Jean Chretian to step down as Canada’s prime minister

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(Host) Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien surprised many Canadians this week by announcing he will step down. The 68-year-old Chretien has been in office longer than any current Western leader.

VPR’s Steve Zind has this look at the impact of Chretien’s decision.

(Zind) Chretien’s decision ends a forty-year career in Canadian politics. He’s been Prime Minister for nearly a decade. His announcement comes at a time when his leadership of the Liberal Party is being challenged.

While he has been popular in the past, Chretien has never been an object of affection among Canadians. Antonia Maioni is director of the McGill University Institute for the Study of Canada in Montreal.

(Maioni) “Jean Chretien has always been seen as a very hard ball politician.”

(Zind) Chretien’s toughness and his beginnings in a working class town in Quebec earned him a popular nickname.

(Maioni) “Jean Chretien is known fondly in Quebec as le petit garde de Shawinigan.'”

(Ayers) “The little guy from Shawinigan. He used to be a boxer. He strangled a protester once. He’s tough, scruffy.”

(Zind) Jeffrey Ayers Professor of Political Science at St. Michael’s College. Ayers says Chretien has made his mark since leading the Liberal party to a stunning victory in 1993. Most notably, he helped orchestrate the country’s economic recovery.

(Ayers) “Very supportive of liberalized trade and deficit cutting and tax cutting and cutting money out of the health care plan. I think the one place where he is not thought of fondly and will probably not be remembered fondly is Quebec.”

(Zind) Chretien spent his career fighting the separatist movement in Quebec and opposing efforts to grant special status to the French speaking province. Antonia Maioni says most people in Quebec are not disappointed by Chretien’s decision to resign.

Maioni says it’s likely the Liberal Party will continue to dominate Canadian politics. If that’s the case, Paul Martin may be the next Prime Minister. Martin was a popular finance minister who was forced out by Chretien. Maioni says Martin is sympathetic to Quebec concerns.

(Maioni) “Paul Martin is someone who, in the past, has not seen Quebec’s nationalism as a bogeyman. He’s someone who’s willing to at least discuss the idea of Quebec as not necessarily autonomous, but as having a special status within the Federation. So, in a sense, what it might usher in is a new period or reconciliation between the federal government and Quebec.”

(Zind) Federal elections to choose a new Canadian Prime Minister aren’t expected before the end of 2004.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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