It’s official! Former prime minister Jean Chretien is about to join the ranks of civil rights leader Nelson Mandela and humanitarian Mother Teresa.
Yes, the former federal Liberal boss is going to be awarded the Order of Merit by Queen Elizabeth.
And what exactly is the Order of Merit?
Well, according to Buckingham Palace, it’s an honour “conferred by the Sovereign on individuals of exceptional distinction in the arts, learning, sciences and other areas such as public service.”
In other words, it’s the sort of award that could seemingly be given to anyone with some significant measure of accomplishment in just about any field.
And that’s fair enough. But of all the people in the world who could be recognized, Chretien is the best that the people behind this award could come up with?
In fairness, the Quebec lawyer was an extremely skilled politician.
No one could stonewall like he could when a cabinet minister had done wrong and the opposition parties demanded he resign.
Chretien routinely refused to admit that he or any of his colleagues had made any mistakes, in such instances.
Yet, his administration presided over the Sponsorship Scandal (a fiasco that the auditor general found sent an estimated 100-million government dollars to Liberal-friendly ad firms and other middlemen for little or no work). And though Chretien was never shown to have personally profited financially, it’s clear that a number of Liberals and their friends did.
The fact that Canada now has a Conservative federal government is largely due to the disgust Canadians developed for that sickening scandal.
And who can forget Shawinigate?
That’s the brouhaha in which Chretien was accused of profiting from real estate deals and government policies in his hometown of Shawinigan, Que.
As Wikipedia notes: “The scandal came to light slowly, with information only being released by the governing Liberal Party after a series of newspaper reports and after persistent questioning by members of the Opposition in the Canadian House of Commons, and a formal lawsuit.”
Chretien was cleared of any wrongdoing connected with Shawinigate by the federal ethics commissioner; however, the commissioner later admitted he was unaware at the time that the prime minister had met with a bank president in an effort to get a $615,000 loan for the Auberge Grand-Mère Hotel owned by Chretien and two business partners.
Chretien would subsequently thumb his nose at Canadians when he mocked the judge presiding over the inquiry into the Sponsorship Scandal.
To date, such people as Sir Winston Churchill, Thomas Hardy, T.S. Eliot, E.M. Forster, Graham Greene and Dr. Albert Schweitzer have been awarded the Order of Merit, which was founded in 1902 by King Edward VII.
Is Chretien in their class? Surely not. In fact, his inclusion may cheapen the honour.
Jean Chretien is no Nelson Mandela.
Lee Giles is an Advocate editor.