I did my job as best I could and Her Majesty was gracious enough to recognize that.
— Former prime minister Jean Chrétien
The man who did more than any other prime minister to deny Canadians the right to receive honours from their Queen (he did his job as best he could), has been so honoured by Her Majesty. Haters of the Nickle Resolution will be a little bemused at Her Majesty's latest choice for the very prestigious and exclusive Order of Merit:
The Queen has appointed the Right Honourable Jean Chrétien, former Prime Minister of Canada, to the exclusive Order of Merit.You can take it from me that Jean Chrétien is no monarchist. He would have turned Canada into a republic had he seen the opportunity to do so.
The honour is restricted to 24 living members and few foreigners. It puts Mr. Chrétien's name alongside such esteemed figures as Albert Schweitzer, Mother Teresa and Nelson Mandela.
Mr. Chrétien said he was surprised, honoured and grateful.
“What can I say?” he told The Canadian Press on Monday. “I take it as a great compliment and I accept it with some humility.
“I did my job as best I could and Her Majesty was gracious enough to recognize that.”
Mr. Chrétien, 75, is just the third Canadian named to the order, after former prime ministers MacKenzie King, at 21 years the longest-serving prime minister in the Commonwealth, and Lester Pearson, a Nobel laureate who brought universal health care, the flag and a federal pension plan to Canada.
All are Liberals.
The Queen's website calls the Order of Merit, founded in 1902 by King Edward VII, a “gift from the sovereign.”
It is given to people “of exceptional distinction in the arts, learning, sciences and other areas such as public service.”
Peter Donolo, who was the prime minister's director of communications back in the late 1990s, had frankly suggested the dumping of the monarchy as a worthwhile Canadian millenium project to the media. As soon as it was discovered that this little off the record tale was indeed going to be front page news in the morning press, Mr. Donolo went to the prime minister to apologize for causing an impending controversy for the government, to which the prime minister gladly directed his communication's director to see where it would lead with the public.
We also remember the lengths to which the former prime minister went to deny Lord Black his peerage, and how hot under the collar he became when he learned that two Canadians were going to be knighted by the Queen above his strenuous objections (because they were also British citizens, the prime minister was told by the British government to get stuffed.)
On the other hand, the Queen has known Jean Chrétien longer than any other current living prime minister, including Margaret Thatcher. Mr. Chrétien first became a Minister of the Crown in the early 1960s under Lester Pearson and he was Minister of Justice during the 1982 patriation of the Constitution under Trudeau, before his lengthy tenure of prime minister began in 1993 and ended in 2004. So the Queen has established a lengthy rapport with the former prime minister, unmatched in tenure by any other serving or former Commonwealth head of government at the present time.