Honorary Degree Citation - Jean Chrétien

by Judith Woodsworth, June 2010

Mr. Chancellor, it is my honour to present to you the Right Honourable Jean Chrétien, Canada’s 20th prime minister.

Lester Pearson once said: “to be Prime Minister of Canada, you need the hide of a rhinoceros, the morals of St. Francis, the patience of Job, the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the leadership of Napoleon, the magnetism of a Beatle and the subtlety of Machiavelli.”

There is perhaps no role so challenging and rewarding, requiring an uncommon strength of character and commitment to public service.

For over forty years, Mr. Chrétien has embodied these strengths and responded to numerous challenges. He has made outstanding contributions to public life in Canada, and plays a continuing role on behalf of Canada and around the world.

Né en 1934 à Shawinigan, M. Chrétien a étudié le droit à l’Université Laval avant d’être élu à la Chambre des communes en 1963 comme député de la circonscription de Saint-Maurice–Laflèche. Quatre ans plus tard, il a été nommé ministre d’État aux Finances par le premier ministre Lester B. Pearson. Puis il a occupé pendant 17 ans divers postes au sein du cabinet. Fort de cette riche expérience, il est devenu chef du Parti libéral en 1990. Trois ans après, il a été élu premier ministre du Canada.

His decade in office was marked by economic turbulence, much like the period we have just experienced. He was successful in restoring the fiscal health of the federal government (an excellent example for you, JMSB graduates), after which he launched a concerted effort to increase the country’s competitiveness as a knowledge-based society.

In his reply to the January 2001 Speech from the Throne, he pledged to improve Canada’s ranking with respect to investment in research and development. “In the 21st century, our economic and social goals must be pursued hand in hand,” he said. “Let the world see in Canada a society marked by innovation and inclusion, by excellence and justice.”

Pour réaliser cet objectif ambitieux, son gouvernement a mis en place un plan en cinq volets largement axé sur le rôle des universités. Des programmes ont ainsi été spécialement conçus pour étendre la capacité de recherche, améliorer l’infrastructure universitaire, garder les cerveaux les plus brillants et favoriser l’accès à l’éducation postsecondaire.

Implementation of the plan had started with the elimination of the federal deficit in 1997. The same year, the Canada Foundation for Innovation was founded with an initial budget of $1 billion to provide the infrastructure necessary to promote cutting-edge research and development.

The Canada Research Chairs program came next, to retain scholars, encourage Canadian scholars abroad to return to Canada, and recruit others internationally.

The remainder of Mr. Chrétien’s initiatives were implemented in quick succession over the next two years, and included the creation of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the restoration and expansion of funding for granting councils like Canada’s Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, and the launch of the Trudeau Foundation Fellowships.

To improve access to education, the Chrétien government also implemented the landmark Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation, the Canada Graduate Scholarships, and the Canadian Education Savings Grant.

Concordia is doubly committed to quality and accessibility, and Mr. Chrétien’s contributions have had a direct impact on the entire institution. Between 1998 and 2007, Concordia was awarded $24 million from the CFI for 55 infrastructure projects. Some 17 000 Concordia students received more than $60 million in funding from the Millennium Scholarship Foundation. We have had 27 world class Canada Research Chairs at this university, and the program has inspired us to create the Concordia Research Chairs program to retain our own excellent faculty.

Across Canada, hundreds of thousands of undergraduate, master’s and doctoral students have benefitted from these extraordinary measures, which strive, in the words of Mr. Chrétien, to “ensure all of our children are given the chance to realize their potential.”

Toutes ces initiatives, réalisées sous l’impulsion d’un seul premier ministre, ont changé la nature et la portée de l’éducation supérieure au Canada d’une manière inégalée depuis la création du Conseil national de recherches en 1916 ou du Programme canadien de prêts aux étudiants en 1964.

In 2008, Mr. Chrétien was honoured with the David C. Smith Award for “his leadership and lifelong commitment to the advancement of research and higher learning.” Last year, he received the Order of Merit from Queen Elizabeth II.

Monsieur le chancelier, au nom du sénat et du conseil d’administration, j’ai l’honneur de vous demander de conférer à M. Jean Chrétien le grade de Docteur en droit honoris causa.