Canadian Prime Minister Chretien has been compared to both Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan. Like Clinton, Chretien is an outgoing and easygoing man of the people, with a passion for meeting and greeting. But like Reagan, opponents accuse him of being “non-intellectual” and “uncomplicated.”
“It must be said of Jean Chretien that he is likely the best finger-in-the-wind politician in the business. It is not so much his knowing what is right as it is his unerring judgment of what he can get away with, or Canadians put up with.”
Dalton Camp, columnist for The Hill Times, Canada’s parliamentary newspaper, Dec. 2, 1996
Born in Shawinigan, Quebec, on Jan. 11, 1934, Chretien inherited a passion for Liberal Party politics from his activist father and grandfather. He studied law at Laval University and was called to the bar in 1958. He was first elected to the House of Commons in 1963 and served in several major Cabinet posts, mainly during Pierre Trudeau’s administration.
“Chretien’s aggressive, outgoing manner masks the fact that he is a deeply private man who keeps his feelings tightly under wraps. … The golf course, where Chretien grimaces, mutters and curses to himself, is one of the few places where he lets his emotions show unchecked.”
Anthony Wilson-Smith, Maclean’s, Nov. 25, 1996
Chretien resigned from the House of Commons on Feb. 27, 1986, to practice law. He returned to politics in 1990, when he was chosen leader of the Liberal Party, then became prime minister after winning the October 1993 election.
His personal popularity has remained high throughout the intervening years despite having to scale back the expectations Canadians had built up over decades about semi-sacred social programs. Chretien also made his mark on the international scene by vigorously renewing Canada’s commitment to sending peacekeeping forces under the United Nations’ banner to war zones around the world. Prime Minister Chretien married Aline Chaine, also of Shawinigan, in 1957. They have three children: France, Hubert and Michel.