Jean Chrétien's memorable talk at Concordia
Before Jean Chrétien, LLD 10, served as Canada’s 20th prime minister from 1993 to 2003, he had already gained a reputation as one of the country’s most passionate, colourful and outspoken public figures.
On March 4, in front of a packed Sir George Williams University Alumni Auditorium in Concordia’s Henry F. Hall Building, Chrétien proved his wisdom and wit are as sharp and biting as ever. The audience of 750 included Concordians as well as several Members of Parliament, candidates for the upcoming federal election, journalists and other guests.
Chrétien delivered the Henri P. Habib Distinguished Speakers’ Series on Peace, Conflict and Global Politics in the 21st Century lecture, called “Canada: Its own flag. Its own destiny.” It was followed by a Q&A with chief news anchor of CTV Montreal News Mutsumi Takahashi, BA 79, MBA 95, LLD 13.
Chrétien provided his take on a number of historic Canadian moments to an exuberant audience, which gave him four standing ovations. These were among his memorable quotes:
- “The United Nations had a report every year on the quality of life in Canada. We were always number one, but one time we dropped to number three — and The Globe and Mail gave me hell. And now we’re number nine, 10, 11.”
- “I was proud to tell [European leaders] I don’t have any problem with immigration in Canada. For me an immigrant is not a problem, an immigrant is an asset.”
- Of course, the [1995 Quebec referendum] question was so confusing. ‘Do you want happiness?’ It was difficult to vote no. After that I said, ‘This will not happen anymore.’ And we passed the law that we called the Clarity Act. There would be no negotiation according to this law if the question is not clear. ‘Do you want to separate from Canada? Yes or no.’”
First elected as Liberal MP in 1963, Chrétien recounted his feelings when the Canadian flag was officially adopted in February 1965. “It was a great day on Parliament Hill. It was cold, but it was very warm in our hearts because we had our flag, at long last.”
The Henri P. Habib Distinguished Speakers’ Series on Peace, Conflict and Global Politics was established in 2005 in honour of Distinguished Professor Emeritus Henri Habib, who founded Concordia’s Department of Political Science and served as chair for 24 years. Past speakers include former Liberal Foreign Affairs Minister Lloyd Axworthy and former Canadian ambassador Raymond Chrétien, Jean Chrétien’s nephew.
The event was organized by Concordia’s Advancement and Alumni Relations in collaboration with Department of Political Science. Bram Freedman, vice-president of Development and External Relations, and Secretary-General, served as master of ceremonies, and Marlene Sokolon, professor and chair of Department of Political Science, also addresses the audience.