Former prime minister Jean Chrétien dismissed questions about revelations that Justin Trudeau has worn blackface by saying it’s “over,” and defended the Liberal Leader’s decision to purchase a pipeline as a practical necessity as he rallied party volunteers during a Vancouver-region campaign swing.
The blackface issue came up after Mr. Chrétien, who led the country from 1993 to 2003, spoke to dozens of Liberal incumbents and volunteers over lunch on Thursday.
During his speech, Mr. Chrétien spoke of Canada’s diversity as a strength, but, during a scrum with reporters, he declined to dwell on issues around disclosures that Mr. Trudeau wore blackface, a practice that mocks racial minorities, between the 1980s and 2001.
“I think that it is over. He explained himself and we don’t have to comment forever. We’re running a campaign and we’re campaigning to win the next election, and I don’t want to lose my time on that,” Mr. Chrétien told reporters. “Next?”
Mr. Trudeau, who is trying to lead his party to re-election on Oct. 21, has apologized for wearing blackface. He has said he’s “wary” of being definitive about how many times he did it because he hadn’t remembered one of the cases reported by Global News from the 1990s.
Asked about Mr. Trudeau’s campaign-trail commitment to reduce greenhouse gases, Mr. Chrétien said Canada’s challenge is that it produces resources, but wants to be green.
“The reality is God gave us some oil and someone to buy it, but we should use the profit of that to make Canada even greener. Let’s be practical.”
When asked about the Liberal government’s decision to buy the Trans Mountain pipeline, Mr. Chrétien wondered aloud at how many feet of pipeline former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper built for Alberta while in power, suggesting the answer was none.
“The option was to buy this pipeline. At least we have done something.”
In May, 2018, the Trudeau government announced it would buy the Trans Mountain pipeline between Alberta and B.C. from Kinder Morgan for $4.5-billion to expedite plans to expand it.
Mr. Chrétien also dismissed a journalist’s question about whether Mr. Trudeau should have apologized or resigned over the SNC-Lavalin affair.
“It was handled in the House of Commons for weeks so we’re in September now so don’t come with this problem,” Mr. Chrétien said. “I am not the Monday morning quarterback and neither the mother-in-law,” he said.
Last month, federal Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion found Mr. Trudeau broke conflict of interest rules by orchestrating his government’s efforts to obtain an out-of-court settlement for the company, which sought to avoid a criminal trial on fraud and bribery charges stemming from an RCMP investigation into its business in Libya.
The lunch gathering in Surrey was intended as a pep talk as the Liberals compete for votes in the politically competitive Lower Mainland.
After the lunch-hour gathering, the former prime minister, who also campaigned in the Lower Mainland ahead of the 2015 election, was scheduled to address a rally in North Vancouver where Jonathan Wilkinson is seeking re-election for the Liberals.
Mr. Wilkinson won in 2015 with 37 per cent of the vote, 19 points ahead of Conservative Andrew Saxton, who had been the MP since 2008. Mr. Saxton is running again.
The seat has been held since its 1988 formation by Progressive Conservatives, Reform and the Alliance as well as the Liberals, who won in 2004 and 2006.
In his remarks in Surrey, Mr. Chrétien defended the deficits run up by the Trudeau government, saying they were a reasonable approach for building needed infrastructure.
Mr. Chrétien, now 85, said he first campaigned in B.C. in 1968.
“I never thought I would still be campaigning at my age, but I am in good health [so] why not?”