NEWS

Jean Chrétien gave U.K. government advice ahead of Scotland referendum

09/19/2014 08:21 EDT | Updated 06/16/2017 01:02 EDT
The prime minister who led Canada during the 1995 Quebec referendum says the U.K. government sought his advice during back-and-forth meetings in Ottawa and London over the course of the past year in preparation for Scotland's referendum Thursday.

A day after a majority of Scottish voters rejected the idea of independence in a 55 to 45 per cent vote, former Liberal prime minister Jean Chrétien told CBC Radio's The House he met with three key U.K. government officials who sought his views on the matter.

"I discussed that a little bit with them when they came to see me. Mr. [Alistair] Carmichael and Mr. [Michael] Moore … they came to see me in Ottawa and I met them two or three times in London, plus Mr. [Alistair] Darling," Chrétien told host Evan Solomon in an interview scheduled to air Saturday.

Secretary of State for Scotland Michael Moore was replaced by the party's chief whip Alistair Carmichael in a cabinet shuffle last October. Alistair Darling led the No side with the Better Together campaign.

"It's always more complicated to manage the No side than the Yes side, because the Yes side is appealing to the heart and the nostalgia of the past and so on. And when you deal with the No, you deal with the reality of life.

"Diving into the dark might be exciting, but you have to find out if there's water in the swimming pool before diving," Chrétien said.

Chrétien also told Solomon he learned that British Prime Minister David Cameron was studying his No victory speech ahead of his own patriotic plea for unity this past week.

"My daughter told me she was at a wedding on Saturday and Prime Minister Cameron said he was working on his speech, and he had a nice speech in hand to do that."

Asked if Cameron was studying his 1995 speech, Chrétien said "yes."

Chrétien said the fallout of the vote will not be easy for Cameron, who promised to give Scotland greater powers if it voted No.

"It's going to very complicated because they will enter into some very complex constitutional negotiations."

Chrétien said Cameron's officials were diligent with their homework ahead of a vote that could have seen Scotland break from the U.K.

"They were not negligent about it at all you know, they came more than a year ago the first time."

Separatists 'a bit less cheerful'

Chrétien said he invited Liberal MP Stéphane Dion to take part in at least one of those meetings. 

"They asked me questions about my experience and I talked about my experience and what are the problems and what are the solutions. And we debated everything for many hours and somebody was taking notes."

"One meeting in Ottawa, here, we had Mr. Dion with me. I invited Dion to come with me."

Under Chrétien's leadership, Dion sponsored the Clarity Act, which became law five years after the 1995 Quebec referendum establishing the conditions under which the government of Canada can enter negotiations on secession.

"We gave advice and I'm happy that those who sought advice from me won," Chrétien said adding "the separatists did not come to me for advice. 

"I'm not surprised," he said.

As for the impact of Scotland's referendum on Quebec separatists, Chrétien said those who went to Scotland to witness a historic vote must have flown back "a bit less cheerful."

Parti Québécois MNAs, including media mogul and PQ leadership hopeful Pierre Karl Péladeau, went on a fact-finding mission to Scotland earlier this week.

While Chrétien may have been keen to share his views on the 1995 referendum with U.K. officials, he told Canadian journalists Chantal Hébert and Jean Lapierre in their recent book The Morning After he preferred to keep his post-referendum cards close to his chest.

"I had a number of cards that I ended up not having to play. I do not like to discuss them. There would have been quite a number of options at my disposal in the event of a Yes vote. But I wasted no time on them. That would have been for later if needed."

MORE:cbcNews