What a difference a summer makes. Not long ago, Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien was roasted in the media because of the internal turmoil in the ranks of the all-powerful Liberal party.
Paul Martin's (unofficial) leader-ship campaign was in full swing, and Chrétien was surfing the waves of bad publicity.
Accusations of financial misconduct by the Liberals remained a hot topic in Ottawa, and Chrétien's ability to hold onto leadership was questioned by party-members and journalists alike. However, in true Canadian fashion, the situation led to compromise. Chrétien announced that he would step down in 2004 and the matter of Liberal leadership was temporarily put to rest.
Since then, Chrétien hasn't made the headlines quite as often, however, one tidbit should have caught our attention.
Chrétien is representing Canad-ians at the United Nations World Summit on Sustainable Develop-ment, and without the pressure to please everyone weighing down on his shoulders, the Prime Minister did the right thing.
Chrétien strongly criticized the United States and the European Union for their continued use of farming subsidies and tariffs on agricultural goods. He argued that these were serious obstacles for poorer countries which try to develop in the setting of the open-market global economy. According to a recent Globe and Mail article, a World Bank official estimated developed countries spend about US$350-billion each year on subsidies. These hinder the ability of a developing country which has neither the luxury nor need to subsidize farming.
Chrétien's argument is sound and very smart. Developing nations suffer from the perverted competitive balance caused by massive American and French subsidies. Canadian farmers do too.
In far-away Johannesburg, Chrétien found common ground with the developing world and lashed out against the U.S. and the EU in a way that lets him maintain his integrity, Canadian interests and a moral high ground. This is smart politics.
This is also quite a turnaround from just a couple of months ago when Chrétien was hobbling around like a wounded dog.
Political pundits claim that the Prime Minister's decision to step down allows him to pursue a legacy. However, if Jean Chrétien keeps pursuing his legacy in such a media-savvy manner, we shouldn't want him to leave.
Why is it that every time a political leader knows his career is ending, he ends up championing a noble and popular cause? Why is Jean Chrétien putting so much of his effort toward fighting to help developing nations? Why did U.S. President Bill Clinton devote his last months in the White House to peace in the Middle East?
The simple answer lies at the root of democracy. By and large, men elected to positions of leadership are noble and intelligent.
Chrétien's intelligence manifested itself with all the creative ways campaign contributions were stashed; with all the scandals where friends get bank loans; and finally, with all the creative things he did to stay in office.
It is unfortunate that his noble traits were somewhat subdued. They are sure to emerge now that Chrétien has nothing to lose because his time is up. The fact that he criticized the United States is admirable--and quite different from the ass-kissing stance of someone like British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Things should be interesting until the next Federal Election, and maybe we'll see the best of Jean Chrétien yet.