Jean Chrétien is not dispensing any advice to Justin Trudeau except to say, "Do your best." He sees similarities between Hillary Clinton and Stéphane Dion – both are very cerebral and serious, he says – and he is proud of the law he passed banning corporations and unions from making political donations.
"I think it's no more a democracy than a 'dollar-acy' they have down there and I don't like it. It's not healthy," Mr. Chrétien said about the amount of money that political campaigns in the U.S. raise.
Mr. Chrétien was in Toronto last week, and spoke for more than an hour to employees of Labatt in a question-and-answer session. He is chairman of the Global Advisory Council of Anheuser-Busch InBev, Labatt's parent company.
"Yes, freedom of speech is limited in Canada because the rich guy cannot buy an election, and I'm proud of that," he said. Mr. Chrétien, who was the Liberal prime minister from 1993 to 2003, winning three majority governments, brought in the political financing law.
The U.S. Supreme Court says limiting campaign contributions contravenes free speech.
Mr. Chrétien, who turned 82 last month, noted that his law was controversial at the time. It was criticized by former Liberal Party president Stephen LeDrew, who is now a political talk show host on CP24 in Toronto, as being as "dumb as a bag of hammers."
Ms. Clinton, who is running to become the Democratic presidential candidate, raised $112-million in 2015, according to a CNN report; Bernie Sanders, the Vermont senator and her rival, raised $73-million. But as his popularity increases, so do his campaign donations – he raised $20-million last month alone.
Compare this to a Canadian election – the Trudeau Liberals spent about $40-million to win the 2015 general election, according to the Canadian Press. The limit was $54-million.
He told the group that he was puzzled by the U.S. primaries, but believes that Ms. Clinton, who he knows well, should win.
She's not as easy-going as her husband, former president Bill Clinton, he said. "She's not a charmer. She is very intelligent, very knowledgeable. She is a bit like Dion," he said, referring to Stéphane Dion, the former party leader, now the Foreign Affairs Minister.
Mr. Dion was brought into politics by Mr. Chrétien, who was looking for a Quebecker to handle the unity file. "He has a great mind. He reads a lot. He can be humorous at times and he gave a lot of gravitas to Mr. Trudeau for people who don't think he has a lot of experience," Mr. Chrétien said.
Mr. Chrétien described having lunch or dinner with the Clintons. "She was nice. She would ask about my grandchildren … but within minutes we were talking about medicare, why I could survive in politics being opposed to capital punishment … an old guy like me making gay marriage possible in Canada. She was puzzled how we could be as progressive as we are and survive in politics."
As for the Republican nomination, he says he is concerned that Donald Trump is being intellectually dishonest by trying to appeal to the dark side of people with promises he knows he cannot keep, such as banning Muslim immigrants.
"It's completely irresponsible," Mr. Chrétien said.
Mr. Trump came second in the Iowa caucus vote on Monday, but is ahead in the polls and poised to win the New Hampshire primary next week.
Meanwhile, he was asked what advice he gave to Mr. Trudeau when he was elected last year: "Do your best."
"He will do it his way," said Mr. Chrétien, recalling the advice he received from Mr. Trudeau's father, Pierre, when he became prime minister. "He said to me, 'Jean, you will do it your way'."
Mr. Chrétien and Pierre Trudeau served in Lester Pearson's cabinet in the 1960s and later he had many senior portfolios in Mr. Trudeau's cabinet.
In the younger Mr. Trudeau, Mr. Chrétien says he sees a joy for politics that he didn't always see in the elder Trudeau. "Pierre Trudeau was a very serious guy," he said, who liked to be alone and "was kind of a monk in many ways."
Mr. Chrétien believes Mr. Trudeau inherited his political genes from his maternal grandfather, Jim Sinclair, who served as fisheries minister in the St. Laurent Liberal government in the 1950s.
He described Mr. Sinclair as an extrovert and a "great political personality, a jolly good fellow," who "liked people."
"I don't want him to call me," Mr. Chrétien said of Justin Trudeau. "He has to do it his way. The big decisions you make, you have to make them alone. Don't blame the advisers at the end of the day, you blame the boss."