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The dealmaker: Chrétien

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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The "little guy" is now a contender for a big job. He has become Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau's right-hand man and, some say, successor. When the boss wants constitutional change, he turns to Chrétien, his justice minister, to make it happen. After criss-crossing the country, Chrétien gets results in, of all places, a kitchen. He and two provincial counterparts retreat there during federal-provincial talks and come up with a deal later agreed to by all provinces except Quebec.

In the past, Aline Chrétien thought dreams of the prime minister's job seemed too big. Now, though, she's ready to rally behind Jean. If he ever wins, well, "that's an achievement, eh?" In this Television clip, The Journal reporter Mary Lou Finlay says Trudeau's elevation of Chrétien to constitutional dealmaker has made him a serious contender. Suddenly, the self-described "pea souper" is making speeches about Canada's grandeur -- and its future.
• An agreement for a revised Constitution was negotiated over 18 months, from the time of the 1980 referendum until Trudeau and nine premiers signed it in November 1981. The Constitution Act came into force on April 17, 1982 when it was signed by Queen Elizabeth II, Trudeau, Chrétien -- Canada's attorney general -- and André Oullet, registrar general of Canada, at a ceremony in Ottawa.

• The inclusion of Chrétien as a signatory for the historic document was seen as Trudeau's reward to his trusted lieutenant for legwork during the long and tense negotiations. Although very different in speech and style, the two men admired each other. Chrétien called himself "Trudeau's firefighter," because he was dispatched to take care of politically sensitive and difficult portfolios. Trudeau would tell his officials that if they wanted something done, "Get Chrétien."

• The so-called kitchen accord was sketched out by Chrétien, Roy Romanow -- Saskatchewan's attorney general -- and his Ontario counterpart Roy McMurtry. The trio -- a Liberal, a New Democrat and a Conservative -- retreated for a private chat to the kitchen of the Government Conference Centre during federal-provincial talks. On scraps of paper, they sketched out the framework of what would become the accord.Chretien
Medium: Television
Program: The Journal
Broadcast Date: Jan. 11, 1982
Guest(s): Jean Chrétien, Aline Chrétien, Roy Romanow
Reporter: Mary Lou Finlay
Duration: 10:53

Last updated: April 11, 2013

Page consulted on August 1, 2014

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