Skip to main content
Open this photo in gallery:

The lectern is installed before keynote addresses at the 2023 Liberal National Convention in Ottawa, on May 4.Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

In a wide-ranging speech Friday night, former prime minister Jean Chrétien made light of the foreign interference controversy dogging Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, forcefully defended the legacy of decades of Liberal governments and rejected Pierre Poilievre’s assertion that Canada is broken.

Speaking to a packed room at the Liberal national convention in Ottawa, Mr. Chrétien, 89, took his party through a history lesson on the accomplishments of Liberal governments past and present, but skipped over his immediate successor, Paul Martin.

His message to the 3,500 attendees at the convention, which will continue through Saturday, was that Liberals, including Mr. Trudeau, have been successful in elections because they have made Canada more just, prosperous, caring, tolerant and diverse. He highlighted the patriation of the constitution, the creation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the country’s decision to stay out of the war in Iraq and the legalization of same-sex marriage.

“That is what Liberals do best. They see the future and they rally Canadians together to build that future,” Mr. Chrétien said to the crowd of Liberal Party faithful. His address closely mirrored the message delivered by Mr. Trudeau on Thursday, the convention’s opening night. The Prime Minister painted Liberals as positive and optimistic, and the Conservatives and Mr. Poilievre, their leader, as negative and divisive.

“Poilievre is so negative and so far right that it he makes Harper look reasonable,” Mr. Chrétien said. “No, Mr. Poilievre, Canada is not broken.”

He argued that Canada is still the best, and the envy of the world. “Vive le Canada,” he said.

Mr. Chretien sought to put Canada’s challenges in perspective, telling the audience that millions of people around the world “would give their shirt to come and share our so-called miseries.”

“You know why? Because Canada is the land of freedom,” he said.

He described the Prime Minister as a socially progressive optimist. And he pointed to Mr. Trudeau’s governing record during the pandemic, the country’s low unemployment and its comparatively low debt-to-GDP ratio as reasons “Canadians will want to put their trust in Liberals again in the next election.”

Despite the rosy outlook presented by Mr. Chrétien, the Liberals face significant electoral challenges. They trail the Conservatives in both polling and fundraising as Mr. Trudeau, already in his third mandate, attempts the rare feat of winning a fourth.

Mr. Poilievre has been a central focus of the Liberal convention. In Mr. Trudeau’s Thursday evening speech, he defended Liberal economic and social polices that the Conservative Leader has derided as “woke.” Mr. Trudeau said it was time for Mr. Poilievre to “wake up.”

“We want to build things up, while Pierre Poilievre and his brokenist Conservative Party want to tear things down,” he added.

The critique prompted a response from Mr. Poilievre on Friday. He posted a video on Twitter in which he said the Prime Minister’s policies, such as gun control and an increasing price on carbon emissions, are “woke and it’s not working.” Instead of pursuing those policies, the Conservative Leader promised to increase access to housing, cut taxes and improve public safety.

“Because you’re woke, everyone else is broke. Because you’re out of touch, everyone else is out of money. I’m exactly the opposite,” he said. “I’m here relying on the common sense of the common people, uniting for our common home.”

Mr. Trudeau’s government is also contending with a controversy over foreign interference in Canadian affairs. Ottawa has struggled to manage the issue since February, when The Globe and Mail began publishing a series of stories about the Chinese government’s attempts to influence the past two federal elections.

Questions about what the Prime Minister knew, when he knew it and how he responded to the intelligence he received multiplied this week after The Globe reported that the Chinese government had targeted Conservative MP Michael Chong and his family in 2021, after Mr. Chong led a parliamentary motion that condemned Beijing’s treatment of Uyghurs as genocide. Mr. Chong was not notified of this at the time.

Mr. Chrétien told the convention that, considering The Globe’s coverage of foreign interference, he was “preoccupied” by the prospect of former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s attendance at the convention. She sat down for a fireside chat with Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland after Mr. Chrétien’s keynote address.

“The Globe and Mail will get crazy,” he told the crowd to growing laughter. “She’s an American meddling in Canadian politics. We need a royal commission.”

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

Follow the authors of this article:

Follow topics related to this article:

Check Following for new articles