Justin Trudeau's 'sunny ways' already forcing old foes to mend fences

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised to usher in a new era of "sunny ways" in government, and it appears the shift is already rubbing off on some famous foes.

Prime Minister's Office places longtime political rivals next to each other at swearing-in ceremony

Former prime ministers Jean Chrétien and John Turner, and former governors general Michaëlle Jean and Adrienne Clarkson, engaged in friendly conversation at the swearing-in ceremony after the Prime Minister's Office seated them next to each other. (Canadian Press)

On election night, Justin Trudeau promised to lead a government characterized by "sunny ways," and it seems that new spirit has already rubbed off on some famous foes in Canadian history — and all it took was a seating chart.

Two former Liberal prime ministers, Jean Chrétien and John Turner, were both in the ballroom at Rideau Hall to witness the swearing-in of Trudeau's new cabinet on Wednesday.

But they weren't just in the same room, they were seated right next to one another, and that positioning raised eyebrows among some longtime political observers.

It might seem like a logical choice: pair up the country's elder statesmen. The two could reminisce about the good old days when they both served in Pierre Trudeau's cabinet, and Justin Trudeau was nothing more than a toddler nipping at his father's heels.

But what a casual observer of history might have forgotten is that Chrétien, 81, and Turner, 86, have had a truly tumultuous relationship. They practically invented "Liberal infighting."

And yet they didn't end up side by side accidentally. After all, the Prime Minister's Office drew up the seating chart.

Chrétien, left, and Turner engage in conversation ahead of the formal swearing-in ceremony at Rideau Hall. The two former Liberal prime ministers used to be seen as bitter political enemies. (CBC News)

'Bad blood' between Chrétien and Turner

The bad blood between the two began to brew in 1978 when a paper Turner authored harshly criticized Chrétien's performance as finance minister. For weeks, he was taunted in the House of Commons by the opposition.

Chrétien counter-attacked, calling Turner's writings nothing more than "a gossip column that you can have for 15 cents." He would never forget the incident and vowed revenge.

The animosity boiled over in 1986 when the two men squared off in an epic leadership battle around the party's convention.

Jean Chrétien loses the Liberal leadership in 1986

37 years ago
Duration 3:23
Jean Chrétien loses to John Turner in a bitter race to head the Liberal party.

Fresh off one of the party's worst election performances in its history — the 1984 election — Chrétien made a move to dislodge Turner from the top job. In fact, this quest for the leadership morphed into an outright anti-Turner crusade.

Ultimately, the polished Turner triumphed over the p'tit gars from Shawinigan's insurgency.

Chrétien, left, taps Turner's arms while engaged in animated conversation ahead of the formal swearing-in ceremony at Rideau Hall Wednesday. (CBC News)

None of that animosity was on display Wednesday. CBC cameras caught the two engaged in friendly chatter before the formal swearing-in ceremony began.

Turner cracked a smile, and Chrétien warmly grabbed his old colleague and rival's arm as he vigorously made a point. Sunny ways, indeed.

Former vice-regals make nice

And yet it wasn't only Chrétien and Turner who were forced to make nice at the proceedings Wednesday. Two former governors general — Adrienne Clarkson and Michaëlle Jean — were also seated next to one another, and they, too, have had a fractious relationship.

Jean, left, sits and waits for the swearing-in ceremony to begin as Clarkson, right, and her husband, John Ralston Saul, look on. (CBC News)

Clarkson, in 2009, made comments that many interpreted as a slight against Jean: future vice-regals, Clarkson said, should be forced to undergo a public Canadian knowledge quiz before they're appointed by the prime minister of the day.

The remark was made after Jean made a glaring geographical error — she mixed up B.C.'s Coastal Mountains and the Rockies.

Jean defended the slip-up and her qualifications to hold the highest office in the land. "What I brought [to the job] ... was my own story. And we live in a country where every individual can do that," Jean said. 

"That's why we need to work on our sense of belonging. And belonging goes beyond the ability to name the Mackenzie River and say where it is. It goes far beyond that."

And as for Clarkson's insinuation that Jean, a former Radio-Canada journalist who spent virtually all of her adult life in Quebec, was woefully ignorant about English Canada? Jean swatted it away like a fly.

"I believe one lifetime is not enough to discover Canada. What you need — above all else — before taking on this job is having a vision, a desire to salute the best of what this country has to offer...

"I have this privilege. Each governor general has had this privilege."

Michaelle Jean

14 years ago
Duration 19:44
Governor-General Michaëlle Jean on her roots, blogging, eating seal heart and Aboriginal rights.

Clarkson, herself a former CBC broadcaster, also got her back up after the media made a fuss about Jean's appetite for raw seal meat.

On a trip to Nunavut, Jean famously ate the Inuit delicacy, causing an uproar among some animal rights activists. 

"I've eaten raw food here since 1971. It's nothing new to me, OK?" Clarkson told The Canadian Press at the time. "I have a lovely seal skin coat. … I've eaten raw food since 1971 — and there you are."

In less-friendlier times, Clarkson questioned Jean's GG credentials back in 2009 after the latter mixed up two of Canada's mountain ranges. (CBC News)

It seemed the two mended fences in the midst of all the pomp and pageantry. Jean was spotted chatting with Clarkson's husband, John Ralston Saul, while Clarkson looked on with a warm, even sunny, smile.


  • An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the ceremony took place in the Tent Room of Rideau Hall. In fact, it took place in the ballroom.
    Nov 05, 2015 5:32 PM ET