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‘They should look at reality’: Former PM Chrétien weighs in on division, politics in Alberta

Avoid hitting below the belt, said former Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, but otherwise, politics is a rough and tumble game.

The former Liberal PM shared his thoughts on Alberta’s current political climate on Thursday, during a visit to the constituency office of Calgary-Skyview MP George Chahal. He was also in town for a fireside chat with members from UCalgary Law.

Chrétien spoke candidly about the state of politics in the province, comparing it to his time as Canada’s leader in the 1990s and 2000s, and to his start in politics in 1956.

“Oh, it was tough in my time, too. Politics is a debating society. Some are not polite, and others are polite,” he said.

“I was fighting back all the time, you know me, but I was polite.”

Chrétien said that the advice was to never “hit below the belt,” because the public sees and recognizes when politicians do.

Politics, he said, was better for all involved when politicians acted gentlemanly and gentlewomanly.

As a solution to the divisiveness, Chrétien suggested that people look beyond the political rhetoric.

“Look at the reality – that is what I’m asking you to do,” he said.

That sentiment was echoed by MP Chahal, who spoke about how he, then-Mayor Naheed Nenshi, and current Mayor Jyoti Gondek have been targeted as a result of inflamed rhetoric.

“I’ve been targeted at my home and at my office here. It’s unfortunate that folks who are displeased with government are targeting politicians,” said Chahal.

“We don’t want to see what’s happened in other countries around the world where politicians and elected officials have been injured or killed. This is a concern, and it’s a responsibility that all politicians to have to have appropriate discourse that does not put a target on other’s backs.”

Former Prime Minister of Canada Jean Chrétien speaks at the Calgary Skyview constituency office on Thursday, April 6, 2023. ARYN TOOMBS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

The complaints always flow uphill

Chrétien, when asked about the attacks on the federal government by members of Alberta’s current party in power, said that Albertans should “look to reality.”

“And what is the situation today? The situation is quite good and Canada today,” he said.

“I’ve been in public life since 1956, and it is the first time in that period of time that the problem we have in the nation, it’s not creation of jobs, it’s having people to fill the jobs.”

He was also more pointed at the track record of the Liberal government in addressing the oil and gas economy—often the target of Premier Danielle Smith’s outrage with Ottawa.

“This Liberal government gave the permission and bought the pipeline in BC for Alberta—billions of dollars,” Chrétien said.

“They give the permission to build a pipeline to go to the United States—it was blocked by the United States—but when the Tories were there for 10 years, they never built one mile of pipeline, zero.”

In response to a question about whether or not Alberta needs the Sovereignty Act, he said that Alberta already is sovereign in the power that it has.

“They claim about the federal government is centralist too much. When I started, two thirds of the taxes were collected by the federal government, and now the federal government collect only 30 per cent of the taxes of Canada,” Chrétien said.

“That means there was a lot of decentralization and but it’s easy when you’re a mayor, you have a problem. What do you do? You blame the provincial government. When you’re a provincial government, you have a problem, what do you do? You blame the federal government.

“When you’re the federal government what do you do? We cannot blame the queen or the king anymore, so we blame the Americans.”