitch for Canada.


"Our people come from all over the world," he told Wen, gesturing to the children. "That's the characteristic of Canada. They come from China, from Africa.


"We are probably the most diversified people in the world."


The two leaders went off for talks.


By 10:30, they were posing for cameras in the prime minister's office. The cramped room couldn't hold all the photographers and TV crews, so they came in three waves. Each time, Chretien pumped Wen's hand and smiled his trademark, crooked smile. As the second group came in, Chretien chuckled to Wen: "You're still welcome."


Less than an hour later, the two appeared for some ceremonial signings and some brief media questions.


He was asked about his last day and he gestured at Wen:


"I have a friend with me who came a long way to share that day with me."


He paused for a moment, as if thinking.


"It is nostalgic," he said. "It's 40 years of life here. It's 10 years as prime minister so you know I will miss many things.


"I will miss the press, believe it or not."

He said Friday would be a quiet day. He planned to hand in his resignation and go home.


And he said he'll leave Paul Martin alone to be prime minister.


"This is the most lonely job, so you do your best."


He said he'll just watch from the sidelines and won't offer public criticism or advice.


"I will say nothing, because it's not my business."


At 1 p.m., Chretien was at a business luncheon with Wen.


He recalled making six trips to China as prime minister and said he only went the first time because "I was the only one in my family that had not been in China.


"My grandchildren had been in China, but not the old man."


In mid-afternoon, he was back in the office. As he left about 4:30, he joked around in one last scrum with reporters, pretending to offer Senate appointments.


He spoke briefly about his final cabinet meeting Thursday, describing it as a goodbye to family.


"It's always a rather moving experience," he said.


He said he told his ministers: "We had a good kick at the can. It was a good run, be proud of what we have done collectively."


He skipped down the stairs to return to his official residence at 24 Sussex Dr., to dress for a dinner in honour of Wen at the Canadian Museum of Civilization.


One last black tie gala as prime minister. One last playing of O Canada for the nation's leader.


© Copyright 2003 The Canadian Press

By John Ward





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