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Chretien on domestic policy   Politics Watch News Services
October 25, 2007, updated 1:00 p.m.

Former Prime Minister Jean Chretien holds up a golf ball during his testimony at the Gomery inquiry.

OTTAWA  (PoliticsWatch.com) —  In a two-part series, PoliticsWatch examines some of the issues raised in former prime minister Jean Chretien's second memoir, My Years as Prime Minister.    

In part two, PoliticsWatch looks at Chretien's domestic policy. 

The most significant event domestic event during former prime minister Jean Chretien's 10 years in office was the 1995 Quebec referendum. 

Quebecers came within 55,000 of approving a pro-sovereignty referendum after the Yes side trailed badly in the polls in the first weeks of the campaign. 

Chretien had been criticized at the time for taking a too laid back approach to the campaign. In his memoir, Chretien tries to explain why he sat on his hands so long. 

The former prime minister lays blame with his advisers, who he said had "convinced me that I should limit my participation, even though a low-profile strategy ran against my political instincts and my competitive personality." 

Why a prime minister of Canada, proud of his political skills, wouldn't overrule his advisers and sit on the sidelines during a campaign where the future of the country was at stake is never fully explained. 

"It was very frustrating, especially when I had to take the rap for not doing enough," Chretien said. 

The most controversial comments on the referendum contained in the book,  is Chretien's opinion that a Yes side victory "would not have led quickly or inevitably to the breakup of Canada." 

This contradicts what he said in a televised address days before the vote when he suggested that the future of Canada was at stake. 

"The reality was that the crooked question had not asked for a mandate to separate," Chretien writes. 

"A very slight majority for the Yes side could not have been interpreted as irrefutable proof that a majority of Quebecers wanted to sever their historic links with Canada." 

In the same chapter on the referendum, Chretien also talks about the creation of the sponsorship program, the pro-Canada advertising program which has become one of the largest black marks on his legacy. 

In his fact-finding report, Justice John Gomery laid blame on Chretien, his chief of staff Jean Pelletier, former public works minister Alfonso Gagliano and others. 

Both Chretien and Pelletier are challenging Gomery's findings in federal court. 

Chretien maintains that the program, which described Gomery as an elaborate kickback scheme, was "conceived in good faith, noble in its objectives and well executed on the whole." 

The former prime minister remains unapologetic, clings onto the few-bad-apples defence and appears to ignore the facts in some instances. 

"I was accepting the responsibility -- but the blame lies with (Paul) Coffin, (Jean) Brault(Chuck) Guite, and anyone else the courts might find guilty," Chretien says in reference to the two ad men and one bureaucrat who have been found guilty of fraud charges in court. 

"Not one of them, I should add, was a Liberal," Chretien notes. However, he never does explain why the Liberal party agreed to pay $1.14 million back to the federal treasury after Gomery released his findings.

Chretien said the whole scandal, which dominated federal politics for two years, "has more to do with party politics and the newspaper wars than the public interest."

"With no ongoing war in Iraq to debate, no unmanageable controversies over Kyoto or same-sex marriage, no third referendum in Quebec, no downward trend in the opinion polls, the opposition and media had nothing better with which to attack us than muck," Chretien concludes. 

PoliticsWatch showed some of Chretien's quotes to two MPs who were members of the Commons public accounts committee, which conducted its own probe of the sponsorship scandal. 

"It's a problem in terms of him not being in the real world on this," said NDP MP David Christopherson. 

"The reality is that most of the evidence, most of us interpreted it as being systemic, meaning there was a system in place. That's not just a couple of bad apples, which is what they want everyone to believe."

"That's the reality. That's the facts and prime minister Chretien is not going to change that with his revisionist theories in his new book."

Treasury Board President Vic Toews, who was on the public accounts committee while in opposition, was offended by Chretien's assertion that the opposition parties had nothing better to do than investigate the scandal. 

"The fact was the fingers all pointed to the Prime Minister's Office," Toews told PoliticsWatch. 

"If he thinks I had nothing better to do than to take a look at these concerns, I can only answer and say what greater responsibility does a parliamentary have than to ensure that public funds are being used appropriately?"

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