Jean Chretien: Talking Along the Path Ahead

Jan 26 , 2021

Jean Chretien, Former Prime Minister of Canada.


Hello everybody. Very pleased to be with you this morning. I'm in Canada, trapped in the snow, because the rule of the government is to stay home. So I did not have the time to go to a store to buy a tie. You must take me dressed as I am. But you have to understand that I'm happy to be walking every day in the snow, and I'm enjoying life. It's a great occasion to be with you, despite the fires we live in. 

We're in a war against COVID-19, and it's a problem that affects every one of us. We have to be united — and I think we are — to help each other find a final solution to this problem. I think we will make progress. But if we do not succeed in overcoming this problem, you know, the economy will not come back. 

We're in a kind of recession at this time. China is doing quite well — you're still having growth. But I also see the rest of the world doing reasonably well under the circumstances. I've never expected that the governments would be so aggressive in maintaining a level of economic development despite the crisis. If we don't prevail in the war against COVID-19, we'll go from what it is in the West — a recession — into a depression. But, for me, I tend to be an optimist, and I think we'll get out of it.

A very big element now to get out of it is to make sure that there are very good relations between China and the United States — as we are discussing today. It is extremely important. I think we had some good news last week when we had a new president of the United States. Because the mood is changing. I'm in North America today, and people seem to be relieved. Why? Because dialogue is possible. 

There will always be problems. When I became a parliament member in 1963, 58 years ago, we had problems. But at that time, China did not really play a big part in the global discussion. Today, you're the second-biggest economy in the world. We're all depending on China, and China is depending on the rest of the world. 

What happened in the last 30 years? We've seen a lot of wealth coming into the world. You know what it was like in 1994, I visited China with Team Canada — 500 business people. You know, it was very unusual. And today, we turn around and China is always there. The United States is always there. 

For us Canadians, the United States is extremely important, because it represents 80 percent of our trade. We do a lot of trade with China, despite some political difficulties that you have felt in the last two years. I'm very happy to realize that in 2020, the growth in trade has been more than 6.5 percent between China and Canada.

So I'm looking forward with some optimism. I tend to be an optimist. I think it will be good in the future if we have trust and dialogue. And that's why “the way forward” is part of this dialogue. How can we talk to each other? If we don't talk to each other, we will not solve the problems. There will always be difficulties. 

I survived 40 years in public life, and I never got up in the morning, opened the newspaper and read “Canada is doing well today.” Good news is not news; bad news is always news. But if we have dialogue between us, forget about the headlines. 

The problem we had in the last four years is that we had somebody south of Canada who was just looking to the tweets for headlines. Now, I think the Americans have a president who has a lot of experience, who has been around for a long time, who has traveled the world and has a lot of reasonable approaches. He is like all of us, facing the prospect of more protectionism. It might be a bit more difficult for him because there is more unemployment than there was before. 

But at the end of the day, we recognize that the only way to cure this problem is to increase wealth in the world. China has made a great contribution in the last 30 years. There is a lot of wealth that has been created around the globe, and China has been responsible for a big part of it. Of course one of the problems is redistribution of this wealth — at least in our part of the world. It has not unfolded as it should have.

My view is that China will keep growing, America will keep growing, Europe will keep growing, Canada will keep growing — if only we don't fall into the trap of bitterness and resentment. We have to be looking forward as the theme of this conference suggests. We have to work together. 

There will always be problems, but we have to talk to each other. We have to know why one is doing that and why the other is reacting this way. 

But if all of us keep talking to each other, we will see the progress that has been made in the past 30 years, and that there is no reason why there shouldn't be progress in the next 30 years. But we have to talk to each other. We have to be generous. Sometimes we have to forget about the ego and think about good. I'm sure that people, like all of you, will keep talking.

 I would like to thank Mr. Tung Chee-hwa for organizing this dialogue, as this is the way to make progress. And I hope you all get out of COVID quickly to enjoy life and help your countries to progress and bring more happiness in the world. 

Thank you very much!