Former prime minister Jean Chretien says Prime Minister-designate Justin Trudeau must “talk to everybody and offer a solution” when dealing with other international leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Chretien, who was a member of Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s cabinet, told CTV’s Question Period that the younger Trudeau should take after his father’s approach to dealing with world leaders. 

“Mr. (Pierre Elliott) Trudeau could talk to anybody because he kept his independence … The Americans did not like the fact that he was friendly with Fidel Castro,” said Chretien. “Talk to everybody and try to offer a solution.”

The former Liberal prime minister said that advice also applies to divisive world leaders such as Putin, who was snubbed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper after the annexation of Crimea last year. 

For instance, at the G20 Summit in Australia last November, Harper directly told Putin to “get out of Ukraine.”

“You think that Putin did not sleep at all that night?” Chretien joked.

Amidst the Conservative government’s isolation of the Russian regime, Chretien travelled to the Kremlin this past April to meet with Putin. 

“I know him. I wanted to talk with him. I wanted to have the two sides of the coin,” he said.

Chretien also encouraged Trudeau to re-open Canada’s embassy in Iran. The Conservative government severed ties with the Islamic Republic in 2012, citing Iran’s “significant threat” to global peace and security. 

More generally speaking, Chretien advised Trudeau to remember Canada’s place in the world when dealing with international partners. 

“Canada is a big country but we are not the biggest.”

And when it comes to Canada’s closest ally, the United States, Chretien said a good relationship is pretty easy to maintain, as long as there’s an understanding of the president’s political limitations. 

“The difficult thing with the president of the United States is he cannot deliver as a prime minister can deliver, because he has always to go to the Congress and to the Senate,” said Chretien. 

But Chretien also said the prime minister must stand by Canadian values if the U.S. comes knocking. He pointed to the country’s tradition of joining military missions led by the United Nations or NATO, rather than a single country, such as the U.S.-led mission against ISIS in Syria and Iraq. 

“That was the policy that existed under (Pierre Elliot) Trudeau when we had the first war in Iraq … And it was my policy, too, and that’s why I said no to the war in Iraq to George W. Bush.” 

Trudeau confirmed to U.S. President Barack Obama last week that Canada will pull its fighter jets out of the war against ISIS. Rather, he has pledged to bolster the Canadian Forces’ training of Iraqi forces. 

High hopes for the young leader

Chretien, who joined Trudeau on parts of the marathon 78-day election campaign, said he is happy to support the 43-year-old prime minister-designate. He said Trudeau is a “serious” politician, like his father was, but that he also got a lot of his political skill from his maternal side. Trudeau’s grandfather, Jimmy Sinclair, was a cabinet minister in Louis St. Laurent’s Liberal government. 

“Jimmy Sinclair was quite a politician,” said Chretien. “He was a tall guy, good looking, comfortable with people.”