Saskatoon

Former PM Jean Chrétien sounds off in Saskatoon on Trump, North Korea and NAFTA

Always outspoken, Jean Chrétien kicked off a series of conversations with former prime ministers being held at the University of Saskatchewan as part of the Canada 150 celebrations.

University of Saskatchewan hosting series of conversations with former PMs

Jean Chretien speaks at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon on Wednesday. (Don Somers/CBC)

Always outspoken, Jean Chrétien kicked off a series of conversations with former prime ministers being held at the University of Saskatchewan as part of the Canada 150 celebrations.

It's very unusual — a war of words between two guys who don't look very bright.- Jean Chrétien 

But before he hit the stage Wednesday on campus, he sat down for a wide-ranging interview with CBC Radio's Saskatoon Morning covering everything from free trade to the threat of nuclear war.

A key focus in that conversation was Canada's relationship with a U.S. president who many people feel is unpredictable both domestically and internationally.   

"It's not for me to be the mother-in-law here," Chrétien said. "The government is doing its best."

Tweets are not policy

At the same time, Chrétien, who was Canada's 20th prime minister, serving from 1993 to 2003, suggested that the current Liberal government take Donald Trump's tough posturing with a grain of salt.

"The policies of the United States and the tweets are not always in agreement, so we will see," he said.

"When I watch some of the debates in the United States at this time, people pay more attention to what the minister of defence or what the minister of foreign affairs would say publicly or privately than the colourful tweets that come early in the morning."

Such talk naturally flowed to the topic of North Korea, and what Canada's role should be. Stay out it, Chrétien warned.

"It's very unusual — a war of words between two guys who don't look very bright doing that."

Canada well-positioned in NAFTA talks, says Chrétien 

Chrétien also took time to weigh in on the reopening of the North American Free Trade Agreement first penned on his watch 23 years ago.

Jean Chrétien speaks to reporters before a speaking engagement at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, Sept. 27, 2017. (Albert Couillard/Radio-Canada)

"It is normal in my judgment … to review some element of it that needs to be revisited."

But he suggested that Canada is in a better position to negotiate today because the massive trade surplus that existed then has been levelled over the years, and so in his view the U.S. has very little to complain about.

That said, Chrétien said he believes there will be some sticking points in the talks with the U.S. when it comes to issues like dairy and softwood lumber.

Former prime ministers Kim Campbell and Paul Martin are next up in the series at the U of S.  

About the Author

Danny Kerslake is an award-winning journalist who has worked in radio stations across Western Canada. In his career with CBC Saskatchewan, Danny has reported from every corner of the province and has lived and worked in Saskatoon, Regina and Prince Albert. Danny is a newsreader and digital AP for CBC Saskatoon.

with files from CBC Radio's Saskatoon Morning