(b. 11 Jan. 1934).
Prime Minister of Canada 1993–2003
Born at Shawinigan, Quebec, he studied law at Laval University and was admitted to the Quebec Bar in 1958. He became a member of the House of Commons for the Liberal Party in 1963, serving in various ministries including National Revenue (1968), Indian Affairs (1968–74), Industry, Trade, and Commerce (1976–7), Finance (1977–9), as well as Energy, Mines, and Resources (1982–4). In 1980, he campaigned actively for the government in the Quebec referendum against sovereignty, supporting Trudeau's promise of a lasting constitutional settlement which would meet the province's aspirations. He was then put in charge of the constitutional negotiations (1980–2) which led to the patriation of the Canadian Constitution. However, this failed to satisfy many Quebeckers, who never quite forgave him for what they considered his broken promise.
He returned from political retirement in 1990, when he was asked to lead a disunited and demoralized Liberal Party. He became leader of the opposition, and in 1993 his steady leadership, as well as the exhaustion of the Conservative Party after a long spell in government, ensured a comfortable victory for the Liberals. In his first years in office, Chrétien was faced with the growth of Quebec separatism, fuelled by the popularity of the charismatic Bouchard. The government narrowly averted defeat in a referendum on Quebec independence in 1995, not least by generous funding of the ‘no’ campaign.
Chrétien pursued a policy of economic liberalization and the reduction of the national debt. Helped by his Finance Minister, Paul Martin, the government achieved a budget surplus in the early years of 2000. To benefit from the divisions within the fragmented opposition, Chrétien called two early elections in 1997 and 2000, both of which he won handsomely. In 2002 he faced great pressure for his resignation. Even though his popularity was boosted by his decision not to support the USA in the Iraq War, he was forced to resign in 2003 to make way for his rival, Paul Martin. Chrétien did not hide his disdain for his successor. Illegal funding of the Liberal Party under Chrétien's leadership did much to undermine his successor, and bring about his downfall in 2006.
Subjects: Contemporary History (Post 1945).