A farewell to Chrétien

Jean Chrétien’s tenure as Prime Minister is nearing its end and I, for one, will miss him.

No, I’m not kidding.

Although I have been a Calgarian since birth, and disdain for everything Liberal has been drilled into to me since the nep (get over it people), the truth has somehow gotten through the filters built up by my socialization.

Our country is a great place, and Chrétien has contributed to our well-being. The distaste for Chrétien is isolated to the West, indicating a divide in expectations. I think this is a division between naïfs and cynics.

The West is stuck on sincerity, we would like our politicians to be sincere above all. This may explain Alberta’s love affair with Ralph Klein. The East has given up on sincerity in its politicians and will judge quality upon results rather than intentions.

Thus, the naïve spirit of the West has watched with horror for the past 10 years. Chrétien is not a saint by any stretch of the imagination. He entered the Prime Ministership by lying. Two of his main campaign promises in 1993 were to abolish the gst and get rid of free trade. He did neither of these. It wasn’t a political move to gain more popularity, rather he kept these two policies because we as a country would better off in keeping them.

His run as Prime Minister has consistently featured pragmatism over dogmatism. He has not been afraid to reverse official policy if evidence mounted against its adoption.

On top of this kind of behavior, he is has been plagued by corruption charges. There are two possibilities when corruption charges are focused on the leader of a country. The first being he actually is corrupt. The second is that opposition parties have such a dearth of criticism of actual government policy that they resort to mudslinging.

The naïve have followed their moral compass to the conclusion Chrétien has been a largely unsuccessful leader, not delivering on promises and abusing the power entrusted to him. The cynics have looked at what has actually transpired during his reign. They do this by looking at actual policy and results of that policy. If we look at the major issues in Canadian politics, Chrétien has maintained a good record.

The perennial Quebec problem has died down considerably since 1995. The Chrétien government has been proactive in preserving the health care system that is a source of great pride for Canadians. The rate of criminal activity has declined by 27 per cent since 1991 and is now around 1978 levels.

In foreign policy and defense, Canada’s position has declined. Contrary to what conservatives believe, this is not such a bad thing. The last time our borders were threatened we were not even a country. Any commitment of armed forces we make is based more upon goodwill than national interests. Any further investment in defense we make would be a waste far greater than the gun registry. Chrétien’s decision not to go to Iraq was a moment that all Canadians can be proud of (except for those naïve enough to believe the Bush Administration).

The Canadian economy has performed quite well during Chretien’s time. The Economist has called Canada’s reputation as a "resource-based economy is largely undeserved." When we look at economic indicators it shows of how well we’ve been doing, Canada has averaged 3.7 per cent economic growth over the past four years. Despite the charge that Canada’s taxes are astronomic, the government consumption of gdp in Canada was actually 0.14 per cent lower than the United States in 2002 (that ought to shock a few Canadian Alliance folk.) Our monetary policy, although making tourism difficult, has helped us export not only our resources but also our manufactured goods.

The bottom line is Chrétien has been good for Canada. In almost every way you look at it, the country is better off now then it was in 1992. So the next time you hear or see some Chrétien bashing, look at it with a critical eye. I think history will remember him more fondly than critics of today suspect.

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