POLITICS
05/31/2018 14:40 EDT | Updated 05/31/2018 14:43 EDT

Jean Chretien: Trudeau Had 'No Choice' But To Buy Trans Mountain Pipeline

"National unity is not having a party every night. You have to solve problems."

Former prime minister Jean Chretien speaks to HuffPost Quebec in Montreal on May 30, 2018.
HuffPost Quebec
Former prime minister Jean Chretien speaks to HuffPost Quebec in Montreal on May 30, 2018.

Former Liberal prime minister Jean Chretien says the federal government had no choice but to buy the controversial Trans Mountain pipeline and Kinder Morgan Canada's core assets for $4.5 billion.

"We have to do it," Chretien, who served as PM from 1993 to 2003, told HuffPost Quebec Wednesday. "We have oil in Canada and we would be the only country in the world having oil and not (selling it)."

Chretien said the impasse between the governments of Alberta and British Columbia over an expansion of the pipeline from Edmonton to Burnaby, which spurred Kinder Morgan to sell the contentious project to the federal government, was a complication.

"It's kind of funny for me," he said. "You've got an NDP government fighting an NDP government."

Chretien also downplayed concerns that the feuding between the two Western provinces presented a national unity issue. B.C. Premier John Horgan has already said that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's decision does nothing to change his opposition to the project.

"If you do nothing, you will be in a mess," Chretien said.

"And when you do something, there's always somebody who's not happy. National unity is not having a party every night. You have to solve problems. And I think Mr. Trudeau had no choice. And Canada has no choice."

Opposition parties feel differently. Conservatives have blasted Trudeau for sinking public money into the project, something they say is being done to cover up his own "failure." Federal New Democrats, who oppose the Trans Mountain pipeline, say the decision flies in the face of Trudeau's commitment to making Canada a climate change leader.

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Chretien also gave Trudeau good marks on how he is handling NAFTA negotiations with U.S. President Donald Trump and suggested he was not worried about the U.S. walking away from the deal.

"You cannot undo an omelette," he said.

Chretien, now 84, was also asked about Trudeau's push to legalize marijuana. In 2003, Chretien's government introduced legislation to decriminalize pot possession, but the bill died after Parliament was prorogued.

"I thought that for somebody who smoked marijuana and had a criminal record, it was too much. Everybody now is legalizing it," he said.

Though he famously joked at the time about trying pot once it was decriminalized, he said he has no interest to give it a try once it becomes legal this summer.

"I never smoke. So, I don't know if I need it or not. No doctor has recommended to me that I need it to be in good shape."

With files from Catherine Lévesque