Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Jean Chretien, Cuba North’s autocratic Prime Minister, is set to retire Dec. 12th. At a news conference announcing his long awaited departure, the PM wistfully recalled his three greatest achievements after a decade in power: balancing the federal budget, staving off Quebec separation, and opting out of Operation Iraqi Freedom. To some that might seem like a damn fine to-do list, but if it’s the best Mr. Chretien can muster after such a lengthy stranglehold on the levers of power, then Canadians should raise their collective expectations of what constitutes decisive, proactive leadership.

Balancing the books was less a laudable feat of skillful leadership than a classic case of good timing. The deficit the Liberal government inherited in 1993 was well on its way to extinction without the creative bookkeeping of the Chretien Administration. The prior Conservative government successfully ushered in two key pieces of legislation, much to the Liberals’ chagrin, that put Ottawa’s fiscal fortunes on a decidedly solid footing. First, Brian Mulroney, Chretien’s predecessor, oversaw the signing of the Free Trade Agreement with the US, thereby tying the country’s economic future to America’s even more tightly. Consequently, the Canadian economy benefited immensely from the 90’s high tech boom, hence so did the government’s tax coffers. If a palsy-riddled monkey couldn’t balance the books with that windfall alone, then all the extra coin from a new GST national sales tax (another Mulroney initiative, with an estimated annual revenue of $12 billion) definitely did the trick.

Mr. Chretien rates the balanced budget as “his” single greatest achievement in office. Frankly, without a potent mixture of luck and the sweat equity of the previous government, I’d venture a calculated guess that Cuba North would be 2 red cents away from insolvency right about now.

I wouldn’t get too comfortable taking credit for keeping Quebec in the Dominion either, Jean. Let’s put this into perspective. Not only were the Separatistes able to put a “Screw Canada” referendum on the ballot for the 2nd time in 15 years, they came a hair away from winning it, to boot. If it weren’t for a last minute voting surge from the urban ridings of Montreal and Hull, the PM would have found his own constituency squarely in the middle of the Republic of Quebec. Passing “anti-separation” legislation two years after such a close near miss is like buying car insurance after the head-on collision. If Chretien was so committed to keeping Canada whole, he would have worked harder to ensure the referendum never came to fruition in the first place.

Finally, the Prime Minister stated that he takes great pride in opposing US-led efforts to depose Iraq’s brutal, murderous regime and replace it with the Arab world’s first legitimate democracy. What can I say about Chretien’s defacto affinity for the tyrannical Saddam Hussein that hasn’t already been said? I guess birds of a feather flock together, eh Jean?

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