The Prime Minister on Thursday night called on party members to support his successor as Jean Chrtien said goodbye as leader of the Liberal party.
- BACKGROUND: Jean Chrtien
About 10,000 people crammed into Toronto's Air Canada Centre Thursday night for a gala tribute to the prime minister.
The event, co-hosted by Justin Trudeau and Olympian Charmaine Crooks, included performances by jazz great Oscar Peterson, singer Paul Anka and Cirque du Soleil.
Chrtien took to the stage accompanied by the Bachman Turner Overdrive hit "Takin' Care of Business."
"When I first announced my candidacy for the leadership of the Liberal party back in 1984, I said, 'Fasten your seatbelts, it's going to be a helluva ride,'" he said in his address.
"Well, my friends, it has been a helluva ride."
Chrtien led his Liberals to three successive majority governments and spent 10 years in the prime minister's office. During his 40-year career in politics, he was Canada's first French Canadian finance minister.
As minister responsible for constitutional negotiations, he played an important role in the 1982 patriation of the Constitution.
In his speech to delegates, which was broadcast on television and radio live across Canada, Chrtien reflected back on his years as prime minister.
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He boasted of his record of fiscal responsibility and eliminating the deficit, saying Canada was "on the brink of disaster" when he took over.
While he drew heavy applause during parts of his 40-minute speech, one of his biggest ovations came when he talked about Canada's refusal to enter the Iraq war.
"And it was because of our deep belief as Canadians in the values of multilateralism and the United Nations that we did not go to war in Iraq," Chrtien said to a thunderous ovation.
"Now I finish my career as I began, as an ordinary Liberal."
Chrtien had kind words for his political rival and successor Paul Martin, calling him a "great Liberal."
But Chrtien and Martin sat on opposite sides of the stadium, like leaders of two opposition parties.
"Paul Martin will need all our support, the support of all of us. And I can assure Paul that he has my support."
"I thought it was vintage Chrtien, an incredible synopsis of 40 years in public life," Heritage Minister and leadership contender Sheila Copps said of the speech.
Finance Minister John Manley called it a "moving and wonderful speech" and a "wonderful survey on an exciting career in politics."