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A choreographed parting shot

It was a hardscrabble climb to the top for Jean Chrétien. "The little guy from Shawinigan" surprised everyone - except himself - by finding his way to the summit of Canadian politics. From the pool hall political debates of his childhood to the opulent offices of Ottawa, CBC Radio and Television capture the long, colourful career of Canada's 20th prime minister.

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On Feb. 8, 2005, former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien sits on the witness stand, tersely answering questions about the mishandling of millions of dollars as part of the sponsorship program, an initiative implemented during his reign. Chrétien defends the program, saying it was necessary to protect federalism in Quebec after the 1995 referendum. Throughout his testimony, he remains unapologetic maintaining he knew nothing about the program's mismanagement, as seen in this TV report. Then Chrétien pulls out some golf balls.

The inquiry had heard earlier that the office of former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien ordered 300 golf balls emblazoned with the Maple Leaf and his signature through the sponsorship program at a cost of about $4 each. Showing some of his old street-fighting spirit, Chrétien holds up his collection of golf balls bearing the name of American presidents, pointedly asking whether each of them was small-town cheap. It's a parting shot aimed at the head of the inquiry, Justice John Gomery. In a year-end interview, Gomery had called Chrétien's distribution of autographed golf balls as "small-town cheap." 
• The sponsorship program was conceived in 1996 after the "No" side narrowly defeated the separatists in the 1995 Quebec Referendum. The Public Works Department was responsible for the pro-federalism advertising campaign to boost its profile in Quebec.

• Chrétien's golf ball collection included those from American presidents George Bush, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, as well as former Vice-President Al Gore. The final ball was from the law firm Ogilvie Renault, which employed former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, Gomery commission counsel Bernard Roy and Justice Gomery's daughter.

• Justice Gomery remained expressionless through the golf ball show, but Chrétien's antics drew loud laughter from the audience.

• While Justice Gomery did not directly implicate Chrétien, he did conclude that Chrétien must bear some responsibility for the scandal because the sponsorship program was run out of the Prime Minister's Office.

• While former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien remains quiet on politics, he is very active in international charity work. In July 2006, Jean Chrétien backed by his law firm, Heenan Blaikie, pledged resources to fight malaria in Africa as part of the Millenia Hope campaign.Chretien
Medium: Television
Program: The National
Broadcast Date: Feb. 8, 2005
Guest(s): Jean Chrétien
Host: Peter Mansbridge
Reporter: Keith Boag, Paul Hunter, Christina Lawand, Leslie MacKinnon
Duration: 11:41

Last updated: April 11, 2013

Page consulted on September 10, 2014

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