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Former prime minister Jean Chretien remembers 'great servant of Canada' Brian Mulroney

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Former prime minister Jean Chretien is remembering his longtime political rival, former prime minister Brian Mulroney, as a loving family man and formidable opponent who “did his best” and “served the country well.”

Mulroney, who served as Canada’s 18th prime minister from 1984-1993, died Thursday at age 84.

“He worked hard, and he had a good life and he had a great family and lovely wife, and beautiful kids,” Chretien told CTV’s Question Period host Vassy Kapelos, in an interview airing Sunday.

“He was a great servant of Canada, and it's time to pay homage to his tenure as prime minister,” Chretien added.

Mulroney and Chretien spent years on opposite sides of the aisle, first while Chretien was a member of former prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s cabinet and Mulroney was the new leader of the Progressive Conservative Party, and later, when Chretien became Liberal Leader in the last three years of Mulroney’s time in office.

In 1993, Mulroney said he’d resign as soon as his party had elected a successor, which it did, making Kim Campbell Canada’s first female prime minister. During the federal election later that year, the Liberals won a landslide majority government, decimating the Progressive Conservative Party.

"Of course, I was his opponent for many, many years and many different files,” Chretien said. “We had different views of how to approach a problem, but we both believed that we needed a good Canada, united, we needed a country that was tolerant, that was bilingual, that was welcoming, and sharing.”

This transcript of Chretien’s interview with Vassy Kapelos for Sunday’s episode of CTV’s Question Period has been edited for length and clarity.

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Vassy Kapelos: Hi Mr. Chretien. Good to see you. I wish it were under different circumstances.

Jean Chretien: "Me too."

Kapelos: I heard you say when you learned of Mr. Mulroney's passing, that it was better to be involved than not involved. That was something you thought about his time in politics. Why did you say that?

Chretien: "Because he was a Canadian citizen from Baie-Comeau, who early in life got involved in political parties. He was very much involved in the organization of the Conservative Party across Canada, and in Quebec. He was not elected for a long, long time… He became prime minister for two majority governments and, you know, he served the country well, and he did his best.

"Of course, I was his opponent for many, many years and many different files. We had different views of how to approach a problem, but we both believed that we needed a good Canada united, we needed a country that was tolerant, that was bilingual, that was welcoming, and sharing.

"And you know, he served, and he left, and I came."

"But, you know, he worked hard, and he had a good life and he had a great family and lovely wife, and beautiful kids. You know, he was a great servant of Canada, and it's time to pay homage to his tenure as prime minister."

Kapelos: You mentioned that you were on opposite sides of a number of issues, and many Canadians watching right now will be familiar with that. What was it like? What were you like to each other personally?

Chretien: "It was, you know, politics is when you're in the House of Commons, the people across the aisle are your opponents. You know, they are not your enemies. And we disagree, we fight, but we can accept disagreement. We can agree to disagree, we can be sometimes not very happy, sometimes attacking sometimes on the defensive.

"It's like playing hockey, sometimes you're being boarded and sometimes you board somebody else. And when the game is over, the game is over. And we start tomorrow, the next game."

Kapelos: Everyone right now is talking about what his legacy will be. What was his imprint on this country? What do you think it was?

Chretien: "It was controversial, and every one of us tend to be controversial otherwise we're rather dull. I did not agree with some of his approaches. The unity of Canada… And all that jazz. It was a question that was debated, that we had a referendum on, the on these constitutional debate. But, on the national referendum on separation, we were… both… on the no side and we fought together to maintain Canada together."

Kapelos: He also in later years provided counsel to many politicians of different political stripes. He wasn't just talking to Conservatives. We’ve spoken about this before, Mr. Chretien, do you think that there's still a lot of that going on, and what do you think of him doing that?

Chretien: I do the same thing.

Kapelos: Yes.

Chretien: "I talk with people of other political parties, perhaps are not looking for the headline, that is a different problem. But I have talked with you know … I talked with some people on the opposite side. Even some people who became leader of the Conservative Party came to consult me before running. And it is a pleasure when you have experience and you can share it with people, you should.

"For me, I did it in a different way, a more quiet way, because it's my way."

Kapelos: It is certainly, but I think both of you definitely share your wisdom. You share your wisdom with people who are currently in politics as well. And I wonder why you think that is important.

Chretien: And I use you do that once in a while.

Kapelos: That's true.

Chretien: You want to use me but I use you too.

Kapelos: I think you both saw it as very important. To keep giving advice when you were asked.

"Because it's normal. You know, politics is an art. It's not a science, and you have to share you know, your experience. You don't learn the experience in the book. You don't learn playing hockey at university. It is on the ice, and it is the same thing in politics. So, if people need some advice, you give advice, because when it is in the interest of the country. If it is advice to defeat the leader of your party, no way, but to help the country? Yes."

Kapelos: You and Mr. Mulroney are some of the few people who have led this country, who have occupied the position of prime minister. Is there a certain bond between you because of that?

"Of course, you know, it's not the club that is very numerous and you know, many, many occasion we had an occasion to meet, and we exchanged views and at different ceremonies, funerals and so on.

"We remained very civilized to each other."

Kapelos: Mr. Chretien, thank you very much for making time to talk to us today. I appreciate it. Thank you.

My pleasure to be with you again. Good evening.

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