Political Moment of the Decade: #3 No to Iraq
The biggest ovation Jean Chrétien got during his farewell speech at the 2003 Liberal Coronation Convention was when he talked about his decision to keep Canadian troops out of Iraq. If you read Chrétien or Eddie Goldenberg’s memoirs, you can tell they both saw it as a huge part of Chrétien’s legacy. And rightfully so.
While it seems like a slam-dunk in retrospect, it wasn’t at the time. The Americans were going, the British were backing them, and everyone was still in that post 9/11 mind frame. Public opinion was decidedly split, the Chrétien Cabinet was decidedly split, and the Premiers were decidedly split. There were rallies in the streets both for and against the war. And even though the man will deny it to his grave, Stephen Harper was urging Canada to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the Americans.
So, yeah, it was a big moment for Canada. And, when you look at it in the context of the decade that was, it becomes a defining moment. You had Jean Chrétien making a difficult decision during his farewell tour. You had Stephen Harper opposing him, in a move that would be thrown back in his face in three subsequent election campaigns. You had Paul Martin dancing the hokey pokey.
It was a decision about the largest international conflict of the decade, and the politics behind it were closely tied up in the moment of the decade - 9/11. It marked a turning point in Canada-US relations, which would continue to sour throughout the Bush years, to the point where the Liberals, NDP, and Bloc often seemed to be waging election campaigns against George Bush, rather than Stephen Harper.
If you've been following along, you've figured out by now that the top two moments in this end-of-decade poll are all about process and politics, rather than policy. But process and politics are a means to an end, and the Iraq war decision showed that who we vote for actually matters. It's certainly worthy of finishing in the top 3 moments of the decade.