Joseph Jacques Jean Chrétien (born January 11, 1934) was the twentieth Prime Minister of Canada, serving from November 4, 1993 to December 12, 2003.

The Rt. Hon. Jean Chrétien
Term of Office:November 3, 1993 -
December 12, 2003
Predecessor:Kim Campbell
Successor:Paul Martin, Jr
Date of Birth:January 11, 1934
Place of Birth:Shawinigan, Quebec
Spouse:Aline Chainé
Profession:lawyer, politician
Political Party:Liberal

Table of contents
1 Early Life
2 Prime Minister
3 Retirement
4 Legacy

Early Life

Born in Shawinigan, Quebec, Chrétien studied law at Laval University. When he was 12, he had a severe case of frostbite after walking to church for his sister's wedding in extremely cold weather. The frostbite damaged nerves, causing permanent paralysis in the left side of his face. This condition is known as Bell's palsy. Some have used the condition as an indication of his overall political persona, describing him as literally and figuratively "talking out of the side of his mouth." Kim Campbell referred to him in this way during the 1993 election.

On September 10, 1957, he married Aline Chainé. They have two sons and one daughter. He was first elected to the Canadian House of Commons in 1963 and, after re-election in 1965, served as parliamentary secretary - first to Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson (1965) and then to Minister of Finance Mitchell Sharp (1966). Pearson later appointed him junior finance minister. He was appointed Minister of National Revenue in 1968 and after the election in June of that year was sworn in as Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development. In 1974, he was appointed President of the Treasury Board; beginning in 1976, he served as Minister of Industry, Trade and Commerce. In 1977, he was named Minister of Finance; in 1980, he was appointed Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada and also served as Minister of State for Social Development and Minister Responsible for constitutional negotiations, playing a significant role in the repatriation of the Canadian constitution. In 1982, Chrétien was appointed Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources.

After Trudeau announced his retirement in early 1984, Chrétien sought the leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada, losing on the second ballot to John Turner at the leadership convention that June. Turner appointed him Deputy Prime Minister and Secretary of State for External Affairs. Relations between the two were reportedly strained, and in 1986 Chrétien resigned his seat and left public life—temporarily, as it turned out. After Turner's resignation as leader in 1989, Chrétien returned: he was elected Liberal Party leader at the June 1990 leadership convention in Calgary, defeating Paul Martin on the first ballot. A by-election in the New Brunswick constituency of Beauséjour in December 1990 returned him to the House of Commons.

Prime Minister

In the 1993 federal election in October of that year, Jean Chrétien became Prime Minister of Canada by leading his party to a majority victory, ousting Prime Minister Kim Campbell and the Progressive Coservative Party. He was reelected in 1997 and 2000. During Chrétien's term as Prime Minister, no party has emerged as a viable challenger to the supremacy of his Liberal party.

Chretien's election signaled a break from Canada's recent tradition of Prime Ministers. While Brian Mulroney, Joe Clark, and Pierre Trudeau had all been relative political outsiders prior to assuming office, Chretien had over 30 years of experience within the government. This experience gave him a very masterful knowledge of the Canadian Parliamentary system, and allowed Chretien to establish a very centralized government that although highly efficient, was also lambasted by critics as being a "friendly dictatorship" and intolerant of internal dissent.

One of Chrétien's main focuses in office was preventing the separation of the province of Quebec, which was ruled by the separatist Parti Quebecois for nearly the Prime Minister's entire term. After a 1995 referendum showed a very narrow decision against Quebec sovereignty, Chrétien's government passed what became known as the Clarity Act, which said that no Canadian government would acknowledge an independent Quebec nation unless a "clear majority" voted in favor. The size of a "clear majority" was left unspecified, but Chrétien made it clear that such a majority would not be "50% plus one vote."

Chrétien's government also introduced a new and far-reaching Youth Criminal Justice Act, replacing the old Young Offenders Act and changed the way youths were prosecuted for crimes in Canada.

Under Chrétien, Canada did not support the US-led 2003 invasion of Iraq and did not provide significant aid to the post-war reconstruction effort. Chrétien's reasoning was that the war lacked UN sanction, but it was noted while in opposition he had also opposed the first US-led Gulf War. Although criticism from rightwing oppposition was vocal, the move proved popular with the Canadian public in general. However, in December of 2003 it was revealed that Chrétien had in fact been planning to send as many as 800 Canadian troops to Iraq as late as one month before the war was launched. A UN offer for an increased deployment of Canadian peacekeepers to Afghanistan prompted Chretien to scrap his plans for Iraq. This revelation led some of Chretien's anti-war critics on the left to accuse the Prime Minister of never really being fully opposed to the war.

In October 2003, Chrétien, a strong supporter of the decriminalization of marijuana in Canada, raised eyebrows with comments concerning his plans to smoke marijuana after his retirement. "I don't know what is marijuana," he said. "Perhaps I will try it when it will no longer be criminal. I will have my money for my fine and a joint in the other hand."


In August 2002, to quell internecine strife in the party primarily between his supporters and those of ex-Finance Minister Paul Martin, Chrétien announced that he would not run for an additional term and would resign in February 2004.

Chrétien's final session in the House of Commons took place November 6, 2003, with many tributes, standing ovations, and even some hearty laughs at humourous stories told by the Prime Minister. He made an emotional farewell to the party on November 13 at the Liberal Convention. The following day his rival Martin was elected his successor. The two men lavished praise on one another, and Chrétien joined Martin onstage to congratulate him after his acceptance speech.

On December 12, 2003, Jean Chrétien officially resigned, formally handing power over to Paul Martin.


In general, Chrétien supported Pierre Elliott Trudeau's ideals of bilingualism, multiculturalism and the welfare state, although in recent years his government has cut transfer payments to the provinces for health care, education, and social programs and implemented large personal and corporate tax cuts. In the late 90s he and then-Finance Minister Paul Martin Jr balanced the Canadian budget for the first time in decades. Chrétien has been attacked in the media for failing to live up to certain election promises, such as eliminating the Goods and Services Tax (GST) and scaling back Canada's participation in NAFTA. He has also come under fire for delaying on a military helicopter purchase. Some point to the "No" result of the 1995 separation vote in Quebec as a political victory for Chrétien, while others interpret the extremely slim margin as a near-disaster for which Chrétien, as de facto leader of the "No" campaign, is responsible. In 2002, Chrétien promoted a plan to help Africa financially. It is not completely clear for what he will be most remembered.

One of the most pressing issues in Chrétien's final year in office was Canada's relationship with the United States. Decisions on health care, same-sex marriage, municipal issues, and drug laws will also be important to his successor.

Preceded by:
Kim Campbell
Prime Minister of Canada Followed by:
Paul Martin, Jr