Montreal

Bill Clinton praises NAFTA during conversation with Jean Chrétien in Montreal

The event to host Bill Clinton and Jean Chrétien, who served in office during the same period, was organized and sponsored by the Canadian American Business Council.

Former U.S. president and prime minister spoke about the Canada-U.S. relationship Wednesday night

Bill Clinton and Jean Chrétien met for a discussion organized by the Canadian American Business Council in Montreal Wednesday night. (Radio-Canada)

Former U.S. president Bill Clinton had only good things to say about the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), speaking with former prime minister Jean Chrétien in front of a crowd in Montreal, Wednesday night.

Chrétien agreed, telling the audience that Canadians shouldn't be too worried about U.S. President Donald Trump's threats to tear up the agreement.

"You can't reverse an omelette,'' Chretien said. "It just doesn't work like that. [The U.S. and Canada] are linked in so many areas. You just can't redo everything we did.''

Clinton was stopping over in Montreal after receiving an honorary doctorate from St. Francis Xavier University, based in Antigonish, N.S., but awarded to him at a special ceremony in Toronto this week.

Former U.S. president Bill Clinton spoke at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, N.S., on Tuesday after receiving an honorary doctorate. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

The event to host Clinton and Chrétien, who served in office during the same period, was organized and sponsored by the Canadian American Business Council.

Gordon Giffin, a former U.S. ambassador to Canada, moderated this discussion, saying he didn't know of any other two world leaders as close as Chrétien and Clinton.

Chrétien was prime minister of Canada from 1993 to 2003, while Clinton was president of the United States from 1993 to 2001. 

NAFTA entered into force in 1994 but was negotiated by the predecessors of the two leaders.

NAFTA under threat

The agreement is in the limelight again as President Trump has sharply criticized it and triggered a renegotiation process.

The agreement between Canada, the United States and Mexico was the right thing to do at the time, said Clinton.

As for the current renegotiation of the trade agreement, Clinton said he hoped it would run smoothly.

"I hope we'll have good negotiations and we hope they will come out okay," Clinton told the crowd.​

Former U.S. president Bill Clinton, right, and former prime minister Jean Chretien worked closely together during the time they overlapped as heads of state. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

'The Canadian issue'

Canadian federalism was also a major topic of discussion.

Clinton was asked to discuss his momentous speech in 1999 during the Forum of Federations Conference in Mont-Tremblant, Que., roughly four years after Quebec's referendum on sovereignty.

"You said it would be a tragedy for a country like Canada to be broken,'' Chrétien told the crowd about Clinton's 1999 speech.

"Some in Quebec were not too happy with that statement, but I was happy and I thought it was very useful,'' Chrétien added.

Clinton said at the time he was trying to end conflicts in the Middle East and Northern Ireland, and stop the killing in Bosnia.

"I was fascinated by the Canadian issue,'' Clinton said. "People are looking at [Quebec and Canada] like you're the grown-ups in the household. Because you found a way to get the best of both worlds and to treasure your differences.''

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With files from CBC's Kalina Laframboise and the Canadian Press

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