Former Canadian prime minister Jean Chretien was seen shaking hands with Liberal supporters at Stephen Fuhr’s candidate office in Kelowna on Friday. (Alistair Waters - Kelowna Capital News)

Chretien says Trudeau has handled blackface issue properly

Former Liberal prime minister’s advice for Trudeau—move on

Former Liberal prime minister Jean Chretien says current Liberal leader Justin Trudeau has handled the issue of photos of himself in brown and blackface properly.

Reluctant to speak about the issue when first asked about it Friday during stop in Kelowna, Chretien — no stranger to political scandal himself during his years as prime minister — was quick to dismiss it.

“It’s over. Next (question),” was Chretien’s first response when reporters raised the issue with him at Kelowna-Lake Country Liberal candidate Stephen Fuhr’s campaign office.

But when pressed, the 85-year-old Chretien, who retired from politics in 2003 after 10 years as prime minister, said he feels Trudeau has handled publication of pictures and video of him in brown and blackface when he was a teen and a young teacher, properly.

Within hours of the first photograph surfacing—a shot from 2001 that shows Trudeau in brownface make-up and wearing a turban at an Arabian Nights party at the private Vancouver school where he taught at the time, the Liberal leader publicly apologized.

Trudeau called it a “dumb” thing to have done, said he was “pissed off” at himself for doing it and added he now sees it was wrong. Subsequently, video of Trudeau as a teenager in blackface also went public.

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Chretien, in Kelowna to speak at a conference, declined to comment further, saying he would rather focus on politics.

And he had advice for Trudeau—he should do the best he can, something the former prime minister feels Trudeau has done.

“(Voters) are allowed to, and will, make up their minds and will decide,” said Chretien, who spent 40 years in Canadian politics, the last 10 as prime minister. Towards the end of his years in politics, he was embroiled in the sponsorship scandal. He denied any wrongdoing and was not found to have done anything wrong but the scandal hurt the Liberal Party.

Prior to leadership of the Liberal Party, Chretien served as a minister in several Liberal governments lead by Trudeau’s father Pierre and one lead by John Turner.

In Kelowna, Chretien praised Fuhr for the work he has done over the last four years as an MP, noting the amount of federal money he has brought to the riding. Chretien teased Fuhr, calling him “a very expensive MP” because of Fuhr’s success in getting federal money for local projects.

“I wish I had been able to get as much for my riding,” joked Chretien.

As for the current election campaign, Chretien said he sees it as a very tight race and predicted many voters will not make up their minds about who to vote for until the last few weeks of the campaign.

No stranger to the Okanagan, Chretien said he has been coming here for many years, especially to see his friend, former senator Ross Fitzpatrick, who he appointed to the Red Chamber in 1998. Fitzpatrick, a local businessman and winery proprietor, retired from the senate in 2008.

Fuhr said he was delighted to have Chretien stop by and it really helped motivate his campaign volunteers. Fuhr was the first Liberal to hold a federal riding in the Central Okanagan in 45 years when he defeated long-time Conservative MP Ron Cannan fin 2015.

Fuhr is running against Conservative Tracy Gray, Justin Kulik of the NDP, Travis Ashley of the Green Party, John Barr of the People’s Party and Darrin Fiddler of the Marijuana Party and independent Daniel Joseph.

The election is Oct. 21.

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